Posts Tagged ‘Ruby the Red Worm’
Once again I was honored to present at the Growing Power International Urban & Small Farm Conference. Pictured here is Will Allen, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent citizens and the founder of Growing Power, one of the organizations that make Milwaukee one of the top 10 green cities in the nation. My book Ruby the Red Worm’s Dirty Job was inspired several years ago when I met will for the first time and toured Growing Power’s urban farm, which happens to be about a mile from where I lived as a child. I showed the book to Will. He said he “loved it”. He thanked me for the work that I am doing, and I could see that the book tugged his heart strings and helped him see the tangible difference his own passion is making in the world.
Also pictured is Kate Krzysik who helped create the book project and bring Ruby to life at the Waukesha STEM Academy. Stay tuned for our next book “Walter the Water Drop” about water conservation. It will be a really exciting project as Kate’s vision keeps growing, so along with the book, the STEM Academy will be installing an aquaponics system in their school. Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.
Here’s a very strange coincidence. I’m working with Amy Belle Elementary as the author-in-residence to create a new book “The Cupcake Boy”. Before I arrived in one class the teacher had just finished reading them Ruby the Red Worm’s Dirty Job, which is a book I worked on with the STEM Academy. And, just as we were finishing the illustrations in the classroom, a mother brought the class a treat. Guess what!? “Dirt cupcakes” with grass and a gummi worm on top. Bizarre!
I’m hoping she contributes some of her culinary creations to the end-of-year Spring Fling when we will be celebrating the book. And all the student illustrators will be autographing their page in the book.
The ice cream social and book signing celebration for “Ruby the Red Worm” drew over a 1000 people. It was one of the most overwhelming, amazing and fulfilling moments of my life to see the dreams of so many students coming to life. The students were so proud to sign their illustrations in everyone’s book; and the parent’s and teachers were almost just as proud.
Thanks to the Waukesha STEM Academy for going way beyond the call of duty to organize this event, which is no easy job. They also included free ice cream for all the kids. An idea for future fundraisers would be to include cupcakes for sale for books like the upcoming “Cupcake Boy”.
The new book is finally here! Perhaps no one is more surprised how beautiful it is then me, especially the cover! I puzzled for months about what to do, including a meeting with the art teacher discussing if her best students would want to illustrate and/or color the cover, and whether to have the school vote on a winner. Those ideas were good; however, they weren’t feasible. So after one-too-many sleepless nights, I arose in the wee hours and in one inspired flurry, drew this picture. It’s quite different than anything else I’ve done, and so I like to think I’ve learned to listen to my muses. I also splurged several hundred dollars that I don’t have on a drawing tablet for my computer, which I used to color my pen and ink drawing.
I’m very surprised this picture turned out so great! Another one of my personal favorites. And a giant framed photo will soon be hanging in the school office until the end of times.
It was very difficult to illustrate the chalk drawing and make it straight while accounting for perspective. It took me about 3 hours, and I was flying around the playground backwards so much I think it gave me bronchitis.
Below you can see a picture of the chalk outline from the point of view of the playground. It appears incomprehensible. And the next aerial view shows Mrs. Krzysik surveying the chalk drawing “We ❤ worms” and preparing to organize the students by grade and the color of their T-shirts. Due to the nature of kids, we had a limited amount of time to form the picture and capture a lot of smiling faces. Of course, when you want clouds, you get sun. And, I miscalculated the morning shadows since the sun was still in the southern hemisphere rather than due east, which created too much contrast and long shadows. We solved some of these problems by having the kids sit down. In the previous photo they were all standing.
See the preparation for this photo.
Today I will be taking a school class photograph of the students in staff standing in this shape. It is an overambitious project, with a lot of variables.
Above is my diagram of the school playground with the school at the bottom of the photograph. And below is my location scout made from the roof of the school. Notice that it took about 5 seconds for kids to scream: “Scott Stoll is on the roof.” I think they’re a lot like prairie dogs.
I’ve been observing the weather, waiting for the snow to melt, hoping for a cloudy day to avoid the high contrast and shadows, and also hoping to schedule a time when the playground will be in the shadow. Among my challenges, will be:
- Drawing a giant picture in chalk
- Calculating the correct perspective and space for the students to comfortably fill the lines
- Organizing the students into groups of red and blue shirts. Fortunately the teachers are great at this.
- Accounting for all the unforeseen variables
- And accomplishing this all before everyone goes stir crazy and breaks formation.
I seem to learn all these things the hard way. If life was easy, it wouldn’t be new.
While I was producing the final book, the students continued exploring some related projects. Pictured here is Mrs. Lambert’s class examining some red worms up close; and in the background, hanging from the ceiling, are tiers of homemade composting bins made from 2-liter bottles hanging from the ceiling. The top tiers are homes to some happy plants. The worms made good models for the art class, and a lot of dirty hands. Also, pictured is one of Mrs. Hyland’s music students composing a theme song for Ruby the Red Worm. Some students would sing their songs while illustrating.
After sorting through my foot-tall stack of drawings, I begin selecting and editing my favorites. The first pictures shows the original scan. You can see the line from the story on the top of the page and the students marker illustration of that concept, which shows a field of flowers toasting Ruby the Red Worm with a cup of tea.
