Monday, January 30, 2012

Happy Birthday Gerald McDermott - January 31

Happy Birthday Gerald McDermott - January 31

"By reading, hearing, and using culturally diverse materials, young people learn that beneath surface differences of color, culture or ethnicity, all people experience universal feelings of love, sadness, self-worth, justice and kindness." (Dowd, 1992 via LeeLow).  I felt this quote was a perfect way to begin the celebration for Gerald McDermott, "a dream weaver, tale-spinner, portrayer of visions, interpreter of the human spirit."  (Gerald

Gerald McDermott began his career of storytelling in college when he developed the animated film, The Stonecutter (see the YouTube video below). This film gave him the opportunity to create more short films including Anansi the Spider: A Tale from the Ashanti, which later became his first picture book and also a Caldecott Honor recipient in 1973.  In 1975, Gerald McDermott received the Caldecott Medal for his book Arrow to the Sun and another Caldecott Honor in 1994 for Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest.  His Trickster Tale series of picture books "speak to us in a gentle, humorous way about strengths and weaknesses of humankind."(Gerald

Gerald McDermott said in an interview with Nancy J. Johnson, "I have heard thousands of stories and every once in a while one leaps up and grabs me. When I read a story that is important for me to tell, I feel it." The trickster tale that "leapt up and grabbed" us as we prepared for this birthday celebration was Jabuti the Tortoise: A Trickster Tale from the Amazon. Jabuti the Tortoise plays the flute. His biggest fans are the birds that find his music sweet.  However Vulture, who is unable to sing along with the other birds as Jabuti plays, finds his music sour and can't wait for the day he can eat Jabuti for a meal. One day a great gathering is being hosted by the King of Heaven. Vulture pretends to be sincere in his offer to fly Jabuti to heaven so he can play his flute.  Vulture has other plans with little concern for the health and safety of Jabuti.  Jabuti's friends come to his aid when he needs them most and he repays them with a special gift.

After reading this book, I wanted to bring it to life with a birthday celebration activity. I immediately did a search for "homemade flutes".  I found a website by Mark Shepard with instructions to make a "Plumber's Pipe".  The directions looked easy enough and we just needed a few supplies.  I told the kids to put on their shoes and coats because we were headed to Lowe's.
After locating our materials we headed to the car with a 10 ft. piece of 3/4" PVC pipe (we didn't need 10 feet, but that is how it is sold) and a few 3/4" end caps.  We spent less than $4 to get the supplies for our flutes.
Thankfully, my father-in-law's saw was still in our garage from a recent home improvement project.  Each piece of PVC was cut to 15 9/16". If I would not have had this cool saw I would have used a hacksaw to cut the PVC and then sanded the edges to make sure they were smooth.
The end cap was drilled on the side with a 7/16" drill bit.
We placed the cap on one end of the piece of PVC pipe (which chose not to use cement to glue it on which worked out fine). Then, we measured from the edge of the cap and marked the measurements 6 7/8", 8", 9 1/8", 10 3/4", 11 1/2", and 12 3/4".  The other end of the pipe was left open.  We drilled each mark with a 1/4" drill bit and placed them all in a row (we didn't listen to the suggestions on many of the homemade flute websites that suggested different sized holes and staggering the holes in a specific way. For us, it was easier to do it this way.)
After all the holes were drilled, we cleaned all the black markings off the pipe with PVC Cleaner.
We decided that our flutes needed to be decorated. We used many different colors of Sharpie markers.  My daughter used patterns from the illustrations in the book as inspiration for her design.
My daughter was so excited for this celebration -- even though, we weren't very good at playing the flute.  She came home from school today and it was the first thing she ran to, and plans on taking it to school tomorrow to show her music teacher!
1. Gerald McDermott's Website
2. Talking with Gerald McDermott interview - BookList
3. Arrow to the Sun Work in Progress video - Vimeo
4. Sun Flight video - YouTube
5. Steady Freddy from The Electric Company - YouTube
6. Shall I Shoot the Fish from The Electric Company - YouTube
7. Gerald McDermott Page - Internet Movie Database
8. Gerald McDermott Biography - NCCIL


  1. FUN! We have to try making our own flutes -- can we come over and borrow your father-in-law's saw?

  2. Another great post and I posted it on my FB Fan Page. You are such an amazing dad!

    1. Thanks Sandra! I appreciate you tweeting and sharing the post on FB.

  3. ANANSI, THE SPIDER is one of my favorite picture books. And thanks for sharing instructions on "How to make a flute." Must have been a fun project to do with the children. We are a musical family and will definitely try this out.

    1. Blessy, Thanks for stopping by -- every time I see your name (I think about the view from your desk that you shared on your blog -- love it). Soon, I will be moving my desk to improve my view to find some inspiration.

      Good Luck with your flutes! They were a lot of fun to make.

  4. Hi Eric! I've just been having a look around your blog and it's great. I love some of the things you do with your kids and will certainly be stealing a few of them over here in Oz! I love doing craft activities with my son, but am not always the best at coming up with the ideas. Now I'll know where to look :)

    1. Anna, thanks for stopping by and I am glad you enjoyed our activities.

      My children usually inspire the activity when they get excited about a book. We read about 7 books by the author before coming up with this activity. Jabuti was their favorite because of his flute. So, I investigated trying to make a flute.


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