An evening with Gene Yang and the 4C’s

We have the most amazing bookstore in Petaluma called Copperfields.  They regularly partner with our schools to bring in amazing authors and illustrators.  Sometimes it’s a schools visit and sometimes we field trip to their store.  Either way, it’s top notch.  A real gem in Petaluma.

So I regularly get emails from Patty and Grace letting us know who’s coming to town.  Our library coordinator, Alice, handles the logistics of author visits so I mostly read and wait to hear from Alice.

About a month ago, I read the email sharing a visit from Gene Yang, a talented graphic novelist.  The title Avatar, the Last Airbender caught my eye.  My boys and I LOVE that show!  The email focused on secondary students, but I happen to have a budding illustrator/sixth grader at my house.  I emailed Patty and Grace to get some details on perhaps a store visit on the evening of Gene’s school visits.  Nope.  But there was a Bookstormer Doodler’s Dinner event in the works.  What’s that?  A small group dines with the author, but in this case, it’s a Doodler’s Dinner since we’re talking about a graphic artist.  Can my son join you?  Sure!  We’re working out the details and will email you back when it’s worked out.  Great!

Last night… where to begin?  My son glowed.  In a very eleven-year-old boy way.  With his typical earnest, focused facial expressions.  He glowed.

The Doodler’s (about 10 kids, Josh being youngest, from our junior and high schools) sat at a paper covered table with Gene, talking, eating, doodling, discussing their craft, laughing over his anecdotes and enjoying the kindred spirit of their shared interests.

Did I mention Josh was glowing?

Gene’s latest book is Boxers and Saints.  It’s actually two books that chronicle the Boxer Rebellion, one from each side’s point of view (long-listed for the National Book Award!).  The Avatar connection was intriguing.  Gene shared that he loves the show and was asked to join the team in making the movie but left that project when Caucasian actors were cast in obviously Asian roles.  The TV series wrapped up with the bad guys, the Fire Nation, defeated.  Then Dark Horse Comics wanted to continue the story and asked Gene to write the script.  He shared his excitement at continuing a story line in which the bad guys had been defeated.  What do you do?  The initial TV story used Asian history as the basis for the four main people groups, for example, the Fire Nation represented Japan.  So Gene turned back to history and picked up the thread of World War I, and the story continued.

My title includes an odd reference to the 4C’s… As I watched my son glowing in the presence of this person he (currently) aspires to be, I witnessed these abstract concepts in a very concrete way.

Communication–the Doodler’s table.  It was clear from the moment those kids sat down that we had a group of artists in room, comic book/graphic novel enthusiasts.  Even my very reserved Joshua immediately made introductions and started up conversation.

Creativity–sketch books, paper on the table, pens and pencils.  Some draw people, others, scenery.  Some draw weaponry, while others focused on faces or hands.  Sharpie, ball point or pencil–any medium can work in the hands of a motivated, inspired artist.

Collaboration–the Doodler’s were working together, coaching one another, sharing their work, and of course, Gene was guiding, encouraging, providing examples.

Critical Thinking–which pen to use, how to hold it, what pressure to apply, asking another Doodler for an opinion, listening to Gene’s talk, considering how history might inform art or inspire it, reading two sides to one historic event–who’s right?  why?

One of our many charges this year is to foster, encourage and monitor the use of the 4C’s in classrooms.  And honestly, sometimes these concepts are hard to put your finger on.  But what if every classroom had some aspect of the Doodler’s Table?  Like interests, passions or goals, materials that fit the task, a guiding, caring (and funny) adult and meaty topics to consider along the way.

I’ve been accused more than once of being Pollyanna.  I can hear those voices as I write this.  And I don’t deny my own cup-half-full, perpetually positive point of view.  But I don’t think my connection here is too far fetched.  And it’s my own, emotionally charged example anyway.  Obviously I thoroughly enjoyed watching Joshua enjoy the evening.  I’m sure my eyes were on him more than the author.  But for all our students, a moment/class period/project like this can be the key.

This is one of those experiences that I won’t leave easily.  My mind keeps turning it over.  How do we translate this little room at Old Chicago Pizza to third grade reading?  to 2nd grade science?  to fifth grade history?   And honestly, it just makes me want to be a teacher again.



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