In a small forest full of ginkgoes resides a community of nature-loving elves. Like their cousins from faraway lands, the elves have pointed ears and wear green coats. The only difference is that they wear hats as radiant as autumn gold ginkgoes in their turf. For a long time, this elven community lived peacefully until a “horrible monster”—an excavator truck—arrived, making rumbling noises while downing the towering trees one by one. The monster clears the forest to make human settlements. As the new population increases, so does their garbage. Their rubbish replaces the forest’s golden ginkgo leaves.
The good news is that the elves can turn these pieces of trash into magic seeds. Other good news is there’s a girl among the new settlers who realizes the predicament of the yellow hat elves. She helps them plant seedlings that magically turn into big trees overnight.
Who knew that such a vivid story is a retelling of an incident observed by a primary schooler? Keystone Academy fourth grader Gloria Guo created her newest picture book Yellow Hat Elves after a small park in their community was converted into a school.
“The elves live on the forest grounds, but they lost their homes,” Gloria says. “I feel nostalgic because the park is now gray. It’s now concrete. I used to walk or ride a bike in the park with my mother and we saw many rabbits and squirrels there. Now, they’re all gone.”
Gloria’s poignant story is made even more captivating by its presentation. She painted the twelve-page Yellow Hat Elves using watercolor. Not only did the picture book help Gloria unleash her inner artist, it also earned her an accolade.
In September 2020, Gloria received the Prix d’Excellence award at the Second “I Am a Picture Book Creator” Sino-French International Picture Book Author Competition. Organized by a picture book company based in Beijing, the contest encourages children to share their passions for drawing and express their idea of a beautiful life through illustrated stories.
Gloria worked on Yellow Hat Elves during her spare time in her third-grade Library class last year. Here, she and many other Primary School children were encouraged by teacher-librarians Elaine Yin and Lizzy Wang to develop their own compositions such as poetry, picture books, and read-aloud videos. The Primary School Library has also invited famous authors from different parts of China to help young students develop their literary skills.
Writing the story structure is one part; bringing it to life is another. Here is where Visual Arts teachers like Lu Nan come in. Ms. Nan has taught Gloria since the first grade and has seen her style and creative expression progress over the years. She noted Gloria’s perceptive choice of watercolor (warm autumn hues) and fine details (elf clothing and items) that brightened up the hopeful story of the elves.
Older students have more ways to express powerful narratives visually. Last semester, eighth graders published The Power of Picture and Words, a compilation of photographs, journal entries, and poems they collected during their self-isolation period. This was an interdisciplinary unit (IDU) project between the Design Technology and Chinese Language and Literature departments.
Yushu Fan, now a ninth grader, contributed a collection of images of their house interior juxtaposed with the changing color of the external environment, and photos of blossoming flowers and springtime sunrise over the Beijing city skyline. She accompanied the visuals with a short poem about how these views were connected to her feeling of isolation.
“This booklet records our memories during a difficult time and shows our hope and hard work even under special circumstances,” Yushu explains. “I hope our works can touch and bring smiles to more people in the community, and also to my future self!”
While the primary teaching goal of the project was to encourage student creativity, Chinese Language and Literature teacher Shujuan Cao says the entire process allowed them to “break the barriers between disciplines.” Finding connections between seemingly distinct disciplines enabled students to express their feelings comfortably. Design Technology teacher Mark Hobbs adds that the project taught students to be more resilient, reflective, and objective about the situations they faced, and will be facing, this year and beyond.
Meanwhile, a group of enterprising students initiated a publication where they are writing about the links between design and the sciences. Four girls from Grade 8 are collaborating on the upcoming digital magazine WeDesign to inspire creativity among their peers and spread digestible scientific information.
Upon learning about this student-led initiative, Design Technology teacher Paul Pienaar realized how invested they were in this project. He sought the assistance of the Keystone Marketing and Communications Department so that his students would learn from professionals. Group members Sissi Ma and Cathy Kang spoke with editors on several occasions about editing and fact-checking articles and structuring magazine content. The two girls showed great interest during meetings and actively asked for ways to improve their first publication.
It has taken the group six months to compose the magazine, and they admit the process has been taxing. For Sissi and Cathy, however, the entire initiative has helped them organize their thoughts and time. It has also made them understand how vital communication among team members is so they can deal with challenges and move forward together.
“We are 59.9 percent done,” Sissi jokes, “but I feel I’ve already accomplished something big! We have never done something like this before.”
“At the same time, there’s this pressure, but we have started strong and we should end strong,” Cathy adds. “Just like Sissi, I feel proud.”
Now, the group is adding finishing touches to WeDesign before it goes live next month. The two girls have also set their sights on the future editions of their magazines and their “dream articles”. “I’d like to write something about racism and gender equality because of what’s going on recently,” Sissi shares. “It might sound cliché, but even if it seems we are all different, actually we are all the same.”
For Cathy, the topic will be related to climate change or environmental protection. “I want to educate society about this. It matters so much because we only have one Earth.”
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you wish to view the full version of the student publications featured in this article.