“The Regional Conference”
by Gregory Maguire, illustrated by James Ransome

The woods began to thin. In a stand of birches they came upon a battered roll-top office desk with a DEWEY FOR PRESIDENT IN ’48 sticker on it, a stenographer’s pad, a rolodex, and an old-fashioned phone – the sort with a receiver that looks like a tortured wooden daffodil from outer space. A glass jar of disgusting brown candies stood open to the air, and unfortunate insects that had passed over the mouth of the jar and died were scattered in a nubbly way, like bits of crumpled string, all over the ink-stained green paper blotter. A wooden filing cabinet, its open drawers over-crowded with files and spilling with papers, tilted against a tree.

Eggs! Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads
Activities for the Classroom: How Well Do I Know These Words?
Activities for the Classroom: Word Experts
Talk Art! From Winslow Homer to James Ransome: Inspiring Palettes of Rich Colors
Talk Art! Teaching Kids About Color by Painting with Watercolors
Discussion Questions

Eggs! Annotated List of Suggested Read Alouds and Independent Reads

by Thom Barthelmess; Butler Children’s Literature Center at Dominican University

Read Alouds

Aston, Diana Hutts, illustrated by Sylvia Long. An Egg is Quiet. 36p. Gr. PreK-3.
Dual narratives combine to offer both scientific and poetic observations about eggs. Elegant watercolor paintings are accompanied by larger, flowing, text that celebrates the egg, with smaller precise notes that explicate the facts. Together they offer a whole greater than the sum of its parts, with the unctuous verse complementing the nutritious knowledge, much like the yolk and the white of the egg itself.

Seeger, Laura Vacarro. First the Egg. 40p. Gr. PreK-5.
Precise die cuts magnify the impact of the page-turn in this irresistible beginning picture book that elevates simple concepts to dynamic engagement. The march of nature, “First the egg, then the chicken; first the seed, then the flower,” gives way to a more abstract progression, “First the word, then the story,” finding its way, full circle, back to the chicken and the egg. Brilliant, saturated imagery illuminates the clever conceit, turning learning into wonder.

Seuss, Dr. Green Eggs and Ham. 72p. Gr. PreK-5.
Just because you can recite Sam-I-Am’s exploits by heart doesn’t mean this isn’t a great time to revisit the accumulative chaotic joy of this perennial favorite. Come on, you know you want to.

Independent Reads

Barkley, Brad and Heather Hepler. Scrambled Eggs at Midnight. 244p. Gr. 7-10.
Calliope’s life turned upside down when her mother picked up and took off on the Renaissance Faire circuit. Elliot’s life turned inside out when his father found god and opened a Christian weight loss camp. Told by distinct authors in alternating perspectives, this charming and funny romance follows to lost teenagers finding one another.

Coville, Bruce. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher. 168p. Gr. 3-6.
When Jeremy Thatcher loses his way, enters a mysterious magic shop, and purchases there what he thinks is a large marble, he gets (much) more than he bargained for. At turns hilarious and heartbreaking, this is one boy’s story of growing and growing up.

San Souci, Robert, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. The Talking Eggs. 28p. Gr. K-4.
San Souci’s rollicking retelling of the Creole folktale pits sweet and kind Blanche against her cruel and greedy sister Rose. When Blanche’s kindness earns her a bevy of magical eggs, Rose sets off to steal some of her own, with colorful, disastrous, hilarious results.

© 2010 Thom Barthelmess

Activities for the Classroom

by Susan Szeszol

Episode 18 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure is rich in robust vocabulary, and according to Thomas G. Gunning of Creating Literacy Instruction for All Students, “word knowledge is a necessary part of comprehension.”

How Well Do I Know These Words?

One pre-reading strategy that activates prior knowledge or builds a student’s schema (knowledge that one has about people, places, things, or events) is the How Well Do I Know These Words? activity designed by Janet Allen.

For this activity, read the key word and the sentence, in which the word was used, to your students. For example, the word intergalactic appears in this sentence, “Hathi put up her trunk and moved it vertically against Sybil Hunch’s lips, the intergalactic signal for “Shhh! Don’t say a word!” The sentence can also be displayed on an overhead projector or an Elmo projector.

