The Making of Alphabing
By Courtni Holst, Teacher
Alphabing started as West PM’s class gift for the annual Harvest Moon Auction last November. The idea of an alphabet book all about Bing was mentioned to Jennifer Justice, a parent of a child in the class and a writer. Jennifer took the idea and ran with it, composing most of the clever alphabet rhymes in just a few days. She used the sequence of the day at Bing as her format, starting with arrival and ending with storytime and all the many things a child looks forward to doing the next day at school
Anne Baldwin, another parent in West PM and a professional photographer, offered to donate a few afternoons a week to photograph the situations described by the words. Many parents of West PM donated money needed for developing the film and for printing and binding the book. The production of the book would not have been possible without a generous donation from Helen Bing, who also made it possible for every child attending Bing to have his or her own copy.
With the book available for all to read and enjoy, Anne and Jennifer discussed the creative processes involved in Alphabing at staff development day this past spring. Jennifer said she took her cue from Bing’s philosophy of developing many of the classroom ideas from the activities and perspectives of the children. She wanted the language not only to reflect the child’s view of the day but also not to talk down to the children in any way—using language adults would enjoy and trusting children to understand an adjective like “exhilarating,” for example. Jennifer also gave the staff a sneak preview of a children’s book she’s working on.
Anne, too, spoke of the importance of the child’s perspective, of wanting each child to be able to put himself or herself in the story the pictures were telling. She sought to capture the “peak moment,” which isn’t always done by taking just one shot of the situation. She also took care with positioning herself correctly, for example, taking a few extra steps back to make sure a whole tree appears in the background so that it does not seem to be coming from just anywhere. Not only the subject is important, Anne noted, but also the background and indeed the whole picture. Responding to a prior request, Anne critiqued classroom photographs taken by several teachers and offered many tips on composition, angle, and cropping.
Alphabing is a wonderful gift to all children attending Bing, and its creators gave the staff a rich opportunity for professional development.