Cap O'Rushes

A Folkloric and Literature Resource

for Teachers and Librarians


An Appreciation of the Art of

Chris Van Allsburg, grades 2-3

Too often teachers and librarians discuss the text of a picture book while ignoring the art which is half or more of the content of the book. True, they look at the pictures, and "read" them, but usually only for the story content. This lesson asks children to look at the art and to discuss it in artistic terms. On the back flap of early editions of The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (Houghton Mifflin) it states that Van Allsburg "...was interested in applying fine-art drawing style and sensitivity to the problems of illustration. The artwork in the book explores the areas that are of concern to him: Creating a balance on the page by placing dark tones next to light for contrast; constructing space solidly on the laws of perspective; using a light source to provide a variety of tones to show form; and manipulating the position of the viewer to create a more dramatic picture."


(Text discussion: One can't read Van Allsburg without noting the unanswered question he puts in each story. One possible discussion: Defend either statement with evidence from the book: "Gasazi did (did not) change Fritz into a duck."),

II. JUMANJI. Recall the aspects of Van Allsburg's art discussed last session: light and dark, and perspective. We will now look at the artist's point of view. In each picture you can say whether the artist, and thus the viewer, is seeing the picture from the floor, sitting in a chair, or up on a ladder. (Note: defining the point of view for 3 or 4 of the most obvious pictures is sufficient to get the idea across). How does the point of view change your feelings about the picture?

III. THE WRECK OF THE ZEPHYR or POLAR EXPRESS. Recall the three aspects already examined (light and dark, depth, and point of view). Indicate that we will keep those in mind while the class is asked to consider the following question: What does the addition of color do for the work? Another interesting consideration is to examine the source of light in the picture since in both books there are several night scenes with dramatic lighting. Both of these books are done with oil pastels. Most elementary school art programs would not have real pastels for children to use but colored chalk or craypas are as close as kids would come. Again, ask the art teacher for some technical advice. She/He may have an example from her/his own work that you could show the children so they can see the actual texture of a pastel painting.


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