Isabel Hill and writing mentors visit CS 21!

A student revises his piece with a volunteer

A student revises his piece with a volunteer

What might you notice if you stop to look closely at the buildings around you?

One second grade class at CS 21 in Bed Stuy is writing about architecture with Isabel Hill, author of the book Urban Animals. Last week, the students went on a walking tour of their neighborhood, taking pictures of the kinds of architectural details they had learned about from Isabel and her fabulous book; details which they had never noticed before.

Since then, the class has been hard at work writing drafts for their class book. Each student choose one of the pictures they took and described it – its texture, shape, and size; what kind of architectural detail it was; what they were reminded of when they looked at it.

The class began with a story from Isabel about the publishing of the book – a story about what it means to edit one’s own work. She described how one publisher liked the photographs she had taken more than the drawings that accompanied them, and how she understood where they were coming from, so she took the photographs out. But when the same publisher asked her to change the text of the book – from a rhyming romp focused on teaching readers about architecture to the story of some children taking a walking tour – she could not bring herself to make the change.

“Revision,” she explained, “is trying something on. In the end, only you know what your art is, because you are the artist.”

The class then broke into small groups, a few students and an adult volunteer, to read their drafts and work on improving them. The students set about adding more detail, trying to describe their photos so the reader could see the architecture in their mind’s eye. The most fun part was making associations: the belt course looks like the one on my grandma’s building, or the texture was smooth like grease.

After the small group work, Isabel signed each of the students’ copies of Urban Animals, and the class took a picture. It was an exciting day of writing, and we can’t wait to see the finished book!

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