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Building a Story - The Roles of Authors and Illustrators

Every story has a beginning, middle and end.  And in the details of that telling, we can be transported to times and places that fill us with a range of emotions - from wonder, hope and, mirth - to fear, sadness and dread.  And the best stories usually have a blend of both!

My Experience Corps kids are currently engaged in "author studies."  What you and I - if you're a Gen Xer, boomer or older - used to call storytime!  To date, we've read a number of great children's authors and illustrators: Ed Young, Eric Carle, Rachel Isadora, Mo Willems, Dr. Seuss, Ezra Jack Keats, Shel Silverstein and Laura Numeroff.

My teacher even spends time teaching the kids about individual authors and illustrators, going so far as to create posters that describe their style and preferences.   For instance, Rachel Isadora generally writes about music and movement, renders most of her images in black and white, and often riffs on classic fairy tales.  To the left is the poster that's up in the classroom. 


After reading a particular story, my teacher pulls out three or four sheets of blank paper and gets the kids to "retell" the story.  She calls on them, one by one, and they offer a detail that they remember from the story.  She asks them on which blank page the detail should go; she asks for class agreement and then she writes or draws it in on the appropriate page.

As the kids go through this exercise, they come to realize that they are literally telling the story by piecing together actions/details in the appropriate order.  It is precisely these actions and details that give the story its flesh, and they understand that it was the author and illustrator who chose the words and drawings to build the story they have just been retelling.

The kids really love their storytelling time.  I know I did.  But I don't remember being quizzed on details of the story and where they fit in the narrative arc!

So when I watch the classroom dynamic play out and these "retellings" go on, I wonder how the kids lives will turn out, and what roles they will play in their communities.  But one thing I am sure of: their ability to read at grade level will help them immeasurably on their personal journeys.

You can learn more about how to get involved on the Experience Corps website.

Robert Hodder is blogging about his first year as a volunteer with AARP Experience Corps, helping kids in a Washington, D.C. elementary school with their reading skills. AARP Experience Corps will be expanding into its 20th city, Chicago, in the 2013-14 school year and is in the process of recruiting volunteers. You can also follow Robert and his experiences on Twitter. For information on how to volunteer, please contact Patrice Gerideau at


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