I have a lot to be thankful for. As I write this, I have a floor-to-ceiling window view of the mountains outside of Asheville, North Carolina, all sunshine and quiet. Before we left for this vacation -- to spend Thanksgiving with my brother and his wife at the house my family rented for countless Thanksgivings before my parents died -- an envelope showed up in my mailbox: a thank-you accordion book made by art students at the Ohio State School for the Blind.
Last year I met the OSSB's social studies teacher at a conference I attended. I’d listened in on a conversation he’d been having about how much the students at OSSB love their art classes, and we got to chatting. I told him about my Flying Adventures book, and he wanted to put me in touch with the art teacher at the school, thinking that there might be an opportunity for some sort of collaboration. One thing led to another and -- poof! -- all of a sudden I was going to be a guest presenter.
I was excited about the idea, but had no clue how to go about teaching visually challenged kids to make books. In the end I figured, just do what you can, keep it simple, and somehow it will work out. Also, over-prepare! I brushed up on book formats (with Sherman's help), trying to figure out what might fit into the timeframe I had.
I practiced by closing my eyes and imagining how to explain what I was doing: creasing paper, finding a center, tearing paper, using a bone folder. It felt like trying to brush my teeth or write with my left hand instead of my usual right. You really have to think hard about every single little step that you don't usually have to think about.
I started the week off with a Flying Adventures reading, and then got to work. The kids were great... polite, funny, gracious, generous. They helped me learn how to teach (and showed me how a braille typewriter works!) Yes, they needed help here and there, but they were able to help each other too. We folded mini-books out of single sheets of paper, made accordion books with tabbed extensions, and also ones with pockets.
We creased, folded, glued, cut, made covers, and even did some pamphlet stitch sewing.
One girl, after tying the final knot in her thread, smiled. “I made a real book!” she said. That gave me happy goose bumps.
After my week of classroom visits ended, the students worked on their own personal projects, choosing one of the book structures we practiced and making it their own. In the spring, they’ll be exhibiting their work at the state library, and I can’t wait to see it. To tide me over, they emailed me some photos of their projects.
And then this amazing thank you gift arrived: an accordion book that stretches around my entire kitchen counter. Every student designed a page, some with words, others with artwork. One in braille.
It's been an absolute honor to work with the OSSB students, and I can't thank them or the school enough for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit of what I know. Thanksgiving? Most definitely. This is what it's all about.
ps -- Miss Rachelle has THE best art room. My favorite thing? The art shark!
Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving!
READ PART 2 HERE (about the students’ final projects)