Nancy was none too fond of thunder. (It had something to do with her being shot out of a cannon one time too many as a young child.) Fortunately, Nancy had no inkling of the coming storm.
Nancy, Joe, Max, and Genius Kelly pressed on to the hill and the sea beyond. It seemed to Joe that they had been walking for quite some time and still there was no sea in sight.

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is available in hardcover, paperback, and audio. Ask for it at your local library and bookstore!
Read more about the author Nikki Grimes and illustrator Chris Van Dusen here!

Click on a title below for book recommendations; reading, writing, and art information and activities; and discussion questions.

• An Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads
• Activities for the Classroom
• Discussion Questions
• For Parents, Teachers, Librarians—Talk Art!

Conversation! Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads

by Thom Barthelmess, Curator at the Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University

Read Alouds:

James, Simon. Dear Mr. Blueberry. 32P. Gr PreK-3.
Here dialogue is confined to letter writing, as a young girl writes to her science teacher to tell him about the whale she has discovered in the fountain in the square. Witty and ironic and sweet, their exchange speaks to the joys of learning, and the meaning of trust.

Raschka, Chris. Yo! Yes? 32p. Gr. PreK-2.
In only 34 words Raschka chronicles a vivid, ebullient budding friendship as two young men, one white and one black, meet on the street and exchange a few words of openness that amount to volumes.

Shulevitz, Uri. The Secret Room. 32p. Gr. K-5.
Impressed by the wisdom of a wanderer, the King makes him treasurer of the kingdom. A jealous counselor attempts to bring the wise man down, but his clever answers to the King’s questions save him. Shulevitz’s trademark saturated, angular paintings ground this tale and make it shine.

Independent Reads:

Konigsburg, E.L. Silent to the Bone. 272p. Gr. 5-9.
Branwell can’t talk. The babysitter snatches the phone away from him and tells the 911 operator “He dropped the baby.” Can his best friend Connor help him defend himself against mounting allegations when Branwell won’t, or can’t speak?

Myracle, Lauren. ttyl. 234p. Gr. 6-12.
Three friends, all sophomores in high school, live out the great and hysterical drama that is adolescent, all through the text message medium. At once superficially entertaining and powerfully affecting, this is a novel that eschews gimmick and embraces storytelling.

Pratchett, Terry. Nation. 384p. Gr. 9-12.
In utterly original parallel narratives, this heart-rending novel tells the story of two young people who forge a bond, and a nation, when they’re thrown together by tumultuous circumstance. A massive storm and subsequent tidal wave wipe out a primitive village and wreck a Victorian-era British ship on the ravaged shore, leaving the only survivors, Mau, a native boy, and Daphne, an English girl, to build a new community as they struggle to start over.

© 2010 Thom Barthelmess

Activities for the Classroom: R.A.F.T.

by Kristina Fitzgerald

R.A.F.T. is an activity that integrates reading and writing.  It is a way for the reader to take an active role in the story and creatively explain a situation in the work from the perspective of a character. In addition, it is a higher-level thinking activity that requires the reader to go beyond basic comprehension of the material. The reader has to abandon his or her own opinions of the story and enter the mind of a character. 

  The critical aspect of this activity is that the reader must truly understand the chosen character and his or her motivations and personality traits. By accepting this adventure, you have the opportunity to become the author of the story who creates an adventure for the characters you have learned about in this journey through The Exquisite Corpse Adventure. To complete this adventure, let’s first understand what R.A.F.T. means. 

R.A.F.T. stands for…
R = ROLE of the writer. Which character will you become?
A = AUDIENCE of the writer. To whom are you writing?
F = FORMAT. What format will the writing take? A letter? Song lyrics? Classified ad? Poem? Etc.
T = TOPIC. What is the subject or the point of this piece?

Below you will find a graph that contains options for each part of the R.A.F.T. You begin by choosing one option for each topic. Think about what character you would like to become, who you would like to write to, how you would like to write to the chosen person, and what type of writing you would like to complete. Choose options that you feel strongly about in order to make the most out of this activity. 

(choose one)

(choose one)

(choose one)
(choose one)
Genius Kelly
Sybil Hunch
Sybil Hunch
Mr. Sloppy
    (Joe and Nancy’s dad)
Mrs. Sloppy
    (Joe and Nancy’s mom)
Leonardo Duberski
Villain in Woods
Members of the Sick and
    Tired Circus
Friendly letter
Ransom Note
Wanted Poster
Classified Ad
News Article
Song lyrics
Explain current situation
Explain what the future
    will bring
Inquire what the future
    will bring
Send a warning
Request help
Demand an explanation
Ask assistance to     understand events that are     happening
Convince other to join you     on your adventure

 As an example you might choose to be Nancy writing a friendly letter to Sybil Hunch inquiring what the future will bring. Another example might include you being Angel designing a brochure for the members of the Sick and Tired Circus to try and convince them to join you on your adventure. The possibilities are endless. Chose one topic from all the categories, and then you can begin to create your writing adventure. Use the graphic organizer below to help you organize and record your thoughts.


