One of my favorite things is combining different modes of expression and creativity, and seeing how they inspire and influence one another. For example, my second graders were inspired by the story and illustrations in this picture book. Their artwork, in turn, inspired them to come up with new stories to explore... which could inspire new pictures to be made, songs to be written... who knows how far it could go!
Run, Little Chaski! written by Mariana Llanos and illustrated by Mariana Ruiz Johnson and published by Barefoot Books inspired my second grade art students and me to make some fun landscape collages. This book just won the Oklahoma Book Award and will be featured at the 2022 National Book Festival! Congratulations, Mariana & Mariana!
Although the illustrations in this beautiful picture book were made with mixed media and digital techniques, they do have a similar look to collage and I thought it would be a fun medium for my students to work with to explore depth and overlapping in a concrete way.
My artists first painted paper to create colorful textured materials to work with. Then they learned about landscapes: horizon line, foreground, and background.
We got some great animal ideas from the story and the illustrations. It was so fun to learn some new Inka vocabulary, too! Especially since I have some students who are from South America!
Once we "built" the landscape, I left it up to their creativity to add whatever animals and details they wanted to. I encouraged them to think up stories for their animal characters (they already had the setting!) and they came up with some wonderful ideas.
Here's some of their work!
What kind of story could YOU make up with these as your inspiration?
Speaking of inspiration, I asked the award-winning author, Mariana Llanos, some questions. Here's our conversation:
AD: There is so much interesting information packed into this book! How much research was involved in the process of writing Run, Little Chaski?
ML: There was tons of research! I've read several non-fiction books about the Inka, and created a spreadsheet to gather the information. I grew up in Peru. We study Inka history in school, but I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Also, there are always new studies and theories that were worth revising if I wanted to be accurate.
AD: From the perspective of an art teacher, I wonder if there were any images that inspired your writing?
ML: Not so much, but I can see how images and pictures can be used as prompts for writing. What I usually do is start with a draft and then look for pictures that can help me describe what is happening in my story or save them to show the illustrator.
AD: Speaking of the illustrator, did you have any interaction with the amazing Mariana Ruiz Johnson?
ML: Not directly. When the book was in the editing process, my editor sent me Mariana's first drafts. I was blown away! Then I made notes and sent her my comments. I was impressed to see how efficiently she was able to incorporate my feedback in her illustrations.
AD: That's awesome. Can you share more about your writing process?
ML: In general, I like cooking ideas in my head for a long time. That's where stories shape up, so when I put them in paper they come at least with certain structure. With Chaski my process was a little different. It started with the setting and then the character. I knew I wanted to write something set during the Inka empire. Then I thought of a Chaski, since they are super interesting historical characters (they were fleet-footed couriers who delivered official messages throughout the empire in a relay type of system). And after that, I had to think of the problem. What challenges could he possibly face? Once I had all those elements, writing the story was much easier.
AD: So interesting! My second graders started with the setting when they made their artwork as well, then added characters. I love the parallel here! There's also great information in the back of the book. How did you decide on what back matter to include?
ML: I wrote an author's note with info about the chaskis, but it was my editor who decided to break it down. We wrote some more information that we thought would be interesting for children and their families.
AD: How do you hope the back matter will be used by children and parents or educators?
ML: I hope they use it to learn more about indigenous cultures from South America. There are so many important cultures that influenced the Inka and their wisdom continues to shine through their communities nowadays. I think learning more about different cultures can help us escape our US-centric approach to see the world.
AD: I agree. Finally, what do you hope young readers will gain from reading your book?
ML: I hope they see a fun story that opens a little bit the doors to the world. Also, I hope they understand that being kind is always the right choice. In the end, that's the universal message of this book.
AD: I love that so much. Kindness is SO important!
And now for the... GIVEAWAYS!
Mariana has generously offered a critique to one lucky picture book writer. I will also give something away: winner's choice of either a picture book critique OR a pack of painted papers with some tips to create your own landscape collage!
To enter, please share or retweet and make sure to leave a comment below!