by Viviane Schwarz, Author and Illustrator
Viviane Schwarz is an award-winning Author and Illustrator. Her book Is there a dog in this book? was used on the Power of Pictures project, on which Viv also ran sessions.
Working with CLPE has been life-changing for me. I believe it has been so for many pupils and teachers, too, but my most immediate experience was that the guidelines and experience of CLPE have enabled me to interact with schools in a much more meaningful way. A school visit that is embedded into the curriculum, expected and prepared by the schools and then used afterwards, is a very different experience from one that only happens on the day and is seen mainly as entertainment and non-specific encouragement of future ambition for the children.
I am very keen to encourage children to make their own picture books. Picture books are a particularly useful medium for children - I remember myself that it was the form I was most keen to express myself in as a child. It is entirely possible to make a whole picture book in a relatively short time. It doesn’t require a great volume of writing. The narrative can be broken down into clear scenes to work on, each most likely being just a couple of pages long (or a short sequence of images or spreads). It is plannable and manageable, and very much editable - all elements can be moved around, from the order of pages to the position and expression of individual characters in a scene. A picture book can be seen as a paper theatre that allows the author to perfect a dramatic script, cast their imagined actors and capture their performance forever. And after all that, it can be reproduced, distributed and shared.
Once people really start looking at how a picture book communicates, they notice the expressiveness and precision that they may have taken for granted in the past. Every observation they make can be utilised in their own work. Teachers are often amazed how much meaning appears instantly when the simplest characters are put on a page together, and how every addition changes that meaning. It’s a playful way of practising techniques visually that can feed directly into writing later.
With the Power of Pictures programme I have been able to actually show teachers and pupils my own creative process, and seen them benefit from that in an informed way. They created characters, scenes and ultimately whole books. Instead of performing, I got to advise on storytelling. The children stopped asking me why they were no good at drawing or writing (as they often did before) and started showing me the things they were making, and they were good things.
I saw children discover that they were great comedians, with their classmates loving every moment of the stories they presented even just as rough sketches. I watched them have editorial discussions about each other’s scenes and collaborate. Then they left, and I still did not know what they would make of it all until I started to receive messages and whole hand-made booklets that their teachers sent, reports of success and enthusiasm. An exhibition of books made by classes that I had worked with, and classes that other authors worked with, was overwhelming - they had done incredible amounts of work, and it was evident that they had finished their books with pride and care.
I am able to improvise when I teach, but to really feel safe in that, there needs to be a solid framework, and CLPE reliably builds and maintains that framework. My own picture book work has been informed by the interactions I had with the children when we worked together, and the thoughts and processes I was able to clarify and develop further in passing them on.
It has been a privilege, and I am curious and excited to see what we will do next, as much as I am to see what happens in all the schools that have benefited so far.