Emma

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by Wendy Kesselman. Illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Picture Book. 32 pages. Grades 1-3.
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Review

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At the beginning of the story, we find Emma, a seventy-two year old woman whose children and grandchildren have gathered to help her celebrate her birthday. They've even chosen a thoughtful gift, a picture of the village where Emma grew up. They then leave, sure that they have done right by the old lady, leaving Emma on her own for much of the time.

Emma is pleased with the gift, of course, but that just isn't the way she remembers her village and so she buys some art materials and paints her own village her way. One good painting leads to another and soon Emma is totally involved in her new interest. At first she hides her pictures from her relatives when they make their dutiful visits. Now, however, she's not lonely, she's having a ball and creating wonderful paintings which bring her fame and fulfillment.

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Things to Talk About and Notice

  • Stay within the book for a while and talk about the actions of Emma and her relatives. Is there love? caring? condescension? understanding? On whose part? Prove it.

  • Look at Cooney's illustrations. Whose side is she on? Who is more sympathetically drawn? Why isn't Emma's cat company enough? Look at her house. Do you see evidence of other interests? Once Emma began painting, what did she choose for subjects?
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Activities

  • Think of a place that was or is important to you. Pretend you are an artist. What would you put in the painting? Describe it as if the painting existed. Take turns showing your invisible paintings to the rest of the class. Would a photograph be able to capture all you want in such a picture? Now draw or paint it for real.

  • Find prints of paintings of the same thing: flowers, a farm, the Eiffel Tower, New York City. What did each artist do differently? What was each of them trying to do or say?

  • The parallels between Emma and Grandma Moses are obvious and you'll want to explore them, but they are not exclusive. Georgia O'Keefe was also a late comer to the art world and who says we need to stay with artists? How about other productive older people, especially women: Marie Curie, Pearl Buck, Eleanor Roosevelt, to name a few. Find newspaper articles about other people who discover a new talent or a new purpose in life in their later years.

  • Look at your own relatives. Who is discovering new interests or talents? Who is having the most fun? What are the older members of your family doing? Make a chart showing use of leisure time for different generations in your family or neighborhood. Compare their time at the job or at school with yours. What do you do with your free time? What would you do if you had more of it?
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Related Books

  • Compare this work to others by Barbara Cooney. How is Emma different than Miss Rumphius in appearance? Could Emma be happy on the island with Island Boy?cover art

  • Emma has a lot in common with Miss Rumphius and that's good because they are each illuminated by Barbara Cooney's illustrations. Miss Rumphius was told to leave the world more beautiful and, in her old age, she did that, planting lupines everywhere. Emma, too, leaves the world more beautiful. What are you doing about it?

  • Compare Emma's frustrations as an artist with those of other artistic characters in picture books: the child in Denys Cazet's Frosted Glass (Bradbury, 1987 ISBN 0-02-717960-5) and the little boy in Tomie De Paola's The Art Lesson (Putnam, 1989 ISBN 0-399-21688-X). Look at All I See by Cynthia Rylant (Orchard, 1988 ISBN 531-08377-2) and try to figure out why the artist sees and paints whales all the time. What about your own artistic experiences? Have they been encouraging ? challenging? frustrating?

  • Examine some of the paintings by Grandma Moses. Her work is somewhat similar to Emma's. So is Mattie O'Kelly's. Look at books by Mattie O'Kelley: Circus (little, 1986 ISBN 0-316-63804-8) and From the Hills of Georgia: an Autobiography in Paintings (Little, 1986 ISBN 0-316-63799-8). Which of the pictures might Emma have done?

  • You might want to stay within the art world and examine the lives and work of other painters. Try such books as Picture This by Felicity Woolf (Doubleday, 1990 ISBN 0-385-41135-9) and the famous artist series by Ernest Raboff published by Harper.

  • How about the novel Night Journey? Is Emma like Sashie? How? Prove it. Find other books in which an older person is the focal point. Compare them to Emma.

  • More Books

  • cover art

    Grades PreK - 9
    The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle. Picture Book. 32 pages.
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    In his first book in four years Eric Carle honors one of the great artists who inspired his singular style. The title gives a hint as to the identity of the boy narrator of the story. However, the story itself is a simple, almost wordless, tale of a child painting--a blue horse, a red alligator, a pink rabbit, a yellow cow and more. Our narrator closes with, "I am a good artist." It is only after this that Carle includes a reproduction of "Blue Horse" by Franz Marc along with a short biography. Read More.

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