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Draw-ing Children Into Reading: Art As a Doorway to Literature

Hannah E. Harrison will be at Hardesty Library on November 3 for "Books to Treasure"

Hannah E. Harrison Illustration on Books to Treasure Library Card

It’s a truth universally forgotten by adults that learning how to read is exceedingly difficult for most children. Because it’s easy for us to do now, we don’t remember how very hard it was to learn.

In fact, learning to read is the most difficult cognitive task (or, rather, a complex, interconnected web of many different tasks) we ask kids to do – in a relatively short amount of time. It’s a monumental achievement to juggle the various requirements to read successfully, which includes learning the distinct phonemes or sounds of the English language, identifying letters and how they connect to sounds, translating letters into sounds, then translating sounds into words and words into meaning.

No wonder many, if not most, children struggle with the process!

Drawing, on the other hand, is usually much easier. At the very least, the visual task of looking at art and pictures is a far easier and initially more pleasurable task for children’s growing brains than the arduous slog of learning that sometimes “a” sounds like “apple” and sometimes it sounds like “ape” – and sometimes like nothing at all, as in “reading”!

One of my greatest triumphs as a child was learning how to draw Snoopy. I could draw Snoopy dancing, Snoopy on his doghouse, Snoopy as Joe Cool. “She’s a good draw-er,” my classmates would whisper as I drew on their textbook jacket covers, and the awe in their voices was everything to me. I lived on their praise for my entire second-grade school year.

The thing about drawing Snoopy, however, is that I had to study a lot of Peanuts comics to learn how to do it well. And while I was studying, I was reading. And the more I read, the more I wanted to read. I graduated from Snoopy and Charlie Brown and all of his pals to, soon enough, Harriet the Spy (which also has charming illustrations) and Little House on the Prairie.

But the gateway for me – as it is for many children – was the artwork. The pictures literally drew me in to reading.

That’s the idea behind the Books To Treasure program, now in its 15th year, sponsored by the Tulsa Library Trust through a grant by the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation. We want to use the power of artwork in children’s literature to draw (pun intended) children into reading. As part of Books To Treasure this year, the award-winning illustrator Hannah E. Harrison will be giving a free public presentation about her art and creative process on Friday, November 3 at 7 p.m. at the Hardesty Regional Library in Connor’s Cove.

Additionally, every second-grader in Tulsa County will receive a free copy of the book Extraordinary Jane, written and illustrated by Hannah E. Harrison.

This intricately illustrated book follows an everyday dog (Jane) and her life in a family of circus performers. She discovers that being yourself can be “extraordinary” – even if you can’t ride a unicycle or walk on a tightrope. Jane is surrounded by her circus animal friends, including elephants, monkeys, ostriches, tigers, bears…and one very supportive ringmaster.

In a starred review of Extraordinary Jane, Publishers Weekly concludes: “Harrison’s acrylic paintings, which blend realistic animal portraits with a charmingly old-fashioned circus setting to very funny effect, are the star of the show, but her understated storytelling and pacing are equally on the mark. Jane’s under-the-radar helpfulness and all-around sweetness confirm the story’s closing sentiment that being ‘a really good dog’ is something extraordinary in itself.”

Children will love the story, but the detailed artwork will captivate them and possibly even inspire their own drawing – and writing.

In fact, Harrison has a great story to tell to further inspire children to draw and write: she won the “Young Author Book Award” at her school in both second and third grades, and when she was a high school senior, was honored with a Boston Globe Scholastic Art Award for her portfolio of artwork.

Today, Harrison calls Oklahoma home and continues to work on new books. In addition to Extraordinary Jane, she is the illustrator of Remy and Lulu and the author and illustrator of Bernice Gets Carried Away, and My Friend Maggie. She has an upcoming book, Friends Stick Together,  that follows a refined rhinoceros through his tricky school day.

Books To Treasure 2017

Featuring Hannah E. Harrison

All second-graders in Tulsa County will receive a copy of Extraordinary Jane and will have the opportunity to get their own special library card featuring artwork from Extraordinary Jane.

Public Presentation: Friday, November 3, 7 p.m.

Hardesty Regional Library, Connor’s Cove, 8316 E. 93rd St.

Find out more here: http://kids.tulsalibrary.org/parents/bookstotreasure.php

Book signing to follow presentation. Books available for sale.

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