Blogger Kary Henry

Homeschool Programs Using Picture Book Biographies

Picture book biographies plus homeschool programs are a winning combination! These books are often
short enough to read aloud and then pair with an accompanying activity. Ablaze with Color: A Story of
Painter Alma Thomas
helped me create a wonderful art-focused program. Written by Jeanne Walker
Harvey with incredible illustrations by Loveis Wise, this picture book biography taught the homeschool students about the amazing life of Alma Thomas AND was a perfect springboard to creating their own art in two simple steps.

Step One: Read First

We began this homeschool program by examining the cover of Ablaze with Color. I encouraged the
students to tell me what they noticed. They shared words like “colorful,” “rainbow,” and “dashes.”

Cover image of Ablaze with Color picture book biography
Ablaze With Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas (credit: HarperCollins Publishers)

After we finished reading the book, the students were even more enthusiastic about Alma Thomas’s art!
Inspired by this blog post from The Phillips Collection, we looked at Thomas’s Blast Off. However, I
didn’t reveal the title of the painting. Students discussed what the painting made them think about. Next, I showed them a photograph of the Apollo 11 launch. They understood, then, the inspiration for the
painting. As I shared more and more of Thomas’s art, the students continued to share their impressions
(lots of heart-eye emojis over Zoom, as this program took place earlier in the pandemic). The students enthusiastically talked about their interpretations of her art and the feelings each piece evoked. Finally, it was time to create art.

Step Two: Create Next

The students had paid close attention to the colors and style of Thomas’s art, so they were ready to create
their own masterpieces in her honor. I encouraged them to think of a place, a season, or an event. Then
they chose colors that would best match the feeling they wanted to convey and set to work. You can see
an example below. George created this beautiful piece and decided on the title, Roses in the Spring. It’s evident that George used what he learned about Alma Thomas’s style from the picture book biography
but interpreted it in his own way.

Roses in the Spring, original artwork featuring circles of color, based on a picture book biography
Roses in the Spring created by George H. (Photo
courtesy of George’s mother, used with permission.)

There are many picture book biographies that would lend themselves to program ideas. I’ve focused
on an artist here, but short biographies of scientists would be great for STEM programming. Have you
used picture book biographies in programming? I’d love to hear what books and activities you combined! If you’re interested in learning about other homeschool program ideas, be sure to take a look at these other posts.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III.
Programming Skills

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