INNOVATIVE art, packed rooms, speeches, applause. The only thing missing from this recent exhibit opening was the art world's ubiquitous wine and cheese. Instead attendees celebrated with juice boxes, pizza and two kinds of gooey cake.
Of course, the age of the featured author/artists may have dictated the choice of fare. Dainty crackers and cheese cubes wouldn't have long sustained the excited crowd of 8- and 9-year-olds pointing out their creations to beaming family and friends.
Through Sept. 6, visitors to the Capital Children's Museum in Northeast also have a chance to view these art books (on display in glass cases) and read these stories (shelved in separate binders). Youngsters inspired by the work of their peers can find an immediate creative outlet through numerous weekend bookmaking workshops and activities. The exhibit, "Celebrating the Art of Books," opens to the public Saturday with an all-day festival. Pappy Drewitt will teach children how to develop characters and illustrate stories, as he does on "Pappyland," his acclaimed television show, seen locally on WNVT and WHUT and nationally on the Learning Channel. Museum staff will offer sessions on cartooning and bookmaking.
The exhibit is the culmination of a year-long pilot headed by the Books Project, an arm of Everybody Wins!, a D.C.-based literacy organization. Third-graders at Gage-Eckington Elementary in Northwest experienced all facets of bookmaking as they got advice from and read the books of local children's authors, illustrators and bookbinders; received weekly guidance from Books Project staff and Marquette University interns; and enjoyed daily encouragement from their teacher, Delores Jones.
"This was definitely a community effort, focused on doing," says program manager Jackie Pliskin -- adding that the Books Project aims to hone reading and writing skills through student focus on a long-term project.
A sense of the students' creative process is captured well by the exhibit, which shows (through selected drafts, displays of artistic materials and large photographs) how the kids arrived at their final product. In this way, young visitors get a glimpse of the steps they might take in fashioning a shaped book or a certain type of illustration.
More than anything, though, the exhibit celebrates the imaginations of the young author/artists. Stories range from planning a pizza party to pondering whales. Many experiment exuberantly with the concept of form following function. For example, Matthew Bradley's "Bees Attack the World" sports a yellow-and-black cover shaped like a huge letter "B."
Ordinary objects often are used in extraordinary ways, as with Marquis Lewis's "Space Bears," in which buttons figure as the colored lights of a spaceship. One little girl, Dominique Collins, employs words and pictures to create something absent in her life. Because she couldn't plant roses at home, Dominique says she decided to make her own. A hot-pink fabric flower dominates the illustrations in "The First Rose in My Garden."
The effect of the Books Project is sure to extend beyond the creation of one book. At the opening gala, Christopher Ellison, 9-year-old author of "Ninjas," chatted with me about his newest work in progress, which features his favorite dinosaurs: Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex. No doubt inspired by big brother Christopher, 7-year-old Erica talked about writing her own book about "the animals and plants and trees of the world." And next year, says program manager Pliskin, these Gage-Eckington students, now seasoned authors, will serve as peer consultants to the next crop of novices at another school. In a decade or two -- who knows? -- we may glimpse their published bylines in a bookstore display or fete them at a reading.
CELEBRATING THE ART OF BOOKS -- Through Sept. 6 at the Capital Children's Museum, 800 Third St. NE (Metro: Union Station. Exit back of Union Station near tour buses, turn right on H Street, left on Third Street and left into museum). 202/675-4120. Open daily from 10 to 6. $6 ages 3 and older; $4 seniors; 2 and younger are free. In conjunction with the exhibit, the museum offers bookmaking activities and workshops throughout the summer for ages 5 to 10 (unless otherwise noted). Activities are hands-on, and kids can come and go throughout the three-hour programs. Workshops are shorter and led by experts in the field. Space is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis.
Storytelling/illustrating Festival -- With Pappy Drewitt, from the PBS television show "Pappyland," Saturday from 10 to 6.
Making a Personal Origami Art Book -- Activity on June 26 and 27, Aug. 7 and 8 from noon to 3.
Assembling a Personal Bound Art Book -- Activity on July 3, 4, 5 and 31, Aug. 1, 14 and 15 from noon to 3.
Creating and Telling a Story -- Workshop with storyteller Bill Grimmette, July 10 at 1 and 2.
Decorating Your Personal Art Book Cover -- Activity on July 10 and 11, Aug. 21 and 22 from noon to 3.
Writing Your Story -- Workshop with author Laura Krauss Melmed, July 17 at 1 and 2.
Using Recycled Materials in Your Personal Art Book -- Activity on July 17 and 18 from noon to 3.
How to Make Recycled Paper -- Workshop on July 18 at 11, 12, 2 and 3.
Calligraphy -- Workshop with members of Washington Calligraphers Guild, July 24 and Aug. 29, at 1 and 2:30.
Making an Accordion Art Book -- Activity for ages 7 to 10, July 24 and 25, Aug. 28 and 29 from noon to 3.
Book Illustrating -- Workshops with illustrator Paige Billin-Frye, July 25 at 1 and 2; and workshops with illustrator Jennifer Barrett O'Connell, July 31 at 1 and 2.
Writing and Illustrating Your Story -- Workshop with author Mary Quattlebaum, Aug. 7 at 1 and 2.
Creative Bookbinding -- Workshop with artist Donna Boozer, Aug. 14 at 1 and 2.
Exploring Book Arts -- Workshop with author Judith Serling-Sturm, Aug. 21 at 1 and 2.
Making Personalized Book Covers and Bookmarks -- Activity on Sept. 4, 5 and 6 from noon to 3.
"HOW TO WRITE POETRY," by Paul Janeczko (ages 9 and up, Scholastic, 1999, $12.95). Guides kids in creating poems and showcasing the finished work with simple books, cards and posters.
"MAKING BOOKS," by Charlotte Stowell, illustrated by Jim Robins (ages 5 and up, Kingfisher, 1994, $5.95). Step-by-step techniques for designing and illustrating bound, zigzag and pop-up books.
"WRITING," by Amanda Lewis, illustrated by Heather Collins (ages 8 and up, Kids Can, 1992, $9.95). This fascinating history of writing includes numerous hands-on projects -- making paper, creating bound books, fashioning accordion books.
"THE YOUNG AUTHOR'S DO-IT-YOURSELF BOOK," by Donna Guthrie, Nancy Bentley and Katy Arnsteen, illustrated by Katy Arnsteen (ages 7 to 11, Millbrook, 1994, $8.95). Engaging pictures make this "how to" especially helpful for young writers and illustrators.
CREATIVE TIPS FROM THE PROS
Even published authors rarely "get it right" in a first draft. "Revising is so important," says Laura Krauss Melmed, a Washington children's author who assisted the Gage-Eckington students. Before putting pen to paper, kids might try jotting down several ideas before choosing one they particularly love, suggests Melmed. The middle of a story is often a sticking point even for professional writers, she says, advising: "You want to build suspense and really draw the reader in. Don't end the story too suddenly."
Bethesda illustrator Jennifer Barrett O'Connell, also involved with the Books Project, echoes Melmed's emphasis on revision. "I love seeing the world of the story emerge," says O'Connell, who might rework an illustration 20 times before she is satisfied. She advocates experimenting and having fun -- and says watercolors, oil pastels, crayons, colored pencils and "found objects" for collages are often great mediums for young illustrators.
CAPTION: From left, Erica Herrion, Jeremiah Reed and Delonte Marshall admire their books at the Capital Children's Museum.