By Veronica Burniston
As autumn settles into the mountains of Johnson County and leaves begin dressing themselves in hues of gold and burgundy, the students and faculty of local elementary schools await eagerly the upcoming visit of the renowned childrens illustrator and writer, Chris Soentpiet. On Friday, September 27th, Mountain City Elementary (MCE), in collaboration with members of Gamma Mu, hosted seven special reading sessions of books illustrated by Soentpiet, who will be visiting Johnson County in mid-October.
Chris Soentpiet (pronounced SOON-peet) studied Fine Arts and Education at Pratt Institute in New York City. He has illustrated numerous childrens books for various authors over his publishing career, including Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant, Saturdays and Teacakes by Lester Laminack, My Brother Martin (a story about Martin Luther King Jr.s life growing up) by Christine King Farris, and More Than Anything Else (a fictional story about Booker T. Washingtons life) by Marie Bradby. Soentpiet has received a number of prestigious awards for his work, including the International Reading Award (IRA) for 1996, 2000, and 2002; the NAACP Image Award, the Smithsonians Notable Book Award, as well as the Parents Choice Gold Award in 2001. His work has also been featured in the New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek magazine, and the Houston Chronicle. Also a talented speaker, Soentpiet visits schools across the country, giving demonstrations of his work, teaching workshops, and informing his audiences about the process of creating diverse, award-winning picture books.
Friday morning, around 8:15 a.m., the first reading session began at Mountain City Elementary as Mrs. Carol Stout, a retired teacher from MCE, introduced Chris Soentpiets work to the entire sixth grade class. Most of the students were already familiar with Soentpiets artistic style, since only two years prior the childrens author Lester Laminack visited MCE with his book Saturdays and Teacakes, which was illustrated by Chris Soentpiet. So, after releasing some wiggles, the children settled into the story of Silver Packages (a book about the Santa Train that has delivered presents to coal towns in North Carolina every December for over 50 years) and then listened to an audio/visual of More Than Anything else. The third graders in the second reading session also watched a video about the role of the illustrator in completing a childrens book. In total, there were seven reading sessions at MCE. The morning reading was done by Mrs. Stout and the afternoon reading by Mrs. Beverly McKinney.
According to Gamma Mu, the schedule for Chris Soentpiets visit on October 18th and 19th is as follows:
On the morning of October 18th, Soentpiet will be speaking to all the local elementary schools at Heritage Hall. The following morning, beginning at 9 a.m. and ending at 1:30 p.m., Soentpiet will be leading three watercolor painting workshops at the Johnson County Public Library. These workshops are open to the public and absolutely free. Anyone five and older are welcome to join in the painting; although, there is a limited space of 30 people to a class, so spots must be reserved in advance. The sign-up sheet for these classes can be found at the front desk of the Johnson County Public Library. During his visit, Soentpiet will also be giving parents the opportunity to purchase his books at a discounted price and have them autographed. These books will be delivered to the childrens schools later or held for pick-up at the public library. The order sheets for autographed books are available at the Soentpiet display section in the Johnson County Public Library. There will also be a short reception at the library on Saturday from 1:45-2:15 p.m., open to the public, where attendees may meet the illustrator, enjoy some light refreshments, as well as purchase books and have them autographed.
This upcoming visit by Chris Soentpiet is made possible by the correlated work of Gamma Mu, the School Board, Friends of the Library, and the generous grants provided by the Johnson County Community Foundation and the Johnson City Area Arts Council.
If you are interested in learning more about Chris Soentpiets upcoming visit or wish to register for his Watercolor Workshop on Saturday, October 19th, please contact the Johnson County Public Library at 727-6544. If you are interested in learning more about Chris Soentpiet and his work, visit his website at www.soentpiet.com.
By Veronica Burniston