Saturday, August 8, 2015

Featured Illustrator: Ted Lewin

Back in May I launched a featured illustrator series to highlight the amazing books and contributions of some of my favorite children's book illustrators. Illustrators featured so far include Sean Qualls and Meilo So. I am very excited to share my next featured illustrator, and possibly one of my favorite illustrators of all time ... Ted Lewin!

About Featured Illustrator Ted Lewin

My students learn very quickly to recognize the name Ted Lewin. Several of his books have become staples of my classroom, starting right from the first week of school with One Green Apple. His artwork is immediately recognizable for his incredibly life-like use of watercolors. "Like photographs, only better" is how one of my students described his style. He won a Caldecott Honor in 1994 for Peppe the Lamplighter.

I was thrilled to hear Ted and his wife Betsy speak back in 2010 at the International Children's and Young Adult Literature Celebration. With only minimal maneuvering on my part I was even able to join their table during lunch! Ted Lewin is a consummate storyteller, and he kept our table enthralled with tales of their recent trip up north to see the puffins (eventually published as Puffling Patrol). At this point in their careers, he explained, they simply tell the publishers where they want to go, their publisher sends them, and they figure out their books and stories from there!

My favorite quote from his & Betsy's presentation was that "you don't go in a straight line to your dreams." Betsy started work in the greeting card industry, while Ted was a teenage professional wrestler (per the title of his memoir). After they each broke into the picture book industry, it was still many years before they started writing and collaborating on stories. Much of the writing and ideas come from Ted's writing journals, while Betsy keeps up with the names and specific details.

There are a variety of resources on Ted Lewin's own web site. The video link has some great interviews and excerpts with him and his wife, Betsy.

My Must-Read Ted Lewin Titles

These are the books that I read to my classes year after year. Our Social Studies curriculum is built around world geography and world cultures, so there are many Ted Lewin books that are an excellent fit. Stay tuned for future posts in his featured illustrator series.

One Green Apple by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Ted Lewin. This 'second day of school' book is one that I always share during the first week of school. Farah's story of being in a new school and a new country is one that resonates as we begin to establish our own class community. Students immediately grab onto the symbolism of her "different" apple becoming a part of the blended cider. This is a book we return to again and again as we learn about new people and new cultures and as well think about how to be a welcoming and inclusive community ourselves. (You can also read an entire post dedicated to One Green Apple and thoughts on theme.)

The Day of Ahmed's Secret by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland, illustrated by Ted Lewin. This powerful story follows a day in the life of Ahmed as he works his rounds delivering butane gas by donkey cart in modern Cairo, Egypt. He is a thoughtful, interesting narrator and makes unique observations about the world around him and his place in it, even connecting back to Egypt's ancient history. (Skip the next paragraph if you do not want to know the ending.)

When he reveals his secret at the end (*spoiler alert* that he can write his own name in Arabic), students must suddenly face some of the realities of child labor and poverty. I always end this read aloud with a discussion of why writing is powerful and what it represents for Ahmed, and student often offer many insightful ideas and realizations. Everyone then gets their own chance to write their name in Arabic as well, and I often find students still using Arabic to sign assignments even weeks later. (I use Firdaous for help with the Arabic. There are often minor mismatches with vowels, but it is a decent approximation for most names.)

Ali, Child of the Desert (1997) by Jonathan London and illustrated by Ted Lewin. This coming-of-age story features young Ali who is thrilled to accompany his father across the Sahara Desert for the first time. When a sandstorm strikes, however, he learns just how dangerous the desert can be - if not for the help of strangers. (I was saddened to learn that this book is now out-of-print, but it is well worth searching for at your library.)

Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone and illustrated by Ted Lewin (Caldecott Honor book). I love this book. The illustrations will take your breath away, with Ted Lewin's masterful paintings. Living in turn-of-the-century New York, Peppe finds himself needing to get a job to help his ailing father and his many, many sisters. But Peppe's father is a proud man and becomes angry at his son. This father-son confrontation always prompts deep discussion and conversation. In the end, everyone realizes how important the job of lightlamper can be. I read this book in connection with our unit on Ellis Island and American immigration.

Lost City: the discovery of Machu Picchu (2003) by Ted Lewin. This book tells the true story of Hiram Bingham's efforts to find the lost Inca city of Vilcapampa in 1911 but instead being introduced to Machu Picchu. What I appreciate about this "discovery" story is the credit given to locals and local knowledge, and it's a great book for helping kids discuss the idea of "discovering" something some one already knows about.

Click here or the featured illustrator tag to see all the posts in the featured illustrator series.

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