books, art, and children: stories from the field

Robin’s Introduction:  Some years ago, when my son Ben was small, I decided to propose a series of art classes for young children to be held at our local public library.  In each class I would read aloud a book to the children that introduced an artist, art concept, or process, and then they would explore materials in a hands-on art session.  The hour-long classes on Saturday mornings at the library proved to be a success and continued for several years. 


At some point during this experience, I decided to compile a list of my favorite children’s books about art into an annotated bibliography.  (There is a link to my annotated bibliography on the Workshops/Resource List page of my website):   

 The practice of listening to children is at the core of good teaching practice, which brings me to the story I am going to share.  

The other day I received an email note from an art teacher named Gayle who found my annotated bibliography while exploring teaching resources on line.  After a brief email exchange, Gayle related the following story to me about children’s author Byrd Baylor.  Byrd Baylor’s book When Clay Sings is one of the titles on my annotated bibliography.

This story speaks to the connections children make from their experience with books and their belief in all things as possible.  It also speaks to the author’s respect for life and for the early years when we are discovering the world around us and where every day is full of magic.  Robin Brooks

Gayle’s story about hearing Byrd Baylor at a reading conference in Arizona:

I first saw Byrd at a state reading conference in AZ.  It was held in Tucson, and she was one of the speakers. 

I learned that she lived outside of Tucson in a house with no electricity and no running water.  She used a well for water, and she said she would hang a wet piece of burlap in the doorway to cool the house.  When its 115 degrees, a wet piece of burlap is not going to cool the house very much!  She also said that if a rattlesnake went into her house, she would go out until it decided to leave.  Later she got a generator big enough to keep two light bulbs burning at night, and maybe a small refrigerator (I have forgotten, it’s been a while.)

The story I love is about a little boy she met one time when she went to visit his mother on an Indian reservation.  I don’t know what tribe they were, nor where the reservation was located.  (I wish you could hear this in her quiet voice.)  She arrived at the home of this family, and soon the boy was urgently asking her to go for a walk with him.  He was very insistent, so after a bit she went with him. They walked up a slope, and then the boy, with his face glowing, said “Okay, teach me!”

Byrd said she was puzzled, and asked, “Teach you what?”

To which the boy said, “You know!  Teach me!”

She was thinking the boy was behaving sort of oddly, and was puzzled by his request.  She tried to convince him that she didn’t know what he meant.

With a gleam in his eye he said, “Teach me to fly!”

“Oh honey, I can’t teach you to fly,” she protested.

“Yes you can, teach me!”

“No, I mean, I don’t know how to fly, so I can’t teach you.”

When she convinced him that she could not teach him to fly, he was very disappointed, and said that he was sure that a woman named Byrd would be able to teach him to fly.

One of her books is about that little boy, and I think it is Amigo, but I’m not positive. Anyway, that’s the story.  I think she is very cool.  She learns about animals and the desert by being a very quiet and patient observer in the desert.


Ps. Other books that are favorites about art are All I See, illustrated by Peter Catalanotto, and another is Luke’s Way of Seeing.

*Robin’s note:  Byrd Baylor’s book about a child who wishes to fly is called Hawk I’m Your Brother and I am using it in my art classroom this year to stimulate children to think about different perspectives, aerial views, and the ability to transform ourselves.  It is a wonderful poetic text with lovely black pen drawings by illustrator Peter Parnall. 

addendum: In our correspondence, Gayle Parent and I both agreed that we needed Byrd Baylor’s permission to share this story.  After writing to her, I received a handwritten note from Byrd Baylor. “…of course you can use the story.  Say Hello to Gayle for me.”   August 21, 2008.