Students, working in pairs, then discuss the word, sentence, and possible meanings. After a minute or two, have the students write the word in the column of the following graphic organizer that best describes what they know about the word:

Download a PDF version of the How Well Do I Know These Words graphic organizer.

If the students wrote the word in the “I think I know” or “I know” column, they should write a student-friendly definition next to the word. If the students placed the word in the “I still need help” column, then write the word on the classroom dry erase board and have students who “know” the definition share the definition with the class, writing it on the board. If none of the students is familiar with the term, have the class use the dictionary to find a meaning that matches the context in which the word was used.

Repeat the activity for additional key terms and then read and enjoy “The Regional Conference” with your students!

Word Experts

Another fun and effective activity for vocabulary development and enhanced comprehension is Word Experts (Gunning, 2008). This strategy works well when there is an abundance of words in a text that may be overwhelming for individual students to master.

To begin Word Experts, compile a list of key terms. You may want to include the page numbers if everyone is using the same version of the book.

birches stenographer nubbly
intergalactic avoirdupois howdah
foliage aural notoriously
conference eavesdropping morally
dubious loathsome proboscis
couture crones noggin
poached congealed quorum
narcolepsy witheringly soporific


Depending on the number of vocabulary words and the number of students, select a word or two for each student, and have them begin creating their “expert cards,” using 3×5″ index cards. The students then find “their” words in the text, copy the sentences in which the words were used, obtain the definition from a dictionary and write a student-friendly definition on their card (one that has been approved by the teacher). The students then include a personal connection (if applicable) and an illustration or clip art picture.

After the students complete their expert cards, have them pair up, and the “Word Experts” then teach their words to their partner: The first “Word Expert” shows the word to his or her partner and asks if he or she knows it. If not, the “Word Expert” can give clues, read the sentence to see if his or her partner can determine the meaning from the context, and shows the illustration. If the “Word Expert’s” partner still cannot determine the definition of the word, the “Word Expert” can then share his or her student-friendly definition with his or her partner. After the first word has been “taught” by the “Word Expert,” the second “Word Expert” in the pair repeats the process. This activity can be done over the course of several days, with students switching Word Expert partners each day. In this way, students are learning many words in a fun and engaging way and are therefore getting ready to enjoy the adventure!


The How Well Do I Know These Words? activity was adapted from Janet Allen’s book Words, Words, Words. The Word Experts activity was adapted from Thomas Gunning’s book Creating Literacy Instruction for All Students.

Allen, J. (1999). Words, Words, Words. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Gunning, T. (2008) Creating Literacy Instruction for All Students (6th ed). Boston, MA: Pearson.

© 2010 Susan Szeszol

For Parents, Teachers, Librarians—Talk Art!

From Winslow Homer to James Ransome: Inspiring Palettes of Rich Colors

by Mary Brigid Barrett, NCBLA

"The Regional Conference" © 2010 James Ransome
“The Regional Conference” © 2010 James Ransome

“Hathi inched forward.

A convenient blind of evergreens screened them all from the light glowing in the clearing beyond. ‘Now, hush,’ said Hathi. ‘Need I say it twice? Just in case: Hush hush.’

Using her supple, elegant proboscis she prodded the branches. With a twitch of her nasal digit, she lifted a branch, like lifting a slat in a Venetian blind, so they could all see.”
—From Episode 18: “The Regional Conference” by Gregory Maguire

Awash with brilliant color in vivid hues, James Ransome’s illustration for Episode 19 of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure, is a work that shows a skillful mastery of the watercolor medium.

Hidden within the “blind of evergreens” Hathi the elephant peers out, her head framed by foliage painted in a delightful profusion of green shades and tones. James has created what is often referred to as a full-color illustration, yet technically it is not full color, for he has used a mainly analogous color scheme. i.e., colors that exist side by side on the color wheel spectrum.

James Ransome is a brilliant colorist. In this illustration, the colors Ransome uses, viewed on a color wheel, range from orange to yellow-orange, yellow to yellow-green, then to green, turquoise, and blue—literally representing half the color wheel.

