Print: Charming children's book grows from unique project
August 18, 2005
Storyteller and mentor Susan Klein (center) with the two student authors, Brittany Lee Andelin (left) and Amanda Mae Dickson.
Photo by Ben Scott
Begin with two attractive, ebullient high school seniors with acute January “senioritis,” add seasoned, wise, local storyteller Susan Klein, mix in an intuitive principal who really understands and appreciates young people who have a solid idea, add a student illustrator who “gets” the story and viola! A children’s book emerges. The end product book is as interesting as the process of how it came to be.
Brittany Lee Andelin and Amanda Mae Dickson are best friends. They can finish each other’s sentences and often even dress similarly for events without discussing it ahead of time. When winter rolled around, the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School seniors needed a boost to finish their final year. Enter the idea of a project. And who better to assist them than Amanda’s aunt, Susan Klein?
After presenting their idea and receiving permission, the young women were ready to begin. Calendars in Susan’s studio chronicle four months of regular bi-, sometimes tri-weekly classes with Susan to understand how to start and finish such a project. A lot of brainstorming followed and continued throughout.
First, the students had to read and comment on 25 children’s books, making an annotated bibliography, to get a clearer view of what was out there. They discovered that most main characters were young males and quickly decided their main character would be a young female, — a fox in this case. The fox choice was a symbol they liked, as it conjured up the image of delicate but strong.
The girls learned from their hours with Susan that they had to map out a beginning, middle and ending, and create and solve a conflict. However, those were only pieces of the endless decision-making process which ranged from naming characters, deciding on how exactly to close, to what text would go on which page, and what kinds of illustrations would best enhance their words, and more.
Brittany and Amanda wondered if they could pull it off or would ever finish, but they knew they were an example and that how they fared would be a precedent for other students, so they
persevered and “kept on truckin”.
The delightful tale features Jessie and her beloved Aunt Aurelia. Every day the pair pick fruit, prepare it, and make jellies and pies to take to the farmer’s market. They transfer their wares in a cart. One market day Aunt Aurelia is sick so Jessie decides she will go alone. She makes two apple pies to take. She sells them and most of the jellies. The ending is happy, with Aunt Aurelia is feeling better and very proud of Jessie when the youngster returns home.
When it came time for illustrations, the two young authors conferred with Janice Frame, an art teacher at the high school. They were shown anonymous examples of student work, and decided that Jennifer Ward’s art fit best with their words. Jennifer did a fine job of matching artwork to text with her fanciful black line drawings, again with sage tips from Susan. The authors say they found Jennifer easy and relaxed to work with, and that they love the final product. One could only wish the pictures could all be in color like the lovely cover, but realism about a budget for a school project had to drive some decisions. However, the girls realized that the black-and-white drawings inside the book could be colored in by a child who owns the book as a bonus activity.
There are plenty of fun “inside stories” about the creation of the book, such as the authors and Susan actually making the pies which appear in the book (recipe included), and the young women hitting days when their juices ran dry and they needed a Linda Jean’s breakfast before they could begin. It is clear that all participants had a very good time as well as learned valuable information !
This is a “Once upon a time” book as the authors learned that most children like some distance from their own experiences in a story. They say the setting is “earlier than now” which accounts for some of the features such as the slatted cart Jessie and her Aunt Aurelia use to take their wares to sell at an old fashioned outdoor market. The authors also decided to leave the ending a bit unclear so teachers could expand on the idea of what may have happened next. In all, this was a well thought out undertaking, and the ease with which the author-students could explain why things were done as they were shows how much they internalized the information.
Brittany is now a graduate of the MVRHS Culinary Arts program and is headed for the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. in the fall. She is presently a chef at the Grille on Main in Edgartown.
Amanda, who will be attending Bridgewater State College in the fall, is working at The Plane View this summer.
Susan Klein is the Vineyard’s own world-traveled story teller extraordinaire and offers intensive “Once Upon a Time” workshops for the public. The focus of these workshops is on conceiving, crafting, and creating a children’s picture book.
The authors of “Jessie’s Big Market Day” will be glad to tell you, “The process works!”
For more information about Susan Klein’s workshops and other activities, visit www.susanklein.net. “Jessie’s Big Market Day” may be found at The Bunch of Grapes Bookstore and Sun Porch Books when it reopens.
Ann Hollister taught third grade at the Edgartown School for 25 years. She is now a supervisor for on-site student teachers here from various New England colleges and an instructor for the Martha’s Vineyard Adult Learning Program’s ESL program. She writes about young readers’ books for The Times.