©2010 Kristina Fitzgerald

Discussion Questions

by Geri Zabela Eddins, NCBLA

Episode Eight ends with Nancy, Joe, Genius Kelly, and Baby Max setting off toward the Saline Solution Sea. As they approach the sea in Episode Nine, Genius Kelly admits he is afraid of water. Nancy is understanding, but says to Genius, “If we’re going to find our parents, we have to cross the sea.” Genius explains matter of factly that he will find another place where he can walk across, then leaves the kids. How did you react when Genius Kelly—who is the twin’s guardian—left the kids? Were you surprised? Worried? Thinking “good riddance?!” What does this action reveal about Genius Kelly’s character? What other stories or books have you read in which a supervising adult character leaves the children he or she is responsible for? Do the children rise to the challenge? How do you think Nancy, Joe, and Baby Max will fare without Genius Kelly?

Lightning strikes as Nancy enters the water with Baby Max. In the sea’s reflection, she sees, “….a man and a woman, their faces pressed against a door. The image only lasted a brief second, but Nancy’s heart told her these were her parents, and they were calling out to her.” What do you make of this “reflection?” Is it a vision? Do you think she imagined it?

Angel tosses a bottle to Joe that contains a key and a note. The note reads, “Guard this key with your life. Godspeed…When you see your folks, tell them Angel sends his felicitations.” This is the first time Nancy and Joe have been given any type of object or token since they left the circus. Nancy declares that she knows what the key will open. Do you know? Imagine for yourself what the purpose and usage of this key will be. Will it open a real door somewhere? An enchanted door to a fantasy place or another dimension? Or perhaps might the key be a magical object that opens some type of knowledge they need to complete their journey? Write a paragraph or two or tell what you think will happen next with the key!

Think about what types of objects might be helpful to Nancy and Joe as they search for their parents. If you could enter this quest as a helper or a villain, what would you give them? Something utilitarian? Magical? Dangerous? Is it shiny, rusty, or glowing? Describe the object in detail, and be sure to explain how it is to be used.

© 2010 Geri Zabela Eddins

For Parents, Teachers, Librarians—Talk Art!

Chris Van Dusen’s Illustration for Episode Nine and James Ransome’s Illustration for Episode Ten

By Mary Brigid Barrett

• Creating Pictorial Depth with Lights and Darks

• Home and Classroom Art Activity: Shading and Modeling with Light and Dark

• Have Your Kids Arrange and Draw Their Own Still Life!

• Websites to find out more about Rembrandt and the art technique of shading

Illustration for Episode Nine
by Chris Van Dusen

Illustration for Episode Nine
by James Ransome

Creating Pictorial Depth with Lights and Darks

In their illustrations for The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, both Chris Van Dusen and James Ransome have skillfully contrasted light and dark values in their paintings creating drama and depth. Instead of imagining a source that sheds light from the front of the picture plane, Chris and James have imagined a light source emanating from the back of the picture plane, creating a backlit illustration.

In most illustrations and paintings, figures and objects in the foreground are frontally lit so that details and expressions are easily read by the viewer. Backlighting in an illustration or painting accentuates figures or objects in the foreground, dramatically separating the foreground from the middle and background, adding great depth to the picture. Atmospherically, because details in the foreground figures and objects are obscure and deeply shaded, the use of backlighting can add a sense of heightened drama, mystery, excitement, and even danger to an illustration.

Even more, backlighting is a technique that draws the viewer into the picture. In both Chris’ and James’ illustrations, backlighting the figures in the illustrations makes us feel like we are right behind or above the figures, looking over their shoulders, watching, perhaps even worrying.

Chris and James have shaded the figures in the foreground, using contrasts of dark against light values, giving form and weight to the figures. One of the masters of light and dark shading in both drawing and painting is Rembrandt van Rijn, a 17th century Dutch painter. In his painting here, Christ at Emmaus, you see a beautiful example of backlighting and chiaroscuro, the visual modeling and shading of light and dark that gives a sense of volume, of three-dimension, to figures and objects.

Home and Classroom Art Activity: Shading and Modeling with Light and Dark

Supplies: White or cream paper; soft lead #2 pencils or Ebony pencils; a kneaded rubber eraser; a light board or heavy piece of cardboard to be used as a drawing board; a spotlight, lamp, flashlight, or independent source of light that can be moved easily; whatever objects you have on hand to create a still life (fruits and vegetables, pile of blocks, simple geometric objects, etc.)