Blue, a cool hue, is used to pull the elephant’s body back in deeper shadow; it is juxtaposed against the orange, used with warm yellows, in the elephant’s trunk. That combination, orange against blue, is painted on the elephant to make the trunk “pop,” so that the trunk appears to be in front of the elephant’s body. The blue and orange, the colors edging the arch of analogous colors, appear as complementary color—opposites—on the wheel. Complementary pairs of colors—blue and orange, red and green, yellow and violet—create intense visual contrast, making colors appear richer and more vibrant.  The wide variety of rich greens—some shades made warm by adding more of the yellow pigment, some much cooler because of the addition of blue pigment to the basic green—encase not only the animal, but the picture space as well, giving the reader a vivid window into the story.

One of James Ransome’s artistic inspirations is the work of American 19th century artist Winslow Homer (February 24, 1836 – September 29, 1910). Homer was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother was a talented amateur artist; his father was in the hardware business. Like James Ransome, Winslow Homer was both illustrator and painter. Young people will find Winslow Homer and his work especially intriguing because not only are his paintings and drawings superb, but his working life encompasses important aspects of American history. Basically a self-taught artist, he worked early in his career as an illustrator covering the front lines in the Civil War for major American magazines. His illustrations not only depicted the daily life of soldiers but visually chronicled the evolution of warfare as it evolved from Napoleonic formal line infantry assaults to precursors of modern guerilla warfare—the use of sharpshooters and special units.

Like James Ransome, Winslow Homer was a brilliant colorist. When Winslow Homer moved from black and white illustration to color painting, his first works were in oil and opaque watercolor. As he read about, and experimented with, color and paint, his skills grew; he eventually became a master of transparent watercolor, a deceptively simple medium that is actually difficult to master. Homer’s main source of information and inspiration on color theory was John Spanton’s book Chevreul on Colors, a 1859 English translation of an earlier work on color by Frenchman Michel-Eugene Chevreul, a book Homer referred to as his “Bible.” Chevreul on Colors contained information on meticulous experiments with color, information that at the time was revolutionary. It including information related to the effects that colors have when played off each other, and how colors are affected by light. This information would be most important to the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.

In many of his paintings, Homer did exactly what James Ransome has done in his illustration for Episode 18, used complementary colors to accent a painting with a limited palette of analogous colors. Below are some examples of Winslow Homer’s work. See if you and your kids can identify the color schemes of these Homer paintings.

Art Activity: Teaching Kids About Color by Painting with Watercolors

Gather the following materials:

  • Watercolor Paper. Get thicker paper with a bit of a “tooth” or texture. Watercolor paper is available at art supply stores in pads or in single units. Be sure to tell the store clerk you want student grade paper. Professional watercolor paper is very expensive.
  • A Box of Watercolors for each person. Prang or Crayola are inexpensive watercolor boxes; Pelican is a good brand for a more serious young person.
  • Water and Water Container.
  • Watercolor Brushes.
  • Paper Towels or smooth cotton rags.
  • Palette. You could use An old white china dish to use as a palette to mix paints, or a commercial white plastic palette that can be purchased at an art supply store.
  • Pencil Compass.
  • Pencils.
  • Sketch Paper.
  • Drawing Boards. Commercially made boards can be purchased in a variety of sizes at art supply stores. Or, you could use a household item, such as an old wooden board, the back of a tray, thick layers of cardboard glued together—anything that can be used as a portable flat surface upon which to place a piece of paper for sketching.

Instruct your students to do the following:

