As a substitute teacher I often walk into an emergency, with lesson plans drawn up quickly by someone whose mind was in a much more urgent place. On one such a day, the art teacher left me, in her words, “sketchy plans” – most of which involved students finishing current projects followed by open studio. Now, I’m all for open studio and free draw, but first grade had no projects to finish first. That meant 45 minutes of free draw: The definition of chaos.
Thankfully, I had a planning period. And an ally in the school librarian. After thinking for a second or two, she pulled Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion off her shelf.
“You know,” she said, “kids love dogs. And they always enjoy Harry’s adventures.”
Together we studied Margaret Bloy Graham’s illustrations, and a lesson plan was born.
Fast forward to the first-grade class. I read the book. The kids were delighted. Then I held up Harry the Dirty Dog. “We are going to draw Harry,” I said.
Shock and mayhem.
“We can’t draw like that!”
I turned a deaf ear to the protests as I handed out a sheet of paper with a rectangle already drawn on it. I explained that we would have to work together to draw Harry, as it is a step by step process. Then the students and I drew Harry using the parameters of a rectangle.
Here’s what I learned by drawing Harry, and how it pertains to writing:
- Know the shape of your story. Harry is drawn in and around a rectangle. Once the students could see that, they could follow the steps to draw him. Identify the internal structure of your book.
- Take it one step at a time. Those first graders looked at the cover of the book, and were done in by the details of it all, but once we broke the task down into steps, it was completely doable. Don’t stress about the revision process or the rewrite if you haven’t written the first draft yet. When you get to the next step, you will be ready for it, because you already did the groundwork. Follow the process.
- You are capable of more than you think. Just like those first graders, you may look at an idea and think that you cannot possibly do it. Yet, each and every one of them drew a Harry. They loved their pictures and they celebrated their neighbor’s pictures. As a collective, they were in awe that the ability to draw that dog was INSIDE of them.
- Listen to your heart and tell your story your way. Remember how the students’ dog drawings were all different? Even if an idea has been done before, your execution of it will be unique.
- Also, librarians rock!