Author/Illustrator Jon Agee Wows Students with Pictures and Stories

Students didn’t know what a treat they were in for when author/illustrator Jon Agee visited Gilman on November 16 and 17. Agee appealed to audiences in every age group — from pre-kindergartners all the way through a small group of Upper School mentors, not to mention the lucky faculty and staff members who got to watch, too.

Agee gave multiple presentations during his two-day visit — a breakfast session with students participating in our mentoring program, an early childhood assembly with a mix of pre-k through first grade students from the tri-schools, a lunch-and-learn session with interested Middle Schoolers called Dine and Doodle, an assembly for second and fourth grade students from Gilman, Bryn Mawr, and RPCS, and individual class workshops for third grade boys.

Agee’s style of telling his stories through scenes drawn in real-time using a single magic marker captivated the attention of every student in attendance. They enjoyed hearing bits from “My Rhinoceros,” “Z Goes Home,” and, especially, “The Incredible Painting of Felix Clousseau.”

“The children and teachers from all the schools thoroughly enjoyed watching Jon Agee’s witty and creative storytelling with his quick sketching transforming itself in front of our very eyes in hilarious and bouncy moves,” said Lower School French teacher Isabelle Giorgis. “He was able to engage the children both while presenting on stage and also while sharing his stories in the classrooms in a more intimate way. In my 15 years at Gilman, this was one of the most well-executed projects I have witnessed.”

In addition to live illustration-storytelling, the talented writer and artist had other tricks up his sleeve for entertaining and teaching his attentive onlookers, like when he turned a picture of an olive into a dog and one of a Christmas tree into a bearded man using a folding technique. Students also got a sneak peek at his latest book “My Dad is a Tree,” which comes out in May. He humored his fans by reading the first book he ever published aloud all in one breath. “It’s only two sentences,” he admitted before taking a big inhale, but their length made it an impressive feat nevertheless. Agee also shared books he wrote as a small child, most of which he aptly titled, “Book,” because “that was the only word I knew how to write.”

On his way out of the early childhood assembly, one first grader told Agee, “You’re definitely my favorite author now.” Another said, “That was the best assembly ever!”

In the Middle School library pizza group, Agee worked on word play, sharing palindromes, anagrams, and oxymorons. “Go Hang a Salami! I’m a Lasagna Hog!” is a palindrome he wrote in 1991, and it “put me on the map,” according to Agee. (It’s also the title of one of his books.) Five attendee names were drawn to win a copy of “Otto: A Palindrama,” donated by Gilman Libraries.

In the third grade workshops, Agee worked with boys on either parody writing or the paper-folding technique he used to create the unexpected pictures (like the dog and the bearded man). “The boys had a wonderful time learning how to turn an ordinary image into something extraordinary,” said third grade teacher Allison Jordan. “They were engaged by Jon Agee’s calming, kind personality and his incredible illustrations.”

Gilman wishes to thank Lower School librarian Melissa Da and the Lower School library team, who coordinated Mr. Agee’s visit. Additionally, the School gratefully acknowledges the endowed Class of 2005 Visiting Artists Fund, which made this event possible.