Saturday, June 25, 2016

Author Spotlight: Chris Gall

I discovered Chris Gall’s work only recently when I came across one of his Dinotrux’s books. Struck by his amazing style, I checked out several of his other books.

Chris Gall has been working as an illustrator for more than 20 years.  With close to a dozen picture books published so far, he has already made an indelible mark on the industry. Working as both author and illustrator on most of his books, he has shown innovative vision and extraordinary talent. His style has similarities to other beloved illustrators like David Wiesner, Steven Kellogg, and Chris Van Allsburg.

Like Wiesner, he has an amazing imagination. Gall brings the ordinary and the fantastic, mashes them together, and creates a captivating experience. For example, in Dear Fish he takes the ideas of pen pals and company visiting to hyperbolic and astonishing levels. Substitute Creature begins with every day occurrences in the classroom and moves them to outrageous flights of fancy.

Like Kellogg, he utilizes every space, including end, copyright, and title pages. Gall uses his illustrations as much as the text to move the storytelling forward and make little detours of humor. For instance, in The Revenge of the Dinotrux the bots escape after being “civilized” by school and books. Left in the tracks is the book Escape from Alcatraz. Also, there are often bits of irony and pun included. In Dear Fish, puns are abundant, such as when a school of fish invades a classroom and swordfish help a carpenter with his work. 

Like Van Allsburg, he is a profound storyteller.  Gall’s stories are not about animals or Dinotruxs.  Instead, his characters are often metaphors or symbols. The unruly Dinotruxs symbolize undesirable behaviors often found in children like impatience, thoughtlessness, and selfishness. Dog vs. Cat represents a blended family though it could be more universally connected to learning to get along with others. 

Gall’s illustrations are bold. They often have a three-dimensional appearance.  Sometimes, he employs techniques commonly found in graphic novels like blocking and multiple scenes on a page. A variety of mediums work together to create each illustration.  He frequently uses more traditional means like clay-engraved art or colored pencils with digital effects. Other books have revolutionary tools. Dinotrux was created using bearskins and stone-knives while Substitute Creature utilized bat wings, toad juice, and the bundled whiskers of a black cat. :)

Finally, his books often have a twist at the end. In Awesome Dawson the final scene depicts Dawson using one of his inventions to help in an alien invasion while Dinotrux simply has the eyes of one of the bots flash on. These types of endings prompt a discussion of inference and provide opportunities for creative writing. 

Like a great literary fiction, there are layers and layers to unpack in his books.   Look closely at the illustrations as well as their interconnectedness with the text. Chris Gall's books will surprise you with new insights and small treasures with each reading.

Peter Alan writes a letter to the fish, places it in a bottle, and throws it out to sea. The next morning he wakes up to find the fish have taken him up on his offer to visit. They are everywhere—in the bathtub, at the baseball game, in the yard, and at the rodeo.  After numerous disruptions, he writes the fish another letter to encourage them to go back home.  Eventually, life returns back to normal.  Until, Peter Alan finds a note on the beach. This one is from the fish! 

Teaching Connections:  Puns (primarily in the illustrations), Onomatopoeia, Strong Verbs, Letter Writing, Inference 

Dawson spends all his time repurposing toys and household items into new imaginative and useful creations.  Hating to do chores, he comes up with a solution—that ends up causing so much trouble, he wishes he was at home doing chores!  Dawson stops the “monster” machine, but he does not stop coming up with ways to make chore time go more quickly and efficiently.  

Teaching Connections: Simple Machines, Robotic, STEM, Recycling, Problem Solving, Inference

When a riotous class gets an unexpected substitute teacher, they think it is an opportunity for mischief and mayhem. Their substitute is not what they expected—nor what the audience thinks either. As he presents hard cases from past classes of daydreamers, doodlers, and paste-eaters, the audience is treated to highly imaginative and disastrous consequences that ensue.  Students are not fully convinced though until the substitute creature reveals his own past delinquency. 

Teaching Connections:  Inference, Irony, Creative Writing, Poetry, Rhyme, Hyperbole

Cat and Dog are far from being two peas in a pod. Dog is a playful mess.  Cat is seriously organized. Their idea of fun could not be more different. When trying to co-exist peacefully doesn’t work, it becomes an all out war.  An unexpected event prompts a truce though.  Will the peace last?   

Teaching Connections: Sibling/Step-Sibling/Friendship Relationships, Problem Solving, Puns, Hyperbole

Dinotrux, part-truck, part dino demolition dynamos, ruled the world millions of years ago. Rude Rollodon, greedy Garbageadon, and edgy Dozeratops were just a few of the disruptive Dinotrux.  Ironically, they are so uncivilized that even the cave people are fussing at them! A terrible storm causes most of Dinotrux to rust and sink down, down, down into the mud.  The smart ones migrate south where they slowly lose their misbehaving ways and ancient features. Now they are always on the job and never quit working hard.  A prehistoric discovery may change everything though!

Teaching Connections:  Manners, Dinosaurs, Onomatopoeia, Irony

After spending decades in a museum being poked, prodded, and mistreated, Tyrannosaurus Trux leads the other Dinotrux out into the modern world. Reminiscent of a Godzilla take-over (with lots of humor and irony), they wreak havoc on the town. The mayor sends them to school to learn “how modern trucks behave.”  School seems to be helping to tame their wild ways…at least until they are on the loose again. When the Dinotrux are tracked down deep in the woods, everyone is afraid to see what is causing all the commotion.  

Teaching Connections:  Manners, Dinosaurs, Onomatopoeia, Irony, Problem Solving

Gall has two new books premiering later this year. Nanobots will be released in August 2016. The Ninjabread Man with author C.J. Leigh is due out September 2016.

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