A new library just opened in my town and I have been visiting non-stop. In one of my many trips through the aisles, I came across the book Happy, by Mies Van Hout. I was drawn in by the vibrant art work on the cover and the book did not disappoint. Each two-page spread features a “feeling word” (i.e. “curious”, “nervous”, “content”) and a picture of a fish, done on a black background, displaying the stated emotion. The illustrations are done in pastels and expertly use facial expressions, body positioning and color to capture each emotion. This book is an excellent choice for a student who just wants to curl up in a chair and enjoy the illustrations. As a Tibrarian, however, I am always looking for ways to extend the reading experience, so I wanted to share a lesson plan idea for you to use with this book. This lesson would work well with students in grades 2-3.
Start your lesson by asking students how they can tell what emotions a character in a picture book is feeling. The students will probably note that the author usually uses describing words to tell us how a character is feeling, but they will hopefully also mention the fact that the illustrations can help you identify a character’s emotions. At this point, you might want to share a few examples of illustrations from picture books that clearly depict characters’ emotions. Tell students that showing emotion in a character is one of the hardest parts of being a picture book illustrator.
At this point, you should give each student a note card that lists one of the emotions that is covered in the book (curious, nervous, brave, shy, surprised, sad, furious, proud, jealous, loving, angry, glad, confused, content, afraid, sure, shocked, astonished, bored, delighted). Once students have been assigned their emotion words, send them to tables or some other location where you have provided blank paper and crayons/markers/colored pencils.
Ask the students to draw a fish that is feeling the emotion that is listed on their cards. Depending on the length of your lesson, give students 10-15 minutes to work on their drawings. Encourage students to use color, facial expressions, and body positioning to depict their assigned emotions. Circulate the room and direct students to dictionaries if they are having trouble understanding their assigned emotions.
Once students have finished drawing, bring them back together as a group. Show them the cover of Happy and tell them that they have just completed illustrations to fill the book. Display each two-page spread, making sure to cover the “feeling word” (you can paperclip pieces of paper over each word prior to the students’ arrival). Allow students to look at each fish and guess which of their emotion words matches the fish’s expression. Then compare each student drawing to the illustrations in the book to see if the artists made the same choices (ex. “Johnny drew big, wide eyes for ‘surprised’ just like the illustrator did”).
To end the lesson, remind students to study the illustrations in the picture books that they read to get a deeper understanding of characters’ emotions.