Cartoonist Across America Creates Art Ability in the Classroom


by Dr. Dawn Menge

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Phil Yeh founded Cartoonists Across America in 1985 to increase literacy across the country. He has painted more than 1,800 murals in 49 U.S. States and more than a dozen countries. Phil’s goal is to create and encourage literacy through the Arts. "I am pleased that the Cartoonists Across America Tour has been formed, because I agree that literacy has become a problem in our country. Humor itself is always a valuable tool in providing incentive for reading.” - Charles M. Schulz, creator of Peanuts.

The recent snow storms in Southern California postponed our much-anticipated visit from Phil Yeh. He was going to bring his talents to our classroom to create a mural with the students who have severe cognitive delays in our classes. Finally, he was able to brave the weather and he and his wife Linda came to spend the day with our students.

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Paint, brushes, and comic books were all unpacked and Phil soon began to freehand the mural for us to paint. Right before our eyes he created mountains, the sun, Joshua Trees, and many animal characters for our students to paint in. Highlighted across he wrote, “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers.” The first of the students came to choose their colors to paint. Their varied cognitive and physical delays were pushed aside and soon forgotten as they excitedly picked up their paint brushes and paint and began to fill in the mural. Each student took their turn in adding their personal touches to our mural. Soon, there was a bright yellow sun with deep red lips painted by our beautiful young student who despite being deaf, uses her assertive nature to command and direct others. Our young man with Cerebral Palsy in his electric wheelchair spent an hour painting the Joshua Trees. He was so intent on getting it right and staying within the lines, carefully dipping his paint brush in the green and then raising his arm to apply the color.  

The hours passed quickly as more than 30 students whose abilities included Autism, Down syndrome, visual and hearing Impairments, and intellectual disabilities, took turns adding their loving touch to the mural. The occupational therapists, speech therapists, education specialists and educational assistants all joined in to add color and flare to the community board. The students used their creative imaginations and formed a river flowing at the bottom of the mountains. Animals were given varying color schemes, none looking the same as different students tackled different areas. Birds flying across the mountains sported colors in yellow, red, blue, and brown. The mountains were orange, yellow, and blue. A young man in an electric wheelchair painted the rabbit with a red face and a purple suit.

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Phil Yeh spent the morning helping and encouraging the students and explained his philosophies and experiences about using the Arts to expand and increase the use of combining art and literacy to build stronger communities. “Our belief is that without the presence of creative expression, the ability of students and adults to learn and pursue any subject becomes stifled, uninspired and robotic,” he says.

Phil’s graphic novel, Dinosaurs Across America, teaches U.S. Geography while entertaining students and adults with the vividly illustrated pages. As Phil painted over the black lines on the mural the paint brushes were washed, and the paint put away. The mural will be showcased in a local art show to appreciate artwork developed by individuals with disabilities. A fitting end, to a unique and amazing opportunity given to our students, on this rainy, wintery day. We are all responsible and influence Phil’s dream to create literacy through the arts and to help him accomplish his goal of “Building a World of Readers, Artists and Dreamers” in homes, classrooms, libraries, and community centers throughout the country.

Dr. Dawn Menge Makes Book Reviews a Classroom Project

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“I want to go to the 13th floor!” Mariah exclaimed as we began reading, There’s a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor. My students listened intently as I read the children’s book that was sent to me by Story Monsters Ink magazine to review. “The man was sleepy. He slept in a big room with a dinosaur,” Ryder answered as he wrote his book report. “The dinosaur did not like Mr. Snores on the 13th floor.”

Several years ago I began writing reviews for Story Monster Ink. This is a great opportunity for me as I am able to branch out on my author journey to see the other side of the publishing world. I am the author of an educational series titled, Queen Vernita’s Visitors. My series has won 31 awards; including seven Purple Dragonfly and seven Story Monsters Approved awards. I have a PH.D in Curriculum and Instruction and use many forms of literacy in my classroom that educates students with moderate to severe disabilities ages 12 to 22. During my over 20 years as an educator for students with disabilities, we have provided many forms of academic opportunities including functional reading and recreational reading.

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“Eww, something is dripping on his head!” Jesse notes, “What do you think it is?” I asked, “An ocean or an aquarium?” As an educator, it is heartwarming to hear the animated responses I receive from my students as we read the various books we are given by Story Monsters to review.

As a direct result of these opportunities, I and those around me have been exposed to many quality children’s books that we might not otherwise have had the opportunity to read. “It’s great to participate in reviewing the books, so that we can recommend them to others or buy for gifts.

I am also an active member of the United States Board on Books for Young People (USSBBY). I sit on the committee that creates the International List for the Outstanding Books for Young People with Disabilities. These books are written either for or about people with disabilities. I have been able to recommend several of the books I have reviewed for recommendation for this list.

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The books presented to me by Story Monsters vary in publishing formats from self-published to traditionally published. Allowing a wide range of exposure to gauge the many components required to judge the quality of the literature. Having been connected to Story Monsters throughout many years, I have been able to watch it grow and expand to an amazing publication that now includes bestselling author James Patterson and Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

  

 To submit your book for review, email cristy@storymonsters.com for submission guidelines.

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