A Visit with Eric Velasquez
"Octopus Stew" - A story of togetherness and support
There’s a lot of love stirred into “Octopus Stew,” a picture book by author and illustrator Eric Velasquez, and the students can tell.
As they listen to the award-winning author read the book, his gentle voice occasionally rippling from English to Spanish, they understand that the grandmother in the book is his abuela, and that he is the boy in the superhero cape who stands up to the octopus when it grows to gigantic proportions.
"'¡Tenga cuidado!" he reads. "Be careful!"
Each visit included lunch with students
A Three-School, K-5 Experience
“We are thrilled that Eric Velasquez was able to come to all elementary schools,” said Juli Hoffman, the librarian at Increase Miller Elementary School and curriculum integration leader, who arranged for the visits with Jocelyn Lividini, a fourth-grade teacher and curriculum integration leader for Equity and Social and Emotional Learning. She added that Velasquez has illustrated over 30 highly-acclaimed children's books which tell the stories of important diverse historical figures and events as well as writes about his childhood and family experiences.
Jeanne Hand, librarian at Katonah Elementary School, highlighted the pizza lunch Velasquez shared with a group of students at each school. She said that the conversation covered topics such as how to get published, how to organize your ideas and to always be curious. "He encouraged students to seek out mentors who would critique their work and offer feedback to help them improve," said Hand. "It was an enriching and fun experience."
Students Learn from Velasquez's books
Velasquez shares how his life's work found him
Two things catapulted him into his life’s work.
“When it was my dad’s turn to read to me, he’d close the book and say, ‘Why don’t you tell me a story?’" said Velasquez. “That's how I started making up stories.”
About that time, he found a book in his school library that seemed as if it was written just for him: “Pencil, Pen and Brush: How to Draw.”
Velasquez began drawing every day. Soon, he was writing and illustrating his own stories. The practice led to him to the School of Visual Arts and a career as an author/illustrator, focusing on stories in which children of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage can see themselves.
Students See A Master Artist at Work
A highlight of Velasquez’ visit was seeing his talent in action. During each presentation, the school librarian picked a student to sit for a quick pencil sketch. As the illustrator answered the group’s questions, his eyes and hands created a portrait of the student.
“The students loved how in seven minutes he was able to create a portrait while simultaneously answering their questions about his process and his career,” said Nick Grasso, library media specialist at Meadow Pond Elementary School.
The Art of Sketching What you see
"Read, Read, read," said Velasquez
The artist drew their attention back to “Octopus Stew.” "What do you think? Is it fiction or non-fiction?” he asked. It was a tricky question: a fold-out in the book shows the main character telling the story of the giant octopus to his family. “Both!” said the students.
“Draw every day,” Velasquez told the students. “And read. Read to develop your creativity and ability to think.”