Last year, when I was part of a reading celebration at a Missouri university, I listened to an illustrator, Wendy Halprin, share fascinating ideas about a project that focuses on the connection between literacy and drawing.
She was telling me about what scientists are finding: as a Huffington Post article puts it, “Recent neuroscientific research has uncovered a distinct neural pathway that is only activated when we physically draw out our letters.”
Most young readers in the U.S. get themselves ready to read by drawing, writing letters of the alphabet, and studying pictures in books, all of which activate reading circuits in the brain. Does a three-year-old in Maji who has probably never seen a printed picture of a dog still recognize it as dog? (Here I am, finding out.)
The answer was yes.
Easy-to-read books, then, must make use of colorful and appealing illustrations. Since my trip to Ethiopia was spurred by artist Stephanie Schlatter, we made a pact to dream and experiment with such possibilities in 2016.
Five artists—Stephanie, Troy Zaushny, Maureen McCauley Evans, Yacob Bizuneh and Nahosenay Negussie—not only traveled to Maji together to make their own art, they also worked with 40-50 Ethiopian children on our bookmaking day in Addis Ababa, reading them stories we’d created so far, giving them the opportunity to create pictures.
Now for the work of collecting more words, more pictures and putting words and illustrations together to make books!