By Diana Nollen/ SourceMedia
MARION — The Linn-Mar High School Auditorium wasn’t even half full Thursday morning (5/3/12) and the din already was deafening.
The sound grew to a small roar as several hundred metro area second-graders wiggled in their seats, waiting for author Marc Brown to take them on a magical ride through Arthur’s world. Brown, 65, of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., gave student workshops at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., followed by a free author talk and book signing for the general public at 7 p.m., as part of Out Loud! The Metro Library Network Author Series.
Jaeden Humphries, 8, a second-grader at Westfield Elementary in Robins, has read the “Arthur” books and especially likes “the computer one,” where “his mom plays with it, but didn’t let him play with it.” Jaeden says her mom lets her play with the computer in their Cedar Rapids home.
Brown, who created the bookish little aardvark as a bedtime story for his son Tolon 35 years ago, let everyone in the auditorium play along for 45 minutes of rapt attention.
He drew Arthur in his original form, sporting a long nose, then taught the kids how they can draw the softer, rounder Arthur face they’ve seen in more than 100 books and more than 200 public television shows.
“The more I drew him, the more lovable he got,” Brown told his young audience, then explained that Arthur is really just a series of letters like u’s and o’s, ping-pong paddles for his ears and dots for his eyes, with squiggles for his collar.
The squiggles dissolved into lots of giggles as Brown showed the kids photos of his 1734 farm house, goats, ponies, cats, ducks, a peacock who thinks he’s a turkey and his workshop. Using goofy voices and lots of physical animation, he talked about all the jobs he lost before he found his celebrated niche in children’s art and literature, and delighted the crowd with black-and-white photos from his third-grade class in 1955, pointing out all the classmates and teachers who became characters in his books.
Surprisingly, the kids were especially fascinated with his tales of meeting four U.S. presidents and flying on Air Force One to speak at the 2003 Russian Book Festival, incurring the wrath of a Secret Service agent when he photographed first lady Laura Bush.
The spotlight turned back to the kids for the highlight of Brown’s Linn-Mar talk. Explaining how he also likes to illustrate books for other writers, he had the kids read along on Lindsey Craig’s “Farmyard Beat,” gave them a sneak preview of a new zoo book he’s illustrating, then grabbed a marker and headed over to a large blank sheet of paper taped to the wall.
With a sea of hands shooting up in the air, punctuated by plenty of “ooh-oohs” and cheers, he had the kids design “a giant Martian zoo creature,” calling out body parts which he then drew. Their creature sprouted an aardvark nose, kangaroo ears, giraffe neck, elephant leg, gerbil leg, gazelle leg, panda leg, eagle wing, dragon wing, squirrel tail, rat tail, giraffe tail, elephant tail, a dragon tail and various other fanciful features.
That’s the part Jaeden liked best.
Brown then swiftly and deftly fielded questions from the crowd, telling them how stories are springing up around them everywhere they go.
“You have to keep your eyes open and your ears open,” he said. “Great stories are around us every single day.”