A children’s book illustrator is taking his art to schools around the region. Through his illustrations, he’s teaching students about respecting the environment. But they also get excited about learning in general. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus reports:
A children’s book illustrator is taking his art to schools
around the region. Through his illustrations, he’s teaching students
about respecting the environment. But they also get excited about
learning in general. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chris McCarus
30 children are sitting on the floor with sketch pads in their elementary school classroom. They’re watching artist Gijsbert van Frankenhuysen. He’s standing at an easel, drawing animal shapes.
(Sound of magic marker)
“So we’re gonna make an oval shape right here, with 2 ears on it. And then you can color it black and you give him 4 short black legs. Make sure you make em black. That’s what they have. Look at that. One sheep.”
The children look up at the easel, then back down at their sketch pads, then up at the easel again. They’re comparing drawings to see whose come closest to the artist’s drawing, and they want Van Frankenhuysen to show them how to add body parts to the sheep.
“What do you want me to show?”
Van Frankenhuysen has spent the whole day at this school.
(Sound of applause)
He gets this kind of response everywhere he goes, and he visits about a hundred schools a year. This student, Emily has just seen, step by step, how the artist turned blank pages into the beginnings of a book. He’s already illustrated childrens favorites like Adopted by an Owl, the Legend of Sleeping Bear and 16 other books.
Child: “I learned about aminals.”
McCarus: “What about them?”
Child: “That they’re cool to make.”
McCarus: “Do you ever see any of the animals out in nature outside?”
Child: “I see horses and cows and owls at night. And I hear ’em by my house.”
(Sound of sheep)
Back at his home on a farm in central Michigan, Van Frankenhuysen’s wife Robin walks through the barnyard past the sheep and horse the artist uses for painting. She roams the property trying to call him in to the house for dinner.
(Sound of whistling)
But he doesn’t hear her. Since they bought this farm 25 years ago they planted thousands of trees and made 3 ponds. There are lots of places to hide. But it’s not like the couple is trying to get away from people and be alone in nature. They’re happy putting them into one big mix.
It wasn’t until a couple days later that we finally caught up with van Frankenhuysen. He doesn’t miss the chance to show kids the wonders of nature. He says learning about it can make classroom lessons easy.
“I have boys, young boys, that normally don’t do any journaling, because they thing it’s for girls. And then they see what I do. And I write down the stuff that happens on the land. If I find a birdnest, I make a drawing of it, I put it in my book, I write it in. A deer, a fox, anything that I see. And now those stories are kind of turning in to books that we sell. And I’ve had several kids that now they’re doing it. And I don’t know if in the back of their mind, they’re thinking maybe I can make a book out of this when I grow up. It doesn’t matter! They’re paying attention. They’re writing this stuff down. I think it’s all good stuff.”
Many states are cutting education budgets. Often art is the first program to go. But state education association spokeswoman Margaret Trimer-Hartley says parents demand art. Learning it creates interest in science, literature and even math. She says van Frankenhuysen makes children better students overall. He supplements what regular teachers might not be able to provide.
“His work has given all of us an appreciation for nature and the flora and the fauna around us. Now his lessons can give us all a greater appreciation for the issues of conservation and protection of that environment.”
The warm, playful illustrations in his books touch both children and parents. In person, van Frankenhuysen is just as disarming. He’s modest when he explains why he goes into classrooms to teach kids to draw year after year.
“It’s the only thing I know how to do. I don’t know anything else. It’s painting. It’s fun.”
It really isn’t the only thing he knows how to do. His drawings are just the beginning. The trick he’s mastered is to get kids to start thinking about themselves and their environment.
For the GLRC, I’m Chris McCarus.