As one of our favorite author/illustrators will soon tell you: for a reluctant or struggling reader, learning to enjoy illustrations may be the motivation they need to pick up a book and discover the delight of reading. Understanding how artwork can compliment a story and help bring imagination to life may inspire future illustrators to tell stories through images.
As March is “Youth Art Month,” here is some advice from Dav Pilkey, author of the Captain Underpants series and The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, on the importance of encouraging expression through art in the classroom.
When I was a kid, I loved to draw and make up stories. I didn’t worry about drawing things perfectly or spelling things correctly. I just wanted to get my ideas and stories on paper. I loved the freedom that came with creating stories just for fun.
Once I got published, I spent years traveling to different schools and talking with kids about my books. During these school visits, I was surprised to learn that most kids didn’t consider themselves to be artists or writers. Most kids thought they had to be able to draw Garfield perfectly to be an artist. They had also convinced themselves that they needed to spell perfectly in order to be writers. Everywhere I went, I met kids who were stifled creatively because of their fears of imperfection.
My goal at these school visits was to encourage kids to be creative without worrying about being perfect. I showed kids examples of Impressionists who drew houses upside down, painted freely, and broke all the rules. Much to the dismay of the teachers in the room, I also gave examples of famous writers and poets who didn’t use conventional spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I think the kids I spoke with were inspired by these examples, but I wanted to reach more kids, all over the world.
That’s how Captain Underpants came along. I designed each book to contain two or three “mini-comics” which were created by the stories’ protagonists, George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George and Harold’s simple, silly, and wildly imperfect mini-comics turned out to be one of the most popular parts of each book. My hope was that George and Harold’s “imperfect examples” would give kids permission to invent their own stories without concern for perfectionism, and so far, it seems to have worked. Every year, I get hundreds of original comics and stories mailed to me from kids. These kids didn’t make their comics because of a school assignment. None of these stories were proofread or graded or marked up with a red pen. These stories were all made for one reason—for fun!
And isn’t that what creativity is all about?