Book-Inspired Art

The Snowball Effect
An art educator in Michigan helps students internalize great books


A Question and Answer with Josey Brouwer, an art teacher at Georgetown Elementary School in Hudsonville, Michigan. She talks with HAPPY Reading about how books inform her teaching… including a collage project with students this year, inspired by Lois Ehlert’s Snowballs.

HAPPY: Was this the first time you'd done a project like this with students? If not, would you describe previous book-inspired projects?

BROUWER: My students and I are often inspired by the artwork in books - I love it when my students tell me about a great book they’ve read and then they say, “Mrs. Brouwer, we should do an art project with this book!”. Sometimes the book helps us learn about what we are drawing and shows us how other artists might draw something. When my first graders were drawing chameleons recently, we read two books that inspired us: Lionni’s A Color of His Own and Tashiro’s Chameleon’s Colors. The books tied beautifully into our color study, and gave us great ideas for our own chameleon drawings! You can find samples of our work at:

My second graders learned how to draw giraffes during a recent cultural unit on Africa. We read several African folk tales, and the kids loved Giles Andreae’s Giraffes Can’t Dance - which led us to some wonderful giraffe drawings of our own.

When I introduce a new artist, I often read a book about the artist - in the past few years some wonderful elementary level books about artists have become available, and using the books along with visual resources has really made learning about great artists liven up my art instruction. Some favorites, along with the link to our related projects:

Anna Obiols Dali and the Path of Dreams - Subi’s illustrations are scrumptious in this book, and the text is wonderful!

George Rodrigue Why is Blue Dog Blue?

Anholt’s Camille and the Sunflowers (any book in this Barron’s series is great!)

HAPPY: How did you decide on Ehlert and on this book, in particular?

BROUWER: I wanted to introduce the concept of collage to my first grade artists, so Ehlert’s books were a perfect choice - her collages are so wonderfully crisp and visual. I was also interested in the idea of challenging my students to “build” birds from pie-shaped pieces, similar to the birds in Ehlert’s “Snowballs” book.

HAPPY: Can you speak to collaboration or cross-content appeal? Do you feel this project supports student learning in any other content area(s) and if so, how?

BROUWER: I do consider what my students are learning in their classroom and try to bring those concepts into my art instruction; it is difficult to mesh perfectly with classroom curriculum though. My students have an amazing ability to make connections to the art we are looking at and what they are learning in the classroom. We have great conversations about geometric forms and pieces of fruit in a still life, or we find a continent on the map and realize that our artist is from a country that they recognize. I find small ways throughout the day to tie my art curriculum to classroom learning. This Ehlert project connected in a wonderful way with classroom learning about the seasons and about shapes.

HAPPY: How did you approach the project? Do students spend much or any time learning about the author, her books, her writing and/or her illustrating style? What is your process?

BROUWER: I always introduce the author and illustrator - I think it’s important for my students to know who wrote the words and who created the pictures. Sometimes my readers will recognize the author’s name from another book they have read - I love hearing that connection! If the author has also provided the illustrations for the book, as Lois Ehlert or Eric Carle does, we talk about how the artist created the illustrations and the media they used. We don’t have time to go into writing style, and this works fine since our classroom teachers do a wonderful job of presenting information about the authors and writing.

After reading and discussing our book, my students and I will look at other works of art that support the lesson. We play a game called “I see, I think, I wonder” as we talk about the art pieces. From that point, we move to a short demonstration of the project and the kids get busy on their art-making. We don’t do all of this in one sitting - I chunk it into pieces and present a little bit during each art class so we have plenty of time to process, think, and create.

HAPPY: Do you believe there's a benefit for students' overall literacy development and their literary interest? Did they gain a deeper understanding or appreciation for the book or the author/illustrator?

BROUWER: Oh, absolutely! As much as my students love being read to, and looking at illustrations and artwork, the real internalizing of their learning comes about as they create a work of art. They make a hundred different decisions during that process - line, color, shape, placement of objects - all while thinking about the visual experience that they have enjoyed when we read and viewed book illustrations and artwork. The cool advantage that I have is that I get to build on that appreciation for books and authors and artists with the same students as they grow from Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade....we can revisit our favorite authors every so often, enjoy them, and compare and contrast them to other new books as their elementary career advances.

I’d like to add a plug too for all the teachers at my school, Georgetown Elementary. We do an awesome writing celebration each year called Just Write - We Have Something to Say! This is a celebration of the students’ year-long work in writing, and our students display their stories and poems on huge posters throughout the school. It is an incredible affirmation for our students of the importance they have as authors themselves! Seeing students wandering the hallway reading the 600-plus stories on display is a beautiful thing. You can read more about our writing celebration here:

HAPPY: Are there thoughts or reflections post-project? How did it go? What were some nice surprises, if any? Responses? Will you do this particular project again and if others are considering it, how would you advise them?

BROUWER: I can always judge the success of a project by the enthusiasm in the art room - and this Ehlert bird project was met with great gusto by my first graders. A fun surprise was how different the birds turned out for each student - I showed them a few ways to put the birds together, and planted the idea that the pie-shaped pieces were really like a puzzle and they were free to decide how their bird “puzzle” could fit together. And, this is hilarious, but there was great excitement about using the hole punchers to make “snow” in the style shown in Ehlert’s collages from the book. Many mounds of paper-punch snow were happily punched from the paper!

I tend to do my art projects on a two or three year rotation, rarely repeating a project in two consecutive years. This keeps me on my toes! So I will do this project again - in a couple of years. In the meantime, I’ll look to Lois Ehlert’s books for inspiration when we do another collage project next year.

As to advice - definitely chunk the process out. In this case, we read our book and had a short art discussion, then created the background of trees using birch-bark paper on the first day. The next class session was devoted to a review of the meaning of collage, and lots of demonstration about tracing a circle, folding it to create pie-shapes, cutting them out, and playing with the shapes to create our birds. A third wrap up session allowed us plenty of time to learn how to use those lovely paper punches, make a pile of “snow” and glue the snow to the paper.

Josette Brouwer has taught in Hudsonville Public Schools since 1998. You can read more about her adventures with her young artists on her blog,


(c) HAPPY Reading 2011