One of the author studies that we had early on in my class in the fall was on Helen Lester. She has written numerous picture books, including the Tacky the Penguin series. My favorite, however, is her book entitled Author: A True Story, which is indeed about her process on how she became a published writer. That story helped to set a tone of mutual respect and expectations for my students in September, and the chart that we created as a result has been quoted time and time again from memory. In particular, we have referred to her persistence as an author and how despite the fact that she faced so much rejection and self-doubt, she was persistent. Well, Jarrett also spoke of this, and the children and I made numerous connections to Helen’s truths, as well as to other authors who anchored our mindsets early in the school year. Jarrett faced so much rejection, but eventually he was noticed by someone at Random House, and the rest is history!
He also spoke to the children about how creativity leads to more creativity, and how ideas that he had years before were later reborn as new storylines, new versions of characters, and new voices. Jarrett showed them his sketch book of ideas and brainstorming, and my kids reveled in that, as they themselves jotted ideas and inspirations from his talk in their own “Fizzle and Sparks” notebooks, inspired by Helen Lester’s Fizzles box of ideas for later use. He even explained how after two years, he only had one sentence for the illustration he drew for the book idea for Annie Was Warned, but he eventually went back and completed it. (Talk about not giving up and persistence!) One of my students got to ask him a question and it was a good one for someone who was an official author and illustrator who makes it look so effortless and easy. She asked, “Do you ever get any help?” Jarrett said that he did from editors and an art director who both helped to make his good work even better. That’s the kind of insight that authors who are being apprenticed by pros need to hear.
When we got back to my class, I just had to buzz and recap with my kids for ten minutes before they moved on to interactive read aloud with my student teacher. My kids noticed and thought of the things I thought of, and referred to their notebooks for notations that they made. One of my students shared something that came to her mind that she had jotted: “Don’t stop looking for something that you believe in. Chase after your dream.” Another student said that writing a book is akin to the growth of a plant (which we had studied plenty recently in our Roots and Shoots gardening program.) She said that going through the process of publishing is like watching a seed of an idea grow into a plant, and when it flowers, it’s like being published, because that’s the most beautiful part of it all! How brilliant and insightful are these kids?!?
At the end, my class and I purposely lingered. As the kids gathered around me, knowing I wanted to say something softly to them, I asked them, “Do you think we should go up to him and say what we say to one another in appreciation in our classroom?” They all nodded yes in eager agreement, and we gathered in an orderly semi-circle around Jarrett. I told him that we had enjoyed him so much and that his presentation was fabulous. I also said that we have studied the craft of many authors and illustrators this year, and we wanted to say something to him that we say in our classroom community. He paused from signing books with a sincere smile on his face as we said to him: “Thank-you fellow author!” To which he appreciatively replied, “Well, you’re quite welcome fellow authors!” That was just one of those sparkling little moments of learning that I will remember from this special school year!
Be sure to explore his awesome website at: http://www.studiojjk.com/
It's very kid friendly and appealing, and I especially like how he shows steps in his illustration process. His bio write ups are hilarious for the grown-ups!
He blogs as well. Check it out at: http://thejjkblog.blogspot.com/