This past Friday I visited The Westminster School at Oak Mountain, in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s one of my favorite schools; students and faculty alike are serious about books, and Lower School principal Lori Jill Keeler has been a source of much encouragement through the years. In the run-up to my visit, Mrs. Keeler put together an art contest. She challenged her students to draw portraits of Grady based on this description from the first chapter of The Charlatan’s Boy:
I truly am one of the ugliest fellers you’re liable to meet. I’m short and wiry—sort of monkeyish, I reckon. I got one blue eye and one green, and they’re closer together than most folks find pleasing. My ears is too little, but the way they stick straight out from my head makes them look too big. And my chin is so bashful it just sort of hides all day in the shade of my bottom lip. You can’t even tell where my goozle stops and my chin begins if you don’t look close. If you ever seen the feechiefolks in one of them puppet shows, you know about what I look like.
I thought you might like to see the winners. These images don’t do justice to the artwork, since I snapped them with a rather poor camera. But they at least give you an idea of the thought and creativity that these very clever students put into their work.
Here’s the third place winner, from a fifth-grader named Grace Ann.
That’s not a headband Grady’s wearing. That’s his one long eyebrow that “don’t know where to stop.” This piece does a great job, I think, of capturing the sadness that is such an important part of Grady’s character.
Second place went to a fifth-grader named Daniel. If Grace Ann’s picture showed Grady’s sadness, this one shows just how active and robustious Grady is. I love the movement in this picture.
And the winner was another Daniel, a sixth-grader. Daniel did a great job of capturing Grady’s ugliness.
It brings to mind the old schoolyard rhyme,
You ain’t got no alibi.
Some scholars believe that rhyme to have originated among feechies. The grammar and subject matter suggest it, but it’s not true. Feechies don’t spell well enough to have originated this rhyme.
You also have to see the honorable mention picture, by a kindergartener named Sully. Sully did a great job of paying attention to the details of the description. Note the close-set eyes (one blue and one green), the one long eyebrow, the ears, the bashful chin.
Bonus Video: One of the best things about doing author visits is the opportunity to bring a certain gravitas and writerly seriousness to a school setting. This short video shows how school children are transformed by just a half-hour’s exposure to my brand of cultural refinement.