Cartoonist Across America Creates Art Ability in the Classroom


by Dr. Dawn Menge

Phil 3.jpg

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.

Phil 2.jpg

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.

Phil 1.jpg

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.

Author Spotlight: Tara McCarton

Tara McCarton.jpg

Today's author spotlight is Tara McCarton, who has written a heartwarming book about kindness and inclusion, inspired by her daughter's Christmas wish that one day, her sister would be able to speak to her.

Where did you grow up?
Brooklyn, NY

Did you read a lot as a child?
I did, and even today, once I get into a book, I could stay up all night reading it.

What were some of your favorite authors and books?
When I was younger, I loved all the Nancy Drew mystery books and now my favorite author is Nelson DeMille, and Plum Island is my favorite book.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was good in math, so I went into finance, but everyone always told me I should write a book. Sometimes things in your life take you down a different path and you do what you were meant to do and find a different passion.

Tell us about some of the jobs you’ve had before you became a writer.
I was a lifeguard in high school and college then went into finance and worked at some of the biggest investment banks in the world. I also became an ongoing service coordinator for the Early Intervention program here in NY.

How did you get started writing?
I was inspired by my 3-year-old’s Christmas wish for her nonverbal sister to talk. I thought it was the sweetest wish and inspired me to write a book about having a disability but from a child's point of view in a lighthearted way.

Why do you write books?
I want to inspire children to be kind and include others that may be different than they are, and to know you can do anything you put your mind to, just like the illustrator of my book, who has autism.

What do you like best about writing?
Sending a positive message into the world and seeing the reactions of the kids when they read my book. It sparks a conversation that they may not have started before.

What do you find the most challenging about writing?
Finding the time to organize all my ideas in my head and getting them out on paper.

What makes a good story?
A good story is something that inspires you and teaches a message.

Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration for this book is from my daughters. Having a daughter with special needs teaches you to slow down and appreciate all the little things around you. When I watch my daughters interact, and seeing how typical kids act around Audrey inspired me to teach the world about finding the “ability” in disability.

The Wish.jpg

Tell us about your latest book.
My book, The Wish, is a sweet story about two fairies—one who speaks and one who doesn't. The younger fairy's wish is for her friend to talk. It teaches love and kindness and to slow down and appreciate the differences in all of us.

What’s next for you?
I hope to write a second book. I already have some suggestions from my nephews and classes I have spoken to. I would love for this book to be in schools around the world and read to children at night.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you and your books?
Yes, my illustrator has Autism. She is from the church we go to and when I attended her birthday party, I saw pictures of fairies on her wall. I asked her if she drew them and she did. I thought they reflected the ideas in my head perfectly of what the fairies would look like in my book. I wanted to give her a chance, too and show that even if you have a disability, you can do anything you set your mind to. When I read in schools, the children are fascinated that the pictures look like they are drawn with markers and they said they knew they could make a book, too! It is so great to see these kids drawing pictures and making books in the classroom. That is what inspires me as well!

For more information on Tara McCarton and her book, visit www.audreymccarton.com.