stories and art in uncertain times.

March 23, 2020
distance learning | reading my tea leaves

Today is the first official day of distance learning for New York City Public Schools and for schools across the country. James and I have sketched out a schedule as instructed by Faye’s kindergarten teacher. We’ve set her up with an email address and downloaded apps to James’s ancient iPad. We’re doing our best to teach her to use the mute button and stay clothed during conference calls. It’s anyone’s guess how this all might shake out, but we’re here to give it the old college—er, kindergarten—try. (For his part, Silas is conscientiously objecting to distance learning of any kind.)

In the past week, parents have been bombarded with resources to support this distance learning: tips and pointers and list after list of websites to support homeschooling. The intentions are lovely and supportive and the impact has been borderline exhausting.

This list from my dear friend Maggie Pouncey, co-owner of the enchanting and essential Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab here in Brooklyn, is different. There aren’t learning objectives or curriculums or educational apps to download, just the friendly faces of some of our favorite authors, illustrators, and children’s book characters, here to offer kids and parents stuck at home some relief from the tedium.

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From Maggie:

“Hi! How are you, friends?!”

Thus began countless conversations in my brick and mortar children’s bookstore and event space, Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. We told each other our stories, of the thrilling or ordinary day, of being up all night with a new baby, of reading challenges, new book discoveries.

Over the last long week these how are yous have taken on new urgency. Never more have we needed to tell of our days. As Stories, like so many small businesses, is now closed to support our collective goals of social distancing and flattening the curve, we’re thinking about how to share those stories in new ways.

Since opening in 2016, we’ve been bowled over by the generosity of the kidlit community. Every Sunday at Storytime in our Storytelling Lab, authors and illustrators make art for us, and teach us how to imagine and create. And boy are they rising to the occasion with kids at home now—parents, they’ve got your back.

We’ve rounded up a host of excellent digital resources, some super fun activity books, and a simple story starter you can do as a family with just your favorite book, paper and pencil.

Online

+ Save the Children and No Kid Hungry have created @savewithstories to raise funds for kids who depend on their schools for warm meals and who, with schools closed, require community support to get the food they need. Celebrities are reading an excellent collection of picture books and you can donate to support. [If you live in New York City, three free meals a day are available to children.]

+ Carson Ellis (author/illustrator of one of our favorite picture books, Du Iz Tak?) is doing daily Instagram Quarantine Art Club Assignments. Carson’s trademark quirky prompts encourage play and discovery and create an instant narrative.

+ The supremely talented Brooklyn illustrator, Vashti Harrison, teaches us how to draw the Little Leaders and Dreamers from her biographical picture books.

+ The charming Wendy McNaughton (illustrator of the indispensable cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat among other great books) is doing a daily Drawing Class for Kids (of all ages) at 10am PST. It hangs out in her insta stories all day so no need to schedule around it. Kids can post their drawings with the hashtag, #drawtogether.

+ Genius of animated characters, Mo Willems, is doing a daily YouTube lesson, Lunch Doodles with Mo, 1pm EST. Learn how to draw Gerald! See Mo’s studio! Learn the inside scoop on making books!

+ Thyra Heder (creator of the fantastically joyful picture book How Do You Dance?) has shared an excellent Trash Cheetah Mask craft project. All you need is cardboard, scissors, glue and ingenuity.

+ Oliver Jeffers, Mac Barnett, Raakhee Mirchandani, Sophie Blackall, Matt de la Pena and so many more have been sharing read-alouds of their books. If you have a favorite author you’d like to hear from, reach out to them. No doubt they’re happy to share, too!

And for the bigger kids:

+ Nic Stone has launched #firstchapterfriday where she reads aloud the first chapter from one of her excellent Middle Grade and YA books, like Jackpot and Dear Martin. So comforting for big kids to be read to, too!

+ Justin LaRocca Hansen who teaches the most beloved Graphic Novel Workshop for kids 8-12 at Stories during sunnier days, has started comics-inspired Justin’s Daily Drawing prompts. Great for older kids needing a break from schoolwork and screens.

Activity Books

+ You, Me, We! By Erin Jang: Actually two books in one, Erin Jang and her son Miles created this fantastic, playful collection of things to do together and side by side—make and break codes, test how well you know each other, design a museum of you, make your own mad-libs.

+ This Is How I Do It, By Matt Lamothe: A couple years ago all of us at Stories were obsessed with the picture book This Is How We Do It, by Matt Lamothe, which shared the daily lives of seven kids from seven countries, and now he’s made us an activity book so we can add our own daily lives to the mix —with postcards you can pop out, stickers you can stick and prompts to get you telling your story.

+ Animazes, by Melissa Castrillon: A gorgeous non-fiction picture book chockfull of facts about 14 animals and their paths of migration, which turn into clever mazes readers can follow and solve as they read. Perfect for budding naturalists cooped up indoors more than usual.

Story Starter from Stories

For our Signed Picture Book of the Month Club we include a page of writing and drawing prompts to get young storytellers talking and creating. Here’s one you can do with ANY book you have in your house that you love.

