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John Schoenherr, Children’s Book Ilustrator, RIP

Last week I learned of the death of the book illustrator, John Schoenherr. My favorite among  his work was his partnership with Jane Yolen on the Caldecott Award Winning children’s book Owl Moon.

book owl.jpgFor my money, the Caldecott Award is a real measure of quality. Of course there are others like Newbery, Geisel, etc.  And, with a five-year old daughter, I spend time a lot of time looking for such books. On one side of the spectrum you find the fast food nation of books for children–the Nickelodeon, Barbie-sort of books. JHave you ever tried to read the Scooby Doo books for children, with their often cheap, machine-like illustrations and inane stories, which oddly enough, my daughter happens to prefer. One should never underestimate the power of marketing! I digress…

The other side of the spectrum is occupied by Caldecott winners.

I first came across Owl Moon in an integrated arts education curriculum that Rob Horowitz was writing for a Baltimore Symphony school partnership program.

Here, Owl Moon became deconstructed and reconstructed. It was a lesson that I used and varied quite a bit when I led professional development sessions for teachers and artists. Owl Moon was the centerpiece.

A beautiful story, that just comes alive through Schoenherr’s illustrations. The simple walk through the winter night becomes magical through the Yolen-Schoenherr collaboration.

What we used to do with it, it being Owl Moon, was basically use it as the anchor for an integrated arts lesson at the first grade level. To begin with, the teacher would read the story aloud and show the pictures, you know, classic-style.

Then, using instruments made by the class together with a teaching artists from the BSO, the class would construct a soundtrack to Owl Moon.

Owl Moon would then be read out loud by the class, along with the soundtrack.

Then, the classroom teacher would choreograph a dance to Owl Moon.

The story would be told with the dance to the soundtrack, sans text.

Then, the children would create their own illustrations with the art teacher.

Owl Moon would then be told by a pairing of the illustrations with the music.

Finally, it would all be combined, text, original illustrations and children’s illustrations side-by-side, together with the dance.

A nice little lesson plan, making the most of existing skills and building new ones for the children, teachers, and teaching artist. All revolving around that most beautiful of books, Owl Moon.

It was an in-depth lesson that gave great dimension to the book through the integration of literacy, dance, music, instrument making, and visual art.

There are just so many variations of this particular lesson, that all in their own way, make the book come alive for the class. Every time I’ve looked at Owl Moon since those days, I think of that lesson.

So, to the great artist who illustrated Owl Moon, and so much more, I say thank you and Rest in Peace.


an ArtsJournal blog