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I just tallied up how many school visits I’ve done this winter in Minnesota, particularly in February, which is “I Love to Read” month and I’ve introduced the dragons and Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist to over 2000 children from kindergarten to 6th grade!!!. It’s been a wonderful experience for me to talk with children about writing and illustrating, share with them how magical Shi Shi beach and other Washington beaches are, and especially to introduce them to sumi painting. Here are some pics of my demonstrating how to paint dragons (a great hit!)
In the next month the dragons are going to be very busy visiting 5 different elementary schools. To me there is nothing more fun than interacting with children in the realm of the imagination. In one school this Friday I’ll be teaching sumi art to groups of third graders. And speaking of imagination, where have you seen dragons lately? Here are a couple of ones that I’ve seen on a stone wall.
Well, summer has come to an end – sigh…… But it’s fun to remember the adventures of summer, isn’t it? One thing we did was go dragon hunting in the sea caves on the southern shore of Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin (how’s that for confusing south and north?). Well, not dragon hunting exactly, more precisely, it was dragon habitat exploring by sea kayak. What a paradise of caves and arches cut into red sandstone cliffs by the wind and waves of the largest lake in the world. Mighty cracks that swallowed our kayaks, great caves resounding with booms of the crashing waves, and keyholes that we squeezed our boats through. Lots and lots of caves! In the winter they fill with icicles and ice stalagmites – the perfect home for ice dragons! In the summer?????? Perhaps the dragons have gone north to the Arctic to spend the summer…..The home they left behind is surely magical! And for those of you that want to find the caves on the map they are called the mainland sea caves on Mawikwe Beach (part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore) near Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Our trip continued with a visit to Krakow, Poland to search for the dragon that once lived in the caves at the base of the big hill where now stand the huge castle and cathedral that was the center of the Polish kings for many centuries. In Polish the word for dragon is smok and since this is the dragon of Wawel Hill, the dragon is called smok wawelski.
Legend has it that the dragon was terrorizing the countryside, eating everything in sight, including young girls. In desperation the king offered the hand of his daughter to whomever could slay the beast. All the brave knights tried and failed. Finally a poor cobbler stepped up. The king was dubious but said OK. So the cobbler asked for a freshly slain sheep. He took out the innards and filled the inside of the sheep with sulfur and placed it in front of the dragon’s cave. The dragon wolfed it down. Soon after the sulfur began to burn the dragon’s stomach. To stop the pain and ease the burning, the dragon started drinking up the river that flowed next to its cave. He drank and drank and drank so much that he finally burst open and died!. Needless to say, the cobbler married the princess.
In the 1970s a huge 20 foot bronze statue of the dragon was erected in front of the cave. And true to the description the dragon belches fire every 5 minutes from a gas jet that’s inside its mouth. Great fun! And of course all the tourist shops around the hill specialized in kitschy dragon stuff. Even more fun! The flying dragon is from one of those shops – he’s about 18 inches long and really flies when the wind chime at the back moves.
Well our research trip to Slovakia on the nature and history of European dragons proved interesting and just scratched the surface of things. First off, in Slovakia we found many statues and coats-of-arms of villages and churches with dragons. Only problem was that in all cases they were being slain by a brave knight with a long sharp lance! Ouch! And one of our relatives said, “In Europe the dragon is always the loser.” This does seem to be the case all right. And the dragons depicted seem to specialize in having 3 heads – when one gets cut off the others can take over. Not a happy sight! Here are some pictures of such a dragon fountain.
On a happier note in Bratislava in the old city there is a pharmacy with a golden dragon hanging over their entrance. Some people told us that the dragon was the guild emblem of herbalists and pharmacists. We haven’t been able to substantiate that but the dragon certainly is very lovely. And not being slain!
In a few days the dragons will be off to Slovakia and Poland to see if they can find out something about their European ancestors. They’re hoping to find the Wawel dragon in Krakow, Poland if all goes well. He breathes fire every 5 minutes from a gas jet in his mouth. And apparently you can text him from your cell phone to get him to fire-breathe on demand!
The month of May there were dragon sightings at various places in the Pacific Northwest. At Ben Franklin and Juanita Elementary Schools, 2nd -4th graders talked about going to Shi Shi Beach to see if they could find Shiran, Shalini, Shoram and Shyla. Especially Shyla, since one of the girls was named Shyla – she wants to find her dragon counterpart! If you go, let me know!
Another fun evening was the Arts Explosion at Juanita Elementary School in early June. I taught students Super Simple Sumi painting non stop for one and half hours! Phew! We had 6 painting stations that were always full with kids eager to make the brush dance and the ink sing. And lots of parents to admire their kids work.
Once again we travelled to the City of Roses, this time to visit two wonderful elementary schools and do author presentations. The first school, Findley Elementary has a wonderfully diverse student population (over 30 languages!) and dragons for a mascot! So the Findley dragons welcomed the Shi Shi dragons and were thrilled to find real live Northwest dragon cousins. I did presentations to classes from kindergarten to 5th grade and had a great time. And a special part for me was signing and selling 120 books!
From Findley I went to Chapman Elementary School (home of the Chapman swifts – birds that roost in their chimney during their fall migration season) where some friends children go to school. A vibrant school in a classic old school building with lots going on. This was my first presentation in a big auditorium, with the slides being on a huge screen behind me! The kids were excited to see the painting demonstrations and clapped and cheered as each image became a recognizable animal or scene. Another big thrill for me! The dragons really caught on with the second graders here and one mom said to me, “We bought your book yesterday and my son didn’t want to do anything else except read the book when we got home. We finished the first 3 chapters last night and he loves it!”
Another fun event at Chapman was doing haiga (combined haiku and paintings) with the 4th grade. The students had written haiku the week before and I chose 3 poems from each class to illustrate while they watched and I explained the principles of haiga to them. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures but you can imagine the thrill the students experienced when I picked one of their poems or incorporated one of their ideas into a painting. At one point I made a mistake with some red paint and a boy suggested, “You could turn that into the dragon’s ball of fire.” And so I did and he then remarked to the librarian, “She took my idea – I can’t believe she took my idea!” It’s very rewarding to impact children’s lives in these small ways.
I think the dragons flew back to the Pacific Northwest after bidding their cousins in Lake Superior goodbye for now. We drove back. But, sure enough, when we got back to Whidbey Island, they were here too! And joined by another dragon – the dragon of Whidbey Island! Did you know that Whidbey Island has the form of a dragon? Check out a map. Or better yet check out a t-shirt at Eddy’s. Eddy’s is a great t-shirt shop where art meets apparel in Langley, WA. They had a contest for a new Whidbey Island themed t-shirt. And wouldn’t you know the dragons appeared again and I won the contest! Eddy’s also put one of the dragon battle scenes from Dragon Fire, Ocean Mist on their t-shirts. Check out that one as well. And tell them the dragons sent you!