  1. Have your kids draw and paint their own color wheel using watercolor paints. The primary colors of paint —yellow, red and blue—can be taken directly from their paint box. Have them use the primary colors in their box of paints to mix the secondary and tertiary colors in their palettes before painting those colors in the color wheel. Kids can use a pencil compass to draw the color wheel circles. Suggest that they label the colors along the wheel.
  2. Introduce young people to color terminology. Introduce them to:
    • Monochromatic Colors: Color schemes that use one hue of color and its light and dark shades.
    • Complementary Colors: Colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel.
    • Analogous Colors: Three or more colors next to each other on the color wheel.
  3. Take your kids outside and have them do some practice landscape sketches on sketch paper.  Then they can choose their most interesting sketch to do a more finished drawing to execute in detail in pencil.
  4. Bring the kids back inside and using a light table, have them trace their sketch onto three sheets of watercolor paper. If you do not have a light table, the kids can tape their drawing to a window that has sunlight streaming in behind it, then tape their watercolor paper over their sketch, and trace their original sketch onto new paper.
  5. On the first piece of watercolor paper, have your kids choose one color and paint their landscape scene in a monochromatic color scheme. Rags and paper towels help can help control any watercolor puddles that may occur, and can also be used to quickly mop a “mistake.
  6. On the second piece of watercolor paper, using the same basic color that they used in their monochromatic painting, they can paint their scene using a complementary color scheme. So if their first painting was done in red, they can use red and green. They do not have to use each color equally. They can use all the dark and light shadings of the two complementary colors.
  7. On the second piece of watercolor paper, using one of the colors they used in the complementary color painting, they can paint a third landscape using analogues colors. You may want to limit those analogous colors to three or four hues. Again, they can use all the dark and lights shades of the analogous colors.
  8. When they are finished with the three paintings, have them tape them to a wall, or pin them up in a row on cork board. Talk about the paintings, comparing and contrasting the different colors schemes. Does each painting convey a different atmosphere or mood? Which painting is most like the scene they originally drew? Which painting conveys best how they feel about the scene they drew?

Print Resources

  • Watercolors by Winslow Homer by Martha Tedeschi with Kristi Dahm.
  • Winslow Homer by Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr. and Franklin Kelly.
  • Awash in Color: Homer, Sargent, and the Great American Watercolor by Sue Welsh Reed and Carol Troyen.
  • A Weekend with Winslow Homer by Anne Beneduce. This book is particularly good for young readers.

Online Resources

© 2010 Mary Brigid Barrett; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance

Discussion Questions

by Geri Zabela Eddins, NCBLA

When Hathi proposes that she and the others listen in on the aliens’ conference, Nancy declares, “Eavesdropping is sneaking and morally dubious.” But Sybil Hunch reassures her, “I think…that eavesdropping might be questionable but leaves-dropping is quite all right.” Nancy acquiesces, and much is revealed to the twins and their friends in this episode as they spy on the conference proceedings. How do you think this information will be useful to Nancy and Joe in their quest to save their parents? As a reader did you learn anything that helps with your understanding of this story? What was the most important information you learned in this episode? Have you ever eavesdropped on a conversation? Did you feel like it was “morally dubious” to do so? Can you think of another story in which the protagonists obtain important information by eavesdropping? Were the protagonists discovered?

One of the most important nuggets of information revealed in this episode is that the antagonists in The Exquisite Corpse Adventure (Boppo, Leonardo Dubenski, the Wolf, and the Squid) are all aliens in disguise. Nancy, Joe, and their friends discover the true form of the aliens as being egg-shaped, not quite solid, and they can float in the air. In fact, the aliens are referred to as “Eggy-Things.” Why do you think Maguire chose an egg-like form for the aliens? What advantages and disadvantages might a creature in this form have over a human? Do you find humor in this form? Many comic books, books, cartoons, and movies feature aliens as characters. Can you think of other alien characters who are able to morph or somehow change their appearance?

This episode also reveals that the aliens are working together. Pay attention to how the aliens interact with each other during the conference. We can learn a lot about people—and characters—by how they treat others. Do the aliens seem to enjoy each other’s company? Are they friendly to each other? Do they respect each other? Would you say the aliens are friends fighting for a common cause? Are they being coerced? Or, do you think each alien has his or her own personal motivations? What do you think about the way the alien leadership treats its agents? Cite examples that support your conclusions.

Our protagonists and their friends are able to witness the conference without being detected. What do you think would have happened if one of the aliens had found them? Imagine a way in which they were discovered and write your own episode describing what happens next.

The alien in charge is referred to as “Eggy Senior.” He runs the meeting and asks for reports from specific agents, such as number 17 (Boppo) and number 24 (the squid). Imagine you are also hiding in the woods and “leaves-dropping” on the aliens’ conference. Think of another alien agent who might be participating in the conference. Give him or her a number, and describe a disguise for this agent. Then write the dialog of the alien’s report to the aliens.

Einstein defines “memory” as “the sum of what is generated between the heart and the mind.” Is this how you would define memory? Look it up in the dictionary and compare the dictionary’s definition to Einstein’s definition in this episode.

© 2010 Geri Zabela Eddins; The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance