Gurney Journey | category: Elementary Schools


Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

Dinotopia at the Children's House

Dinotopia at the Children's House

Dr. Jo Ann Leggett, director of the Children’s House preschool of Victoria, Texas recently completed a Dinotopia-themed project for the school’s summer program, and she sent some photos to share.

Dinotopia at the Children's House
Dr. Jo says: "Children delighted in all the books," and they learned about geography from the Dinotopia map.

Dinotopia at the Children's House
They tried "plank walking," a Dinotopia game that I introduced in "Journey to Chandara."

Dinotopia at the Children's House
To succeed at plank walking, everyone has to pull the ropes and lift their feet together as a team.

Dinotopia at the Children's House
"Dinotopia is our 'most-looked-forward-to' unit at the school. Thank you for your inspiration," says Dr. Jo.

Thank YOU, Dr. Jo! If you're a teacher of any age group and would like to spotlight Dinotopia at your school, please write me a letter. I’ll be happy to send you a list of suggested games, projects, and activities, and I'll include a signed card to help you get the ball rolling.

Dinosaurs Invade Millburn High School
Science, Art, and Fantasy (Elementary School)

Ever Dream Land

When the Norton Museum of Art had its Dinotopia exhibition last year, students involved with the Museum’s PACE program (Progressive Afterschool Arts Community Education) at local community sites worked together to create their own utopias. These expressions of collective dreaming were exhibited in the museum near my own paintings and models.

Ever Dream Land
The students of My Choice Community Development, a center in Riviera Beach, created a land inhabited by a marvelous menagerie of animals and plants, which they shaped out of clay. Students at Gaines Park, a West Palm Beach Parks and Recreation site, created an island called “Ever Dream Land.” The name was a reaction to the limits implied by the name “Never Never Land” of Peter Pan. Ever Dream Land is inhabited by a marvelous menagerie of humans, animals and plants, which they shaped out of clay. 

Ever Dream Land

They drew a map and invented up their own set of alphabetic symbols. They pictured themselves floating up on balloons over ice cream mountains and candy rivers, with soft round homes made of discarded packing foam.

Art Carts and Art Education Survey

The Lehigh Valley Arts Council in eastern Pennsylvania just published a survey about how the arts are faring in schools. It’s a regional survey, but it probably speaks to problems that face art teachers everywhere, especially in these tough economic times.

Art Carts and Art Education SurveyA few of the findings:
1. Fewer and fewer art teachers have their own dedicated classrooms, and many are heroically teaching from art carts. Schools with limited space often replace art classrooms with computer rooms.

2. Collaborations between art teachers and other curriculum areas, such as geography or science, are much more common in elementary and middle school levels, and harder to find at the high school level.

3. It’s also harder for high school art teachers to organize field trips or to get support from parents and funding groups.

The arts council is facing these somewhat discouraging trends by reminding parents, business people, and school administrators how important the arts are to the growth of young people. They’re working with an allocation from the Pennsylvania state budget that was cut back more than eight percent from the previous level.

You can read more about the survey, conducted by Paul Dino Jones at Lehigh Valley Live. and Morning Call Newspaper Article.

Press notice
about my keynote at the Arts-In-Education gathering.

Comics in the Classroom

Comics in the ClassroomTalk about a cool elementary school teacher. This is Andy Wales, art teacher for the Lynch Bustin School. We had dinner with his family and I did this sketch of him between the pasta and the cheesecake courses.

Comics in the ClassroomAndy Wales showed me his art room, which has a rack of comics that students are free to browse. He did his masters thesis on the value of using comics in the classroom, not only to tell stories, but to explain all sorts of topics. One of his heroes is Scott McCloud, the author of Understanding Comics.

Comics in the ClassroomIn preparation for my visit, the K-5 students made a plaster dinosaur, clay maquettes, and drawings of scenes with people and dinosaurs interacting.

Comics in the Classroom One dinosaur, called a Fraction Dinosaur helps out with math concepts.

Drawing from Maquettes

Andy Wales, a frequent commentator on this blog and a contributor to Art By Committee, is also an elementary school art teacher at the Lynch Bustin Elementary School in Athens, Pennsylvania.

Drawing from MaquettesIn anticipation of my visit next month, he has been using maquettes with his young art students so that they can make their fantasy drawings more realistic.

"We're not building our own models, but we are using dinosaur toys and action figures to imagine scenes. Above you see that Cyclops of the X-Men is taped to a dinosaur. We're working with the lights off, using only the lights that come in from the skylights. In my demonstration sketch, I'm showing the kids how to use charcoal, blending stump and erasers to create shadows and highlights on objects."

Andrew Wales’ blog Panel Discussion, link.
The Lynch Bustin Art Room, link.

Dinotopia at the Children’s House

Dr. Jo Ann Leggett, director of the Children’s House of Victoria, Texas recently completed a Dinotopia-themed project for the school’s summer program.

Dinotopia at the Children’s House
The kids got an opportunity to try a funny face contest, as well as dinosaur musical parades, and a “water ride down under.”

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseThere were some brave efforts at plank walking. They played ping pong with Zippo and they designed t-shirts. Kids, parents, and faculty worked together to paint dinosaur murals.

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseA section by the back fence transformed into Treetown. A sprinkler in a tree became Waterfall City, and the kids put on their swimsuits and played under the water spray.

Dinotopia at the Children’s HouseBagels on dowels brought to life the Kentrosaurus Bakery from Journey to Chandara.

Dr. Leggett wrote in summary:
“I have been in business for 30 years and I have never experienced the response your Dinotopia has made on all assets of our program. The fact that you correlated all subject matter—art, science, social studies, music, and math in your book made our task of a progressive educational experience easy. Dinotopia is not just a book. It is an experience to be treasured for generations.”

To which I say, the success of the program is more of a tribute to Dr. Leggett’s amazing creativity and enthusiasm, along with her faculty, parents, and students. Without their imagination, Dinotopia would remain dormant on the page.

To other teachers planning your upcoming school year, I hope you’ll consider doing a Dinotopia curriculum theme. If you write me about your plans using your school stationery and include a self-addressed stamped envelope, I’ll be happy to send you a free list of suggested games and activities and a signed card to help you get the ball rolling.

James Gurney
Dinotopia School Event
PO Box 693
Rhinebeck, NY 12572

You can contact Dr. Jo at <>

Second Graders

Second GradersToday I visited an elementary school to talk to the second graders about Dinotopia and to do a demo drawing of a dinosaur.

I enjoy talking to second graders because I was that age when I fell in love with drawing, thanks to Mrs. Bailey at Almond School in Los Altos, California.

Kids that age are also refreshingly honest. A girl stopped me afterward to say, "I saw your book at the bookstore and my mom almost bought it, but I found one I liked better, so I got that instead."
More candid comments from kids, link.

Dinosaurs Invade Elementary Schools

On Tuesday I paid a visit to the Grant D. Morse Elementary School in the Hudson Valley of New York State, at the base of Platte Clove. I did my PowerPoint and Magic Marker presentations for 300 kids in grades 4-6 and then another huge assembly of Kindergarten through third grade.

Dinosaurs Invade Elementary SchoolsThe girls from the school newspaper Just Print It interviewed me with astute questions about the creative process. They pressed me on a lot of topics, like exactly how many more books I plan to write, and then I asked them a few questions about how movie adaptations influence the way they imagine their favorite books.

Dinosaurs Invade Elementary SchoolsArt teacher Elisa Tucci has had the students working with dinosaurs for a long time now. Here’s a wall of cutouts, drawings, and paper dioramas. There were giant T.rex footprints cut out of paper and taped to the floor of the hallways.

Dinosaurs Invade Elementary SchoolsThe kids collaborated on this spectacular panorama of dinosaurs on parade, with exotic architecture behind them.

I'd like to spotlight another teacher who has been working with Dinotopia. His name is Andrew Wales of the Lynch Bustin school in Athens, Pennsylvania. Here’a link to his blog journal, leading up to the big Dino Daze Family Fun Night day on November 30.

Dinosaurs Invade Elementary SchoolsHe says the students have been inspired by Gurney Journey to paint their own pictures, but "some students imagined a co-existence between humans and dinosaurs that was not so peaceful!" Here is one of the large dinosaur sculptures made from ingenious combinations of cardboard tubes and paper.

Time for Kids, the little magazine that comes home in school lunchboxes, also did a feature on the new Dinotopia book. Here's the link. Thanks, TFK, and my sincere appreciation to all the schoolteachers who have used Dinotopia in their classrooms.

Science, Art, and Fantasy

Elementary school teachers Teresa Moucha and Alice Toepel at the Carl Traeger Elementary School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin started planning their author visit almost six months ahead.

They wrote a grant proposal and a curriculum plan. The idea was to bring art and science together using the fantasy of Dinotopia. Mrs. Moucha and Mrs. Toepel, with the blessing of principal Janna Cochrane, below right, asked their fourth and fifth graders to create their own utopian worlds.

Science, Art, and FantasyThe Oshkosh Public Museum’s assistant director Mike Breza, at the center of this picture with his daughters, coordinated the "Return to Dinotopia" museum exhibit in town and worked with the public library to develop a reading list. He received grant money to allow school kids free admission to the museum, which includes not only Dinotopia artwork, but costumes to try on and four full-size dinosaur skulls.

Science, Art, and FantasyThe students at Traeger sketched actual plants and taxidermied animals. They invented an animal character that talks, a plot conflict, and a plausible fantasy setting. During the two and a half months counting down to my visit, they designed maps, landscapes and architecture and wrote stories about their imaginary worlds.

The results included “Dragontopia,” “Gerbiltopia,” “Fishtopia,” and “Dogtopia.”

Science, Art, and FantasyWhen I arrived on Friday, I gave a quick digital slide show about how I work, and then they performed the “Garden Chorale.” Then I visited four classes to talk in more detail with them about their projects and to share my Magic Marker presentation.

Science, Art, and FantasyThe day after the school visit, Mrs. Moucha handed me a beautiful handmade book with thank-you notes tucked into secret compartments. One student named Kaitlyn wrote a note that brought me tears of joy: “Thank you for coming to our school. You really changed my thinking about art.”

Here's a link to a newspaper story from the Nov. 4 Oshkosh newspaper, and a report in the District Newsletter.
Dinotopia at the Children's HouseEver Dream LandArt Carts and Art Education SurveyComics in the ClassroomDrawing from MaquettesDinotopia at the Children’s HouseSecond GradersTuggle in ActionDinosaurs Invade Elementary SchoolsScience, Art, and Fantasy

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