Aug 5, 2012

Sports and Arts: Passion and Performance

Recent posts shared stories of past Olympians and their dreams, including Dr. Sammy Lee, Wilma Rudolph, and Alice Coachman. As exciting as the current London Olympics are, looking back to stories from the 1948 London Games also inspires.

Even if you missed the opening ceremonies on Friday night, by now you're aware of the emphasis that was placed on youth and humor, including a welcome salute to children's literature. If previous posts here and on other kid-lit blogs leave you wanting more, check out this Kirkus Reviews blog post of Olympic-themed books.

Art and the Olympics have been paired throughout history, including this year's  2012 Art in the Park exhibits. Until 1936, when the entire Olympics were politicized beyond recognition, the modern Olympics even had art competitions, for amateurs only, of course.

I, for one, am pleased that arts are not viewed in a competitive way in this Olympics. I'm a firm believer that  we should celebrate the many expressions and creators of art not just in Olympics, on cable programs, and in competitions for fame and fortune,  but in our daily lives.

The very recent release of THINK BIG, by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley Newton, reassures me that I'm not alone in this belief.

In less than seventy words, Scanlon's exuberant rhymed text combines with Newton's vibrant, energetic images to celebrate painting, music, scriptwriting, set design, acting, dancing, sewing, singing, sculpture, needlework, craft design, fiction writing, reporting, and photography/videography, not to mention cooking, baking and crafts. The imaginative kids portrayed create individual projects that together produce a result greater than the sum of its parts.

Whether or not one of the creative tots  grows up to be another Danny Boyle and orchestrates a future Olympic opening ceremony, each and every child has the capacity to contribute BIG things to the world. On small stages and large, in family kitchens and in corporate design studios, tomorrow's creators rely on us to encourage them today.

The Olympics are all about measurements, in millimeters, thousandths of seconds, and tenths of points. This passion for perfection has spilled over into our schools, ascribing such high stakes to narrowly-scoped tests that we are crowding creativity and personal expression from young lives.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if this appealing and inspiring picture book had the power to remind parents, administrators, and politicians that education is NOT an Olympic event. Education's aim should be to maximize potential, to seek personal bests from all, not a award a single gold prize. Each child needs opportunity and support to develop his or her own skills and talents, to become "faster, stronger, higher" in a variety of realms of interest, day by day. And, as THINK BIG concludes, to MAKE ART!

In the words of the Olympic Creed:
"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Shouldn't that apply to every life goal, to every expression of personal talent and interest? Quite a lot to ask of a little picture book, isn't it? But picture books are powerful, and I like to 

What do you have to say about the role of arts and individual expression in a child's educational experience?

Cynthia Leitich Smith recently hosted Liz Garton Scanlon for a guest post on her blog, Cynsations, to reflect on the creation of THINK BIG.

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