Want to Grow Up to Be a Writer or Illustrator? You Can.
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By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
SEPTEMBER 8, 2017 – After seeing writer/illustrator Matt Tavares at Kimberley Park Elementary this morning, first-grader Kayden Clark thinks he might want to grow up to be a writer, too.
“That is cool!” Kayden said as Tavares, the author of such picture books as Red and Lulu, talked to first-graders about how much he loved drawing when he was young and how he grew up to create books of his own.
Along the way, he used first-grader Jacques Campbell as a model for picture that he drew on the spot and read Red and Lulu to the students.
Throughout the presentation, Kayden kept saying, “Cool!” and “That is cool!”
Afterward, Kayden said he wants to become an author when he grows up. Asked whether he already wanted to be an author or whether seeing Tavares made him want to become one, he said it was seeing Tavares.
Tavares inspired other first-graders, too.
Jacques said he wants to be an author, too.
Tavares is one of the authors in town for the Bookmarks Festival of Books & Authors, being held downtown on Saturday. Today, a number of other Bookmarks authors also visited Winston-Salem/Forsyth County schools.
Debbie Harlee, the founder of Bookmarks, accompanied Tavares to Kimberley Park and was going with him to Cook Literacy Model School later in the day.
Bookmarks likes being able to bring writers and illustrators directly to students in the schools, she said.
“It makes the books come alive with meeting the authors,” Harlee said. “Students love it. Their faces are so bright.”
“They want to write. They want to illustrate. It’s a real education for them.”
Kimberley Park has three first-grade classes and all three teachers – Erin Riddle-Smith, Rose Brown and Katie Gehrs – were there with their students. Riddle-Smith said that she appreciates such opportunities because it helps make possibilities seem more real.
“We teach them about authors and illustrators but they don’t understand that’s a job,” she said.
Seeing someone such as Tavares makes them realize that is something they could do, too.
After Media Coordinator Yvette Evans introduced Tavares, he said to the students, “I have a very cool job.”
When he asked who likes to draw, pretty much every student raised a hand. The same was true when he asked who likes to write.
Well, he said, he gets to spend his work day drawing and painting and writing.
Throughout his presentation, Tavares made a point to encourage the students both in following their interests and in dealing with challenges along the way.
“My favorite thing to draw when I was a kid was baseball players,” Tavares said.
When he was in third grade, he drew a picture of Carl Yastrzemski, a famous baseball player who nickname was “Yaz.” When he showed them an image of the drawing, he pointed out that the “z” he put in “Yaz” at the top of the page was backwards.
He sometimes wrote lowercase “b” and “d” backwards by mistake as well.
Not everyone recognized the picture of “Yaz” he showed them, but they certainly recognized the picture he drew when he was a kid of Michael Jackson after Thriller came out.
Seeing and hearing Red and Lulu was a special treat for students because it doesn’t officially come out until Sept. 19.
Red and Lulu tells the story – on some pages, only through pictures – of a cardinal bird couple that lives in a tree that is cut down to be taken to New York to serve as the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. When the tree is cut down, Lulu is at home in the branches, and Red is off looking for food. Red comes back in time to see the tree being hauled away. He follows it to New York, where – after dealing with such obstacles as pigeon bullies – they are reunited.
One of the things Tavares talked about with the students was finding inspiration in everyday life.
“The best way to come up with ideas is just pay attention,” he said. “When you write a story, you can take real things from your life.”
That was the case for him with this story.
Tavares and his wife, Sarah, and their children Ava and Molly live in Maine. They became fond of a pair of cardinals – which mate for life – that regularly visited their yard. When they saw one cardinal, they would make a point to spot the other if they could.
Red and Lulu grew from there.
Tavares isn’t staying overnight in Winston-Salem after the festival ends on Saturday because Ava turns 13 on Saturday, and he wants to be home for the celebration. (Molly is 10.)
He also talked about the need to stick with something. He talked about spending 30 hours or more on a drawing and then having to draw another one when an editor thought the picture needed to highlight some other element.
After going to great length to find a publisher for his first book, he said, “they told me they wanted me to do the whole thing over again.”
That included such modifications as changing the expression of the boy in one picture from a look of wonder to a look of excitement.
Tavares draws his final pictures by hand. For his preliminary sketches, he uses a computer program that enables him to move elements around and change sizes and perspective.
For first-graders, the effect was quite impressive. As he played with Red’s size and placement a picture of Red flying over a bridge into New York, one student called out, “It’s magic!”
Afterward, students thanked Tavares with the Kimberley Park “Good Job!” cheer.
It was well-deserved.
Matt Tavares donated the drawing he made to Kimberley Park.Tavares has published 18 books and received such awards as the Parents’ Choice Gold Award. You can find out more about him at Matt Tavares.
You will find more about the festival at Bookmarks.