Who’s Who and What Did They Do? {Biography Fun}

Some of you might remember that I have a year round pencil shaped tree in the house which I decorate to match the season. When the kids were younger, they were plain decor items which were seasonally appropriate. Now that they are older, I like to put things on the tree that let us do some extra investigating whether that be one illustrator or artist, an author, or a combination of people.

This month I decided to print out items that represent authors, composers, and artists with a birthday in December or January.

I use Literature for Lively Lessons as a great starting point for finding people with birthdays each month. This book has a pretty comprehensive list for famous people of all sorts including authors, artists, composers, historical figures, and even some scientists. However, the internet is a treasure trove of information of this sort so feel free to strike out and search on your own!

The next step is to use the internet for snagging pictures and facts about the people you choose- sometimes I focus on one person and sometimes a set of people. Once you have the facts and pictures, it’s time to print and pull out the laminator!

In addition to the facts, I like to give the kids assignments to go along with the items on the tree. Here are a few examples:

  • Find out where an author was born
  • What else the person has written or painted or composed
  • Tell a special fact about the person not found on the tree (I usually leave something fun out that they will certainly find in their own reserach)
  • Listen to a particular song or set of songs a composer has written
  • Try out art in the style of an artist on the tree

For December, 2012 and January, 2013 our featured folks are: Jan Brett, Mozart, Beethoven, Henri Matisse, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Ransome. 

E14 did some research for me and found the photos (I consider my pencil tree fair use in terms of copyright). Some of the assignments on this month’s tree include:

  • Read Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling (which I have downloaded on my Kindle for the kids)
  • Try out some collage with Henri Matisse (along with some FIAR reminders for a book in the same style)
  • Listen to music by Mozart and Beethoven
  • Read Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  • Make gingerbread cookies
  • Read Swallowdale together- we are enjoying read alouds with tales of the Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

At first friends and guests doubted my pencil tree. I simply have a fondness for evergreens and Christmas tree lights and felt sure I could make it happen year round. Then one day I had a brilliant notion to use it as a another way for my kids to do art/nature/composer studies.

Not many people ask about it anymore…except to see what’s on the tree when they visit!

And already my kids have been visiting the tree and peeking at what they’ll have a chance to do when there is time for reading and projecting.

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Artist of the Month: Garth Williams

In keeping with our new tradition, we celebrated an artist’s birthday in April. Garth Williams was a beloved children’s book author, born on April 16th. This was another great way to incorporate all of our Charlotte’s Web festivities- by studying the book’s illustrator.

I found a few sources about Garth Williams including his publisher’s page and the wiki page- not great for really important stuff, but just fine for what we wanted. I made some fact cards about him.
For our personal use, I made some prints of his book illustrations and laminated them.
I also made up some questions about him and placed those on a card.
On the library shelf I laid out some of the books he illustrated. This is a great place to “strew” some things you want kids to discover!
I couldn’t resist another peek at our library shelf- which is home to our library books, our Fred collection that isn’t being used and the horizontal books at the bottom are helping to press flowers. There are a few others we own on there too.

We’ve enjoyed getting to know Garth Williams since April. It’ll be time to switch out to another artist. Right now I’m trying to picture where our library shelf will go in our new house (the one we don’t have yet though our house is under contract!) and where the pencil tree will call home there. We might have to take a break on the artist tree displays until these items (and us!) find a new place to call home.

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