Sunday, November 8, 2015

Happy Birthday, Lois Ehlert - November 9

Every November 1st, for the past five years or so, I make sure our stack of books by Lois Ehlert is visible for my children -- a few books on the floor in the family room, a couple on the couch, and the rest on the bookshelf upstairs. I have found that my children can't resist reading her books when they see them. They will sit and independently read or choose for me to read them for before bedtime reading. For me, her books always have a way of inspiring an activity idea for us to do as family.

This year I picked up her book Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z. I recalled a quote I read five years ago from an interview Lois Ehlert had with Teaching Books:

"There's a fruit and vegetable store near my house that I've gone to for many, many years. At the beginning of my creation of Eating the Alphabet, I went to the grocery store once a week, usually on Saturday to buy fruits and vegetables alphabetically. I started with the A's: apples, artichokes, and asparagus. And then I would take them home and do a painting of all of them (this is before I even had the format of the book figured out), and then I'd eat them. The next week I'd go back to the store for the B's and so on.  I wondered if someone at the store would notice and start to talk about this lady that would come in and buy only fruits and vegetables that began with the letter A, or B, or C, but they were very discreet. The employees never did question me about it. But when I had the whole book finished, I showed it to them."

I wanted to try this with my two youngest children. It was such a simple idea -- go to the grocery store, pick out fruits and veggies, and do a painting of them. I knew they would love it.

I told them, before we went to the store, about Lois Ehlert and how she shopped every Saturday, alphabetically. My son said with a smile on his face, "Are we going to do that for the whole alphabet?" I said, "If you want to, but I was thinking today you could pick out two of your favorite fruits and veggies, tell me what letter they start with, and then you can do a painting of them." He thought it was a good idea once he realized he would need to go to the grocery store every Saturday for about six months to get through the whole alphabet.
They had a burst of excitement and energy when they got to the market. They wanted to pick the first thing they saw. I encouraged them to check out all the fruits and vegetables in the produce section to make sure they were choosing something they wanted to paint and EAT!
His first choice was a zucchini. He said, "We can use this to make bread."
She almost picked a carrot, but changed her mind.
We were surprised to find baby bananas and red bananas.
We found papayas in the store and in the book.
He said, "I don't like to eat watermelons, but I really do like to look at them."
We found sweet potatoes, but were surprised to not find them on the S page. Then, we saw the sign in the bin that said "yams" and found them on the Y page.
She picked a navel orange to "suck out the juice." 
This red pepper was too beautiful not to buy.
We made few more choices before we left -- strawberries, grapes, a blood orange, and a pepino melon.
"For Eating the Alphabet I made those papers -- the watercolor, the texturizing. I did a lot of that before I even got to the illustrations. And quite honestly I didn't know what would turn out well and what wouldn't. You have to allow a lot of extra time. Somebody once said to me, 'You know, you could get some of those textures on a computer.' My answer was, 'Why would I want to do that?' Because to me part of the pleasure of being an artist is that you see and you touch. I don't want to hurry it." (Lois Ehlert from an interview with The Horn Book).

 I told my children, before we started painting, that Lois Ehlert did watercolor collage for the final illustrations of Eating the Alphabetoffered that they could just paint papers with different watercolors and then cut and paste shapes to make their fruits and veggies.

My children decisively said, "No. We just want to paint."
And paint they did.
My daughter started by painting a strawberry.
My son painted an orange. He was quite pleased with the brown spot he painted on the orange.
"Daddy, can I eat a strawberry now?"
He was pretty excited about this activity.
I picked this pepino melon because I thought it looked like it was painted with watercolors.
Strawberries and grapes! Yum! (Well, not so much. He didn't like the grapes for some reason.)
Their paintings of fruits and veggies inspired another set of paintings. This time they painted trees and flowers.
Do you follow Happy Birthday Author on Pinterest? Please pin this picture.
Later for dinner he really enjoyed the blood orange. He squeezed out the juice and drank the "blood juice" like a vampire.
This was such a fun experience with my children. I am already looking forward to next year to see what our stack of books by Lois Ehlert will inspire us to create.

Check out Lois Ehlert's latest book, Holey Moley (just released October 2015):


This week, my son was so excited to find Lois Ehlert's Leaf Man at his school library. He came home and declared, "Tomorrow we need to go on a leaf hunt." So we did!

1. Happy Birthday Author Celebrations for Lois Ehlert - Scraps and RRRalph - 2014, Planting a Rainbow and Fish Eyes - 2013, Pie in the Sky - 2011, Leaf Man and Wag a Tail - 2010
2. Interviews - Reading RocketsHarcourtJust One More BookTeaching BooksBookPage (2014)The Horn Book (2015)
3. Lois Ehlert Author Study with over 100 activity ideas - Educator's Spin On It
4. LEAF MAN Teacher's Guide - Harcourt
5. 5 Questions for Lois Ehlert (2014) - Horn Book
6. Milwaukee Studio Visit (Milwaukee Art Museum Blog) - Part 1Part 2

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