Thursday, April 21, 2016

#AuthorApril: R is for Eric Rohmann in our #AtoZChallenge

Dear Kim,

There are a million reasons to love his illustrations, inventive design, and playful language. Let's make it a million and one... R is for Eric Rohmann.

R is for Eric Rohmann.
Master printmaker sharing his passion with fellow illustrators at the Highlights Foundation.

In addition to his books, Eric is a gifted and generous teacher of illustration and writing. I've been lucky enough to hear him talk about children's books at various workshops. In one, Eric said something that will stay with me always.

He said, "Children don't read books, 
they inhabit them."

I can't tell you the number of times I've used that quote, specifically when talking about the art and design of a picture book.

His work receives the highest praise from the most critical eyes in publishing: KIRKUS kindness, School Library Journal starred reviews, a Caldecott medal and honor, and more. But what I love to see, especially as an early childhood teacher, is the way children critique his work. Eric was right. Children inhabit his stories.

Press play.


See that little reader in the video? That's my guy at age two. He loved reading My Friend Rabbit every morning in that secret spot behind his chair. I love the way he turns the book at the end, the sound of surprise in his voice, though he's "read" the book a hundred times. (And heard it at least as many.) He becomes part of the book.

Rohmann made My Friend Rabbit so engaging with surprising page turns, animals facing this way and that, a line to trace the flight of the plane. All so engaging. All so thoughtful. A gift from Rohmann to his youngest readers.


Each book he creates is a gift. Publisher's Weekly once said, "Eric has perfected the art of letting the pictures tell the story." Praise from another critical eye, but I believe, with all due respect, that PW was selling Rohmann's genius a bit short. It is not just the pictures. It is the package. The way he delivers story from cover and front matter, to words and images, to the satisfaction his reader gets at his perfectly placed "The End".


Kim, I'd like to share with you how I might use one of Rohmann's books as a read aloud. It happens to be my favorite Eric Rohmann book, Bone Dog



Take a look at that cover. What do we know about the book just by looking at the front image? What more does the image on the back tell us? I'm not saying to "judge a book by its cover" however, in thinking about presenting the book to our youngest readers, let's show them how the cover can help to provide context for the story. 

In sharing this cover with my students I had a child say, "Well the dog must be dead because he's bones all over but his tail is moving. Maybe he comes back to life?" You can imagine, in a room full of 4-year-olds, the kind of discussion that came next.





Rohmann designs a surprise for his readers in the front matter. Another chance for us to slow down and learn more about this book and our character. The title page tells us the title, yes, but in Bone Dog, it also shows us that Ella, our old dog, will go through a change. Flesh to bone. 

As my students flip from furry Ella to boney Ella we talk about that change. 




Let's gush a bit over some text. Rohmann writes, "A promise under a full moon cannot be broken." 

The moment is amplified by Rohmann's use of a double-page spread, gutter be damned, which brings our reader into this intimate moment. Rohmann let's the words and pictures depend upon each other, just like best friends, Gus and Ella.



Rohmann plants a twist mid-story that I do not want to give away. I'll skip ahead a bit.



This is not the way a book works, you might think. Things are to run from left to right. That Eric is a tricky one! With the implementation of this visual device he sets an uneasy mood in the book, and as a result in his reader. The kids beg for the page to turn. What could they be running from?



Talk about an image that speaks volumes. No words needed on this page. Reading this picture with students is a real joy. In addition to the children's laughter, I can assess a mountain of inferencing skills based on this one illustration. 

Soon after this image, Bone Dog ends. (Well, I should say, my storytime ends. And then grabby little hands pull Bone Dog onto their own laps to start the story all over.)

Eric Rohmann always creates a book that his readers can inhabit. From My Friend Rabbit to Bone Dog to Oh!No! we are pulled from our seats and into his illustrated world.



Eric will be back at the Foundation this fall. His workshop is just days before Halloween. I know he has plans to carve pumpkins, work on spooky printmaking, and critique picture book dummies and portfolios. I hope he finds time to read Bone Dog to his guests too. I can only imagine he will open our eyes to more of the magic hidden in Bone Dog's pages.

Until T.
Happy #AuthorApril!
Much Love,
Alison

To learn more about Eric's workshop click here. To read more about exploring picture books with kids, check out Megan Dowd Lambert's Reading Picture Books with Children.