  1. Choose your most favorite picture book in the house. (If you can’t choose just one choose a few and repeat this activity with each one.)
  2. Chat with your grown-up about the story. What makes this book your favorite? What do you love about it? What about the pictures do you love? What about the words? Is it funny? Sad? Scary? Surprising?
  3. Choose your most favorite page in the whole book. What’s happening in that part of the story? What are the words telling you? What are the pictures showing you?
  4. Imagine that after this page the story takes a totally different direction! Can you change the story and make something completely new happen? What if the bear doesn’t eat the bunny? Or the pigeon drives the bus very safely! Or Max decides to stay with the Wild Things! Draw your own picture of this new twist you’ve imagined. Write some words to go along with your picture. What might the characters say? Or feel?
  5. Now you’re an author/illustrator too! We’d love to see your work. Please share your Story Starters with us!

PS. For folks missing Stories Sunday Storytime, here’s a Socially Distanced Storytime with Stories Bookshop Manager, Jennie. If you have spare change to contribute to keeping this beloved shop alive, there’s a spot to add a donation there, too.

What else? Other favorite authors or illustrators you know doing similar things? Favorite activity books? Favorite stories right now? We’re ALL ears.

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11 Comments

  • Reply Suzanne Reich March 23, 2020 at 1:52 pm

    “The intentions are lovely and supportive and the impact has been borderline exhausting.” Amen. Here’s to finding those artful spots of community, beauty and messiness to help us keep it all together. Thanks for a great list and for all you do.

    Adding Youth in Arts of San Rafael, CA, to your list, if I may. Youth in Arts provides arts education, teacher training and arts advocacy to classrooms in the Bay Area, serving thousands of students of all abilities and is offering free 8-minute art activities at 11:08PST every school day. Join us @YouthinArts

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 23, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      excellent! thanks so much for sharing.

  • Reply Tonke van der Sluijs March 23, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Illustrator Lore Pemberton is sharing some lovely free printable coloring pages ❤️

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 23, 2020 at 1:54 pm

      Lovely!

    • Reply Caitlin March 23, 2020 at 2:05 pm

      Actually Lindsay (Lore Pemberton) typically charges $1 per sheet for the download, but for the majority of the illustrations the proceeds go 100% to food banks during this time (she indicates on each coloring sheet page where the money goes). You can find her coloring sheets here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/LlorePemberton She’s a gem!

  • Reply Mari March 23, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    We found a free desk similar to what you have. Where did you find the chairs?
    Also, how are you managing homeschooling with all the littles? My boys loved the digital story time <3
    Stay healthy, stay safe,
    Mari

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE March 23, 2020 at 2:14 pm

      Ours were from a now-closed shop on Etsy, but I’m sure you can find others there! We’re keeping things extremely flexible in terms of schooling! Faye’s kindy teacher has set us up with lots of resources that let her be pretty self-directed, so we’re doing what makes sense and what we’re able to with all five of us under one roof!

      • Reply Mari March 23, 2020 at 2:37 pm

        I am hoping Ikea chairs would work.
        I have never shopped at Etsy. We just downsized from 2k to 9k. It has been very interesting doing this during such a volatile time. Your posts bring joy. Thank you!

  • Reply Amy March 23, 2020 at 3:17 pm

    ‘For his part, Silas is conscientiously objecting to distance learning of any kind.’ Oh my goodness, I laughed so hard tears came to my eyes… These resources are so great!

  • Reply Cerise March 23, 2020 at 4:19 pm

    Thank you, Erin and Maggie! We love Stories.

  • Reply Alexandra March 25, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Thank you for sharing this list. With two kids, 5 and 2, I have found the avalanche of “look at all the great things you could (SHOULD) be doing with your kids!” completely overwhelming. Ballet classes, yoga videos, story times, doodle times, karate classes, Irish step dancing! I can’t get them to pay attention to a single thing longer than 15 minutes and I was feeling completely garbage about not “doing this pandemic better,” which just felt ridiculous.
    .
    We are upstate and it is the first time I have ever been grateful for the long-ago move out of the city. I’ve given up on even attempting to do all the super cool online stuff. We have three things we log on for: thrice-weekly virtual music classes (15 minutes each); one-weekly piano bar put on by my brother-in-law, who takes requests via comments; and picture books read by their preschool teacher. That’s all I can manage. I am not even attempting anything “educational.” I got ABC Mouse and they play it every day and that’s as much as I consider my obligation, haha.
    .
    Because we are upstate, we have become largely feral. We bake, we paint, we make forts; but mostly, we leave at 10:30am each day and don’t come back home until 4pm. We live in rain gear and multiple layers of wool. We live by the hiking pack. We eat all lunches and most (of millions of) snacks outside. Some days we walk miles, some days we stick to a quarter of a mile and throw every single stick we find into a pond for hours. We stay away from anyone passing by, but it hasn’t really been an issue. It is a weird time, and being nestled up in the relatively less dense Hudson Valley is the only thing I am able to find gratitude for, right now. I admire your grace.
    .
    My heart goes out to your family, and to all struggling in small spaces that were intended to be a respite from the wide exciting amazing world, rather than the entirety of one’s world. This is a very hard time and there is no “wrong” way to survive these weeks. Love to you all.

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