This lesson involved students creating a story mountain from the book, Art & Max, by David Wiesner. A story mountain is a way to look at the structure of a story and examine how the story has a main character with hopes and desires who gets into trouble or has a problem that is resolved by the end of the story. Grade 4 students have been working on story mountains in readers and writers workshops.
First, I asked students if they knew anything special about this author. David Wiesner has won 3 Caldecott medals and only one other writer has done this in the history of the Caldecott medal. One of the library standards in elementary school is for students to understand the purpose of children's and young adult book awards. In addition, Wiesner is a brilliant artist and I try to show his contributions to literature throught the medium of this work. The story in this book is about the creation of a piece of art and the exploration of the medium. I pointed out to students throughout the story the illustrations shift from acrylics, to pastels, to watercolor. Art also changes at the end and is inspired by Max's pointillism and creating an abstract piece of work on the cactus.
The objective of the lesson is to create a story mountain. To begin, I asked students to describe the two distinct character traits of Art and Max. (This ties in with grade 4 language arts where they study how characters change from the beginning to the end of the story.) From the first page, Max is high energy and loveable in an annoying way. He flies across a double-page spread running over two assistants and knocking Art's paint brush out of his hand. Max is so excited to see Art paint he's a bit reckless in his enthusiasm. Art is the expert who has three assistants and is a bit of a snob. Art is annoyed with Max in the beginning but changes at the end when Max opens his eyes to new possibilities in creating a work of art.
The structure of this book is fairly easy to follow and the pictures are hysterical. Students were able to recreate the story mountain although there were debates in every class as to what the climax was in the story. Art lets Max paint with him but tells him to stay out of the way. Max doesn't know what to paint and asks Art. Art replies by telling him to paint him. Max takes Art literally and paints him. The acrylic paint hardens and cracks on Art before exploding off the page to reveal pastels beneath Art. Max is fascinated by what the medium is doing while Art is furious with Max. Excited, Max rushes off the page with one finger in the air indicating he has an idea and that Art should just wait there for him. He comes back with a fan and blows the pastels off of Art who is feeling dry-mouthed from inhaling pastel dust. He asks for a drink of water and the medium turns into watercolors. Art drinks the glass of water and the watercolor washes off him completely leaving only his outline. Completely fed up with Max, Art stomps off the page while Max says "wait a minute" and grabs a hold of his outline. Art completely unravels so that he has disappeared from the page. Max holds the tangled outline in his hands and with a baffled look says, "Arthur?"
Max then sets to work with determination, his long lizard-like tongue hanging out of his mouth, as he concentrates on putting Art back together. His first attempt is quite comical and the students laugh the hardest at this page no matter what age group I read it to. Next, Max puts art back together and the students "ooh" and "aah" as the simple lines become more complex and Art becomes recognizable. Once he is back together Max holds his finger up because he has another idea. (Uh-oh, the students groan, along with the assistants who are shaking their heads). Max comes in with a vacuum cleaner and blasts Art with paint. Art looks completely different covered in dots to represent Pointillism. I then have a slide of famous paintings in Pointillism by Paul Signac and Georges Seurat. Last, I show a 2 minute video that Wiesner narrates about how he writes this book. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuIsAIKiNgY[/youtube]
The last part involves writing a story mountain and we used the Epson projector for this part. I projected a graphic organizer and the students filled in the blanks. The climax was usually hotly debated by the students. Except for the class where the student yelled out dramatically at the point where Arthur has disappeared, "Oh-no! He killed him!"
I had a student videotape me giving this lesson and there were several things I would do differently. I should drop the Pointillism slide. It takes away from the story mountain. While the students found it interesting I think it was distracting and made the lesson too long. Children's picture books and how it relates to fine art is a personal interest of mine and while it adds to an appreciation of illustrators it muddied this lesson and the objectives. Also, I should have had students turn and talk to a partner before they came up to write on the Epson interactive whiteboard with the story mountain worksheet . In another class the answers were way off and I think I should have intervened with the correct answer sooner. It can be a challenge mastering the "art" of teaching.
Here's some highlights from the book when I was reading it to the students. [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9UzJEPC1nE[/youtube]