Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ellen Leou and Lulu Enchant Kindergartners at HKA

(This is a post I recently published on my school library blog page (unfortunately password protected) after an amazing visit by Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen Leou. I wanted to be able for a wider community to have access to this post and therefore decided to publish it here as well - however without the many photos showing my students engaging with the author. Sorry about that. I hope you still enjoy the post - and look out for Ellen Leou and her beautiful books.)

From the moment she welcomed the children and shared the cutest video about the real Lulu, she had her audience - children and adults alike - mesmerized: Hong Kong-based children's book author and illustrator Ellen PW Leou. There was an immediate connection and we couldn't wait to hear about Lulu's adventures. Instead of reading the story word by word, Ellen told the story alongside the beautiful illustrations which she had projected on our whiteboard. She quickly drew us into the story, letting us become a part by inviting us to sing along as Lulu started off on her adventure.

While we loved following Lulu on her adventure around Hong Kong, we were equally excited about asking questions. We had so many questions about Lulu in the story, the real Lulu and the author herself. We had been well prepared, having written down our questions already the week prior to the visit. That made sure we didn't forget a single one - and Ellen Leou answered each and every question. Our questions ranged from whether the real Lulu had a tail or not to whether it is hard being a writer.

I appreciated Ellen Leou’s honesty with students when talking about the writing process. She told students that starting to write is really hard and that it takes a lot of effort to do it well, that the editing and rewriting process can be pretty boring. Yet, she encouraged students to persevere. "Writing is hard work, you keep on trying and trying until you get it right. So don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out right away." She said that trying out stories on a friend was a great way of finding out whether they were good or boring.

It was also interesting to hear her explain how she starts of and what media she eventually uses for her illustrations. Ellen always begins with the writing process. Once that is completed, she says she has the pictures clearly in her head which makes it easier to work on the illustrations. While she uses different media for her illustrations (e.g. water color, ink, pencils, Chinese brushes), she always starts out with pencil drawings. That's not surprising when looking at the illustrations which have such fine and delicate patterns. Just look a the Chinese vase on one of the first pages, drawn with so much love for detail. Amazing!

Ellen kindly stayed on after the visit and shared some more information with me about herself and her writing. One of the things that I always find most interesting when learning about an author is their motivation to write. Ellen Leou said that she loves reading. She loved and read all day long when she was little. That is definitely a perfect reason to become a writer!

The reason why her stories are set in Hong Kong, she explained, is that in her opinion there aren't many stories about what Hong Kong really is like. Most stories talk about people from Hong Kong going elsewhere and finding something magical there. She, on the other hand, wanted to open the eyes of the many children growing up in Hong Kong, to the beauty of their city. It's all about perspective, she says, and wants us to focus on what we see around us. She made an amazing comparison, which was a true eye-opener for me: It's the stories that bring the magic to a place, making a city special and romantic. When we come to a city, we bring stories that we have heard from others, like some extra luggage with us. "The stories people tell about a place are part of the magic of that place". I am glad that you brought some of this magic to our library!

Since the author's visit, whenever I run into a kindergarten student, Lulu, the Hong Kong Cat is mentioned at some point. There is still so much talking, so much excitement about the visit in the air, it is wonderful. During the past week, we made some more time, to reflect about the experience and to think about what we learned from it. Our kindergartners did a wonderful job in sharing their learning through writing, drawing and speaking. Here a few examples:

- the author writes a lot about Lulu
- the author's real cat is also called Lulu
- the real Lulu also has no tail
- the author got Lulu from her friend
- the author puts many animals in her stories
- there are different settings in the book
- she is a good story writer
- writing stories is hard
- authors know their stories so well they can tell them without looking at the words.

The number one question, on the other hand was, where and how the book can be bought! And isn't this exactly what we are hoping for our students when we invite authors, that they mesmerize the kids with their stories, that they can think of nothing else but getting the book to read and treasure the story over and over again?



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