David Biedrzycki visited Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford on Tuesday for a program funded by the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools.
By Ronni Newton
First-graders from Braeburn Elementary School sat in their auditorium seats Tuesday morning, captivated as children’s author and illustrator David Biedrzycki explained how an idea becomes a story and how what starts off as an oval drawn on his computer screen becomes a favorite character.
Funded by the Foundation for West Hartford Public Schools’ Catherine and Martin Woods Family Grant, the “Reading with Dragons” program gave students in grades K-3 a chance to meet the well known author and illustrator, and discover how his inspirations become stories.
An animated Biedrzycki told the first graders that one day an idea popped into his mind to write a story about bears. He wanted to start with the bears hibernating. “How should I tell the story?” he said he asked himself.
“So I took a nap and then I started seeing bears everywhere,” he told the first-graders, engaging their attention and getting plenty of giggles from the 6- and 7-year-olds as he flashed a photo of himself with his head on a pillow, followed by images of bears in all sorts of places – even in a swimming pool – on the screen.
He showed the students how he drew the images of the bears and their various expressions, how he wrote the story that went with the drawings, and said then he sent it to his editor and she came back to him with five pages of mistakes.
Writing a book isn’t as simple as it may seem, he told the students. But he corrected the errors, worked with the editor, and eventually, “Bear Alert” – a story about bear heroes who foil a duo of bumbling burglars – was published.
He showed the students how he draws on the computer, using a device that lets him draw with a special pen. The students provided input as Biedrzycki created a red beetle, with legs and sharp claws, and antennae, and spots. He showed them how he uses the special pen to create shadows.
The students guided Biedrzycki as he created a family of beetles, giggling as he moved their body parts around, and made them larger and smaller on the screen.
When Biedrzycki and the students were satisfied with the family of beetles, he “signed” it on the screen, wrote a personalized message, and planned to print it out for the school.
“I started drawing at 4, but I wasn’t very good at reading or writing,” Biedrzycki told the students.
All he wanted to do was draw, Biedrzycki said, and his early stories had no words. One day his second grade teacher caught him drawing instead of paying attention, and she made him stay in for recess and read to him, Biedrzycki said. By the middle of the school year he was reading at grade level, and he soon became an excellent and avid reader – and added words to his picture books, too.
In addition to writing and illustrating his own children’s books – including several “Me and My Dragon” books, and the “Ace Lacewing Bug Detective” and “Bear” series, Biedrzycki has done the illustrations for other authors.
He’s also done many product illustrations – including the apples on bottle of Mott’s Apple Juice, the popsicles on Lifesaver Popsicles, and the cows on the Hood milk containers.
“Practice, practice, practice,” he told one of the students who asked how he got to be so good at drawing.
Biedrzycki said that he loves to visit with schoolchildren, and last year did 116 visits, all over the country.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” Biedrzycki told We-Ha.com, although he did admit that his first career goal was to be an astronaut but since he has been blind in his right eye since birth, his father told him that wasn’t going to be possible.
Biedrzycki said he was inspired by his older brother, who is now also an artist and has been a creative director for many well known retail companies.
Biedrzycki said that he writes about a book-and-a-half a year, and is currently at work on “SumoKitty,” which will be his 30th book and will be published in 2019. The inspiration for that book came from a visit by a friend who remarked that his cat had gotten very fat and looked like a sumo wrestler.
He’s also working on a graphic novel, designed for older students in grade 4 and up.
“As I’m working, I like to show it to students,” Biedrzycki, and he uses the input to make changes.
“Taking what you do and trying to explain it to kids,” is a challenge that Biedrzycki said he loves.
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