Sunday, January 27, 2013

Author/Illustrator Classroom Visits

Art and science come together in my classroom presentations of Over in the Valley. San Joaquin Valley species are featured in a fun song and book from which I jump into early grade science and art activities. Below are several activities, appropriate to several different grade levels. Mix and match depending on your grade and interests.

Over in the Valley trading cards
Animal Characteristics: Using my sets of animal trading cards, students will sort the species according to their traits -- mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish and insects.

Animal Habitats: We look at what is needed in every habitat, and the different places in which each of these animals live. I also talk a little about habitat loss and how animals can adapt or become extinct.

Animal Portrait: This fun art activity gives children the opportunity to observe one of the animals in depth, and we create a watercolor portrait. I have used the mountain lion many times because it NOT in my book. We also talk about why mountain lions are rarely seen in our area any more, and what other species have disappeared locally and why.

California Tiger Salamander in its vernal pool habitat,
Drawing Animals in Their Habitat: Another art activity that helps kids think about all the different elements of an animal's habitat as they create a piece of art.

To schedule a classroom visit, call me, Linda Knoll, at 209-247-2626 or email

Animal Portrait - Mountain Lion
Animal Portrait – Mountain Lion

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Student Art from a Recent Visit

 Last week I visited Gustine Elementary School kindergarten classes. I shared my book, "Over in the Valley" and we discussed characteristics of the various Valley species that are featured. We charted the animals according to their coverings; fur, feathers, skin or scales. I was able to bring along a few live animals, thanks to the Great Valley Museum, and the kids loved seeing real critters.

 The California tiger salamander is one of the animals featured in my book -- on the cover in fact -- and one of the live animals I was able to bring. So, I decided to have the students create a picture of the salamander. Though I wish we would have had a little more time to add habitat, the salamanders turned out great!

We used water soluble wax pastels -- similar to watercolor pencils, but easier and faster for the younger kids. They produce nice, vibrant colors when the water is added, but can be left alone just as easily.
This was my first time to teach kindergarteners my drawing technique. They were really very successful for the most part, and they loved the process.

If you're interested in scheduling an author/illustrator visit, please contact me at

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Typical Author/Illustrator Visit

When I visit a classroom to share Over in the Valley, I don't like to just go and talk. My visits always touch on several aspects of the book: the story, the art, and the science. I tell the students why I was inspired to make the book, and the steps I actually went through to get it done. I mention the fact that I did lots of research to start with, then many drafts and revisions. I show some of my early sketches and then final art. We talk about animal characteristics and habitats.

Then, I will have the children create their own art based on my story. I help students create portraits of native species, and for older kids, we include habitat as well. There are several animals that could have been included, but weren't.

Of those, the mountain lion is my favorite, and children are very excited to draw them as well.  I show students how to find the basic shapes of the lion's face -- circles and triangles -- and put them together. After we've sketched it out, we color it in. The lesson can be done with watercolor, watercolor pencil, pastels... really any medium works fine.

Next week, I'm visiting kindergarten classes at a nearby school. I think I may try to have them draw salamanders this time. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Scheduling School Visits

I am available for classroom presentations of “Over in the Valley.” The presentation includes sharing my book in a sing-along format, information about the book-making process, and the natural science that is featured in the story. Students learn about the habitats and animals of the San Joaquin Valley and get to create a watercolor painting during the 1-hour session. The presentation is most appropriate for students in Kinder to 3rd grade. Signed copies of the book will be available for purchase at scheduled events.

My self-published picture book is an exquisitely illustrated snapshot of Valley wildlife. I adapted the story from the traditional song “Over in the Meadow,” handed down for generations by my family members. I modified the song to reflect species that are native to the San Joaquin Valley, and produced the watercolor illustrations.
The illustrations include the California Red Legged Frog, the San Joaquin Pocket Mouse, Bell’s Vireo, Rainbow Trout, San Joaquin Kit Fox, Western Pond Turtle, Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly,  San Joaquin Antelope Squirrel, Great Blue Heron, Giant Garter Snake,  Swainson’s Hawk, Coyote,  Rufous Hummingbird, Western Big-Eared Bat, California Tiger Salamander, Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard, Riparian Brush Rabbit and even the “lowly” Honey Bee. Many live in the unique habitats of the rivers, riparian forest and seasonal wetlands that are rapidly disappearing from the valley, or being altered for other purposes. Sometimes we forget how important all these creatures are to the environment. All the way up and down the food chain, each plays an important role in the natural treasure that is the San Joaquin Valley.”

Schedule a Spring 2012 presentation during January and receive a FREE preview copy of the book, plus 10% off the price of workshops.
For additional information or to schedule a presentation, visit, or email

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

My Plan for 2012

I have always liked books and reading. And I have always loved art. But I wasn’t quite aware of how much I would love being surrounded by picture books until I became an elementary school Library Media Teacher. For three years, I was devoted to making my library a place where kids would want to hang out. I really loved sharing picture books with young students. I looked for every opportunity to read, recommend, or share insights about the stories and art that my library contained. A variety of circumstances took me away from the library, but my newly found admiration for picture books took me in an unexpected direction.

I became unemployed almost three years ago. Along with looking for work, I decided to pursue some personal interests while I had the chance (thank goodness for unemployment insurance). I set out to make a picture book. I knew my skills as an artist were superior to many who were being published. I had a story in mind - one from my childhood memories. I had the skills to design it and get it printed. Why not?
The result was “Over in the Valley”. I had already been thinking about it. The text is based on a song that my mother sang to us a children. I wanted a way to pass on the song to my daughter, and her cousins. Since we have always lived in the San Joaquin Valley, I thought it would be interesting to feature the animals that are native to the area. I researched. I sketched. I thought about it as a teaching tool. It took about six months to finalize the manuscript, create the art and design the pages. With the recent proliferation of on-line sources for printing and binding, it was relatively easy to get my book produced. I was very excited to open that first package with the finished product.
After showing my book to a number of people -- teachers, librarians, parents -- I felt even more encouraged about the quality of my work. Then I sent it to a “real” book publisher. While they politely declined, they also said that my work was lovely. But, too regional. Not what's being published right now.
Somewhat belatedly, I decided to take a class on book writing and illustration (from Mira Reisberg, I suppose I was looking for someone to say, yes, you can be a children’s book illustrator. And maybe even make a living at it. Ha ha. That is not exactly what I learned. But, I learned a lot of other things from Mira. I know more about the process of creating a really good story. I know what a good portfolio should look like. I am now aware of what IS being published in the industry. I now know what editors are looking for. I know what is being sold at major retailers. And I know that my heartfelt, regional project will not likely get published by anyone other than myself.
As communication quickens, and everyone’s interests are interwoven, its not enough to just be happy in your own small neighborhood. Conversely, I think it is more important than ever to know where you come from, and what you and your little piece of the world has to offer. Because I believe children should know where they come from, I have come up with more than a handful of good ideas for picture books that will be regionally focused. I am stubbornly convinced that I can sell what I envision.
I am already an artist, a librarian, a teacher, and a parent. Now, I will have to be an entrepreneur. My plan to this year is to make my books with the knowledge that despite what publishers are pressured to print, there IS a market. It may be a small one. But its there. Here, in the San Joaquin Valley, where my home and my heart is.