Sitting in the general session at CCIRA on Thursday morning turned out to be one of the highlights of our local reading conference. Little did I know, Kevin O'Malley was sitting at my table. And, to my surprise, I soon discovered he was doing more than just listening! As the keynote spoke, he was drawing on a brown drawing pad, chuckling, and creating the most magnificent sketches. Next to the pad, he had several drawing pens and white Prism colors at the ready. I was enthralled! He handed one drawing to Stevi Quate (seated on my left), then drew another and handed it to the lady (retired teacher from Brush, Colorado) on my left. He handed me this drawing... Poor little Timmy! I was stunned, not only was it beautiful, it was brilliant!
As the keynote concluded, he handed a final drawing to a woman who walked in at the end of the keynote (it was of a rooster and I secretly hoped he would hand it to me and say, "Have another!"). He was absolutely passionate, engaged, and thoroughly enjoying himself! After the keynote, we chatted a bit about how he had always drawn while he was learning (does that speak to the doodling our children like to do in their notebooks?) and it was how he "survived" school. I started thinking about often teachers might squelch a student's need to doodle, to draw, to create.
Kevin just won the 2010 Colorado Children's Book Award for his book Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude. On Friday, when I returned to school (my wife went on Friday to CCIRA, we tag-teamed), I discovered more than half of my students had read it... and loved it! He had two other illustrators work on the book with him. He drew the main characters, but the publisher enlisted two other illustrators... one to draw the girl's story ("because if I drew her, she would have looked just like me, but wearing a pink dress") and one to draw the boy's version ("a marvelous illustrator who captured the story magnificently"). In fact, one of my students read it to us and we did an impromptu reader's theatre!
Then my fourth graders told me about all the Miss Malarkey books that he illustrated, which many of them had checked out from our library. We also rediscovered that he wrote and illustrated one of our favorite read aloud books, Velcome! If you haven't read it to your students, get your best Boris Karloff voice ready and try it out. The perfect book to read to your students, letting them see that prosody plays such a crucial role in the opportunities we have to share books with other readers... they love the part of the book when it's time to throw a cough drop at the coffin and the coffin stops! Stop reading if you are scared... such a fun text to read and it inspires some play on word writing from students!
Another hilarious book by O'Malley is Gimme Cracked Corn & I Will Share. It's full of rather slapstick writing (which after meeting him, I see why) and it makes me laugh! One night chicken had a dream about buried treasure--a treasure trove of corn. I enjoy the playfulness of the language, the quirkiness of the illustrations, and the fun of this book.
You never know when you're going to be in the "write place at the write time"... and on Thursday morning I chose just the right seat! I am off to buy a frame to protect my drawing... and to search my library for more of Kevin O'Malley's books!