The second drawing is a closeup depicting how I must delete the words from the illustration. I’ve also spent dozens of hours erasing pencil lines!
In the third drawing, I zoom in even closer to delete the “y” and a comma. Some drawings require an hour of retouching, particularly if I combine two or three illustrations. In this case, I removed the words and added additional cups of tea in all the flower’s hands.
And the last drawing shows the finished product. Only 100 more to go!
After working with the elementary students for 6 days, I got approximately 1000 drawings to choose from. So, being more of the right-brained-artistic type, it is a major organizational challenge — I’ve never used so many folders, stickies, paper clips, dividers and color markers.
Here you see that I have laid the book out on the floor with my tentative favorites in place. Also pictured are dozens of folders. First I organize the pictures alphabetically by grade and teacher, since some kids will draw 10 pictures. As I progress, choosing pictures becomes harder, and I need to be more creative, such as combining two student drawings into one. I will also reorganize the piles by page number or subject matter. And constantly I am subdividing the pictures into favorites, seconds (maybes), thirds (probably-nots), miscellaneous, unknown and more….
It seems every time I look, I see the pictures in a new way, and am impressed by the creativity and humor of the young students.
Update: Ms. Nagan, the art teacher, gathered some of her best illustrators for the STEM school’s application hour, to help me fill the missing pages. The book is looking fantastic thanks to the students overwhelming enthusiasm — and I mean overwhelming.
I also scouted the rooftop for the class photo. It took less than 5 seconds for the kids to scream: “Scott Stoll is on the roof.” I think elementary students are a lot like prairie dogs.
One fun idea to get the students more involved in the production of the book was to have them name the characters in the story. So I, along with my self-appointed fan club, made this ballot box.
Above is polite group of girls naming their favorite bugs. Before them the table was mobbed with students resulting in a mess of blurry pictures.
The can was half full within 1.5 hours and by the end of the week, we had hundreds of votes. I think my personal favorite is Honeynester the Bee. We also had dozens of names such as: Worm the Fly and Snail the Butterfly. It’s interesting how the students seem to collectively decide to do such things without any leader.
I continue to learn how to work with the various ways kids learn and create. Some students prefer to illustrate an actual sentence from the book, which requires a more literal interpretation; while other students prefer a more conceptual approach. In the photo above, a student studies keywords for missing pages in the book, including a few extra key phrases to see if they would generate any creative drawings — and they did! — so I then rewrote the book to fit the new pictures. One of my favorite pages not in the original manuscripts is about the worm astronauts. Worms indeed have been sent to space in NASA experiments.
And below two students collaborate on one picture. It is quite common to see this level of cooperation at the STEM school. Still it amazed me to witness the students so lost in the passion of the drawing that ownership never crossed their minds. Sometimes I would ask some students to illustrate a background image and others to illustrate the subject, which I would combine on the computer.
This is a great story about my trip around the world, coming home, and how this all evolved into working with local schools to illustrate children’s books.
Thanks to Laurel Walker for doing such a thorough job, and to help build our local community by spreading change. I also had a big big surprise to see that I made the cover of the online edition. I had many teachers tell me that it was a win for the education system during these troubled times of protests in the State Capitol. Also, see the fun photo gallery by Kristyna Wentz-Graff.
PS. The original full-page story about my trip around the world in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is no longer accessible :(
During my visit, which was Reading Week, one of the teachers organized a Storybook Parade, where all the teachers dressed as their favorite storybook character and paraded through the hallways. The kids loved it! I’ve never heard so many squeals of delight. It really made me a little jealous that I didn’t go to the STEM school as a kid.
Above we see Hansel; and bringing up the tail of the parade, we see Scott in red pajamas as Ruby the Red Worm. Below, back in the art room, the kids in costume and character jump around for impromptu photos.
Illustration of the new children’s book has begun at the Waukesha STEM Academy charter school. Above one of 18 art classes is working on their drawings for “Ruby the Red Worm’s Dirty Job”, and below students investigate live worms in a composting bin. It has been a privilege to work with this school. The kids have been overwhelmingly energetic and creative.
Here is a cool Backyard Adventure. A fun mini-expedition helping students and parents become modern argonauts. Third in my series of Backyard Adventures is Kitchen Composting.
ASSIGNMENT: Your adventure, should you choose to accept it, is to build your own compost bin at home or school. This is a great way to recycle your scraps and reduce your eco-footprint by eating more local food.
Example: See Ruby the Red Worm and the picture below of students studying red worms. Now research the online resources for building your own compost bin and using the compost to fertilize your garden.
As a bonus, the school book project begins with the story about my quest for happiness around the world on a bicycle, with an emphasis on how to create dreams into reality. It features about one hundred photos in the slideshow and is similar to my popular short film. (Below students admire the map of my journey.) In the following visits, when we’re ready to begin illustrating the book, I work with the students as the artist-in-residence. I start by summarizing that we are creating a real book that will be in libraries for everyone to read; in this case, a book about composting and living a life of passion. Then I read the story to the students and ask for volunteers to illustrate sentences or concepts. I literally give the first student to raise their hand a page from the book. By the end of the week, I have over a 1000 drawings to choose from!