Author: Donald Crews
My children are huge fans of the Donald Crews book, Freight Train. Inspired by just this, we headed off to the library and picked up a stack of new Donald Crews books to discover. We were not disappointed! The simple, yet captivating storyline of Freight Train, is also seen in all of his other books. Crews has a wide variety of books, but the ones we ended up taking home were: Ten Black Dots, School Bus, Shortcut, Sail Away, Rain (illustrator only), and Flying. Many of his books are transportation themed and were a favourite of my boys. His books easily lend themselves to great art activities. His illustrations are striking and bright, yet very simple. Both young and older children can find inspiration in Crews’ illustrations and create their own interpretations.
Ten Black Dots
Ten Black Dots shows common objects, made up of various numbers of dots. Example: “One dot can make a sun. Two dots can make the eyes of a fox.” It is a simple counting book, with vibrant illustrations, probably most suited for reading to toddlers and preschoolers. It is perfect for young children to have repeated practice counting up to the number 10. However, when studied as a form of art, I would use this book and activity with any grade.
I allowed my children to freely use any number of dots, and create whatever they wanted. If I were to use this in the classroom, I may encourage children to make a series of pictures, each using a different number of dots from 1-10. Collecting one picture from each student would be great to combine into a large class book to read aloud. Older grades could use more dots than 10 in their pictures.
To make these pictures, I used a circle punch to create a pile of black dots. My punch only came in one size. It would have been nice to have a variety of sizes to choose from, especially if older grades will be using up to 50 dots to make their art. Younger children may enjoy using fewer dots for their pictures, so medium to large-sized dots would be great. Older children may prefer using tons of dots instead, thus requiring very small dots (a hole punch could be used).
Using plain paper and glue sticks, I asked my children to think about what they would make using…3 dots? 6 dots? We brainstormed a few ideas, flipped through the book again, and then got to work. Once done, I helped them to create a sentence for each picture using the phrase: “____ black dots can make a ____”. This was a quick and easy activity that required very little in terms of materials and preparation. It is open-ended, creative, and can be adapted to suit various ages. Instead of using glue and paper dots, dot stickers could be purchased in a variety of colours from an office supply store.
Extension: Instead of dots, ask children to explore what they could make with other shapes. What can you make from 10 black squares?
With Freight Train, Donald Crews won the 1979 Caldecott Honor. Like many other of his books, Freight Train has a simple story with vibrant illustrations and minimal words. It is a quick favourite of young children.
For this art activity, my children used oil pastels to draw their own train. We used the longer, legal style of paper. I had the book open for inspiration and as a guide for the basic shapes needed to draw a train. I instructed them to press firmly as they coloured with the oil pastels. Once done, we took a paper towel to smudge the colours to imitate the sense of ‘movement’ shown in Crews’ illustrations. We started at the front of the train, pressing the wadded paper towel down and pulling it back to the end of the drawing. Repeat as needed. An extra set of hands may be needed to help hold the paper and avoid it getting crumpled. Remember not to smudge the train track or any other stationary objects that may have been added to the drawing.