Calef Brown

blue elephant

Post-modern folk art. That's how some people describe the illustration style of Calef Brown. Kids might just say that his drawings (and poems) are fun, and funny. And full of surprises that make you want to keep looking at them. Brown has a mischievous sense of humor: in most of his books, his "author photo" on the back flap is a whimsical illustration of an unusual blue chap with an elephant's trunk for a nose. Sometimes when he shows up for a school visit, kids are surprised to see that Brown isn't blue at all!

Prompt for Grades K-2 (Level I)

So Calef Brown draws himself as a blue elephant. He used to live in India and says he just loves elephants, so maybe that's why. If you could acquire one physical characteristic from an animal — any animal EXCEPT a dog or cat — what would it be and why? Think about an animal that you like or find interesting. Draw a self-portrait and write a vivid description of the new you — and be sure to let your readers know about any special powers you might now have. Include descriptive words that help create strong visual imagery, with extra credit for using onomatopoeia!

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Prompt for Grades 3-5 (Level II)

Greek layout

Brown collaborated with author John Harris on a whimsical book (Greece! Rome! Monsters!) about some pretty fantastic mythical beasts — the Minotaur, Medusa, the Manticores, Cerberus, the Chimera, and more…

The famous Hercules met up with some of these beasts when he was given 12 impossibly dangerous assignments — like stealing the golden apples of Zeus that were guarded by a dragon with 100 heads. These 12 tasks are known as the Labors of Hercules. Hercules had the help of two deities — Hermes (the messenger) and Athena (goddess of war and wisdom) — who were there to help when the going got really tough. Your challenge is to create a 13th labor for Hercules, set in contemporary times. Develop a short narrative adventure story that includes characters, setting, a sequence of events, and a resolution. Your Hercules can also call on any of the Greek gods to help him in this final task. To get started, think about some heroes you've met in favorite books, characters like Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, characters from the American Girls series, or Lyra from The Golden Compass.

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Prompt for Grades 6-8 (Level III)


In Dutch Sneakers and Flea Keepers, Calef Brown includes a clever poem about a creature he invented, the Tattlesnake. Here's an excerpt:

An odd little creature
that every kid fears
is a snake
with unusual stripes
And big ears.
It spies on you,
tells on you,
then disappears.

Let your imagination go a little wild and think up your own imaginary creature by brainstorming a similar "play on words." The name of your invented animal should suggest something rather unique and unusual about his behavior. Write a rhyming poem that describes your animal's unique qualities.

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Prompt for Grades 9-12 (Level IV)

In an interview with the book blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Calef Brown was asked: "What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?" His reply: "I would love to be a well respected Enthusiologist with a small, but thriving, private practice." Not a surprising answer, since Brown's illustrations and poems are brimming with life and color and well… enthusiasm. Enthusiology is not the only unusual profession. Crossword puzzle master Will Shortz is the one person known to hold a college degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles — making him an Enigmatologist.

What if you could invent a new kind of profession? What would you call it? Don't forget your Greek and Latin roots! Now imagine that you have become very, very successful and your high school has asked you to come back for Career Night. Write an informational and inspirational speech about what it is you do. [Optional: you can record your speech and e-mail us an MP4 audio file along with your written text.]

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