Kneaded rubber erasers are one of the very best, and cheapest, art supplies; every kid should have one! Not only are they amazing erasers, but they are similar to Silly Putty in that they are very malleable, and can be shaped and molded into any kind of object or figure you like. I often take them with me when I do author/illustrator presentations at schools.
I demonstrate how a kneaded rubber eraser can be shaped into a rabbit, and then popped on the end of pencil, and the next day it can be reshaped into a lion’s head for an all together different look! Very cool, and the kids think so too!

Create a value chart for a handy reference

Most young people love to draw, and love to experiment with “shading” the figures and objects in their drawings. But, most young people are hesitant to use strong darks in their drawings. Creating a simple value chart on paper is a drawing exercise that raises their awareness not only of the dark values that are needed to give a shape form and depth, but also makes them aware of the wide range of middle values available.

On a white or cream sheet of paper, you and your kids draw a long vertical rectangle of at least six inches and roughly, and lightly, sketch out ten somewhat equal sections within the rectangle (see the drawing to the left). The top section will be the white of the paper; the last section will be the darkest dark you can create with your pencil, black if possible. In the eight sections in between the “white” and the “black,” you and your kids should try to make a gradated flow of pencil graphite that take the shades from the sharpest darkest dark of the bottom section, gradually getting lighter and lighter until it blends into the pure white of the top section.

It sounds easy, but it can be very hard to make this value chart. Experiment and don’t worry if the first time you or the kids try that it does not show a gradual blending of shades. It is important to try to make a value chart, not only to raise the kids’ awareness of the wide variety of shadings available, but it can also be used as a guide when shading their own drawings. Most often, in realistically inspired drawings, most of the values used in shading objects and figures will be those eight middle sections in the chart. But importantly, all drawn object and figures will also need both the lightest white and the darkest dark to really give the shape weight and dimension. Kids can use the value chart as a comparison point when working on their own drawings as it is a helpful reminder that all the values should be represented when they are trying to render figures and objects three dimensionally.

There are many different ways to shade objects and figures. One way is to gradually blend the different shades, which can be done by applying different levels of pressure on a soft lead pencil, and also by rubbing and blending the graphite with a tissue, a figure, or lightly with kneaded eraser. You can also use a kneaded eraser to reveal whites of the page, and to lighten areas that are too dark. Another method of shading is to cross hatch lines over and over again to attain needed dark shades. A third way to shade is to use small dots, or points—pointillism—to achieve light and dark areas. You and your kids may want to experiment with all three methods by drawings simple spheres, like in the above drawing, and then shading them.  

The illustration at left is a drawing that I did in colored pencils to illustrate “The Testimony of Padraig Tomas O’Deorain,” a story I wrote for the NCBLA’s award-winning book Our White House: Looking In, Looking Out. (For more information go to

In this realistic drawing that details the stone arch that is over the front door of the White House, I have used the full range of values from white to black in order to show readers the incredible depth of the stone carvings on the White House. See if your kids can find the two griffins that guard the White House in the arch!

And below are some rather incredible Rembrandt drawings that you can share with your kids to show them the many different ways they can shade their own drawings.

Have Your Kids Arrange and Draw Their Own Still Life!

A still life is an “artful” arrangement of intimate objects. The object can be simple, like round pieces of fruit standing on the table or in a bowl, a vase of flowers, or a tower of blocks. The still life can be more personal—an arrangement of beloved stuffed animals or favorite toy cars and trains. It can be anything you and your kids would have fun drawing, but for the first time, simple may be best.

Have your kids arrange their chosen objects on a table. See if you can get rid of all natural and man-made lights sources in the room—close the curtains and shades, turn off all overhead artificial lights. Then get your portable light source and place it somewhere near the still life. It can be behind the still life to get a backlit effect. It can be to the right, left, or way above—whatever you and the kids like! You may want to try a series of drawings—drawing the same objects from a variety of different viewpoints with a different lighting source direction each time.

The kids should pull up a chair near the table, resting their “drawing board” at an angle from the table to their laps. A piece of drawing paper can be masking taped to the board. They will also need their soft lead pencils and an eraser. You can sit right next to them and draw, too! Everyone should lightly and loosely sketch in the objects in the still life, and use the entire sheet of paper!!! Once you have an idea of where you want the objects on the paper, draw in details and shade the objects so that they begin to have dimension, weight, and form.

When everyone is done—have a tea party and tape your drawings all around the living room or your classroom for your own gallery showing!!

Websites to find out more about Rembrandt and the art technique of shading:

Rembrandt van Rijn, National Gallery of Art

Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art, The Dayton Art Institute

Rembrandt Van Rijn: Life, Paintings, Etchings, Drawings, & Self Portraits

Rembrandt, WebMuseum, Paris

Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn, The Getty

Rembrandt, Wikipedia

Rembrandt and the Technique of Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro, Art Studio Chalkboard

Chiaroscuro, Wikipedia

© 2010 Mary Brigid Barrett