Hanging with Hipp

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Picture book author and illustrator Ryan Hipp (third from left) of Grand Rapids reads a student-captioned cartoon aloud to summer reading program participants at Allen Park Public Library.

Kids caption comics with children’s book author, illustrator

Sunday Times Newspapers

ALLEN PARK – When picture book author and illustrator Ryan Hipp draws a crowd, he uses both words and artistry to capture and keep their attention.

Hipp, an award-winning Grand Rapids writer and artist, visits Michigan schools and libraries to promote student literacy using hands-on comic creation workshops to inspire creativity.

At the Allen Park Public Library, 8100 Allen Road, July 23, more than 40 eager students age 9 to 18 gathered outdoors during a break in last week’s rain to caption cartoons and stretch their imagination under Hipp’s tutelage.

Jacob Ferns, 11, of Allen Park said he hopes learning to caption cartoons helps him create storyboards when he makes his own movies.

Hipp said he is glad when his programs inspire students to be creative.

“When you draw a picture, it is telling a story,” Hipp said.

He hands out comic strips with blank speech and thought balloons, and challenges the students to figure out what is going on and then to create original dialogue to go with the illustrations.

Hipp said he got his start as an author and illustrator in 2004 when he wrote and illustrated “A Curious Glimpse of Michigan,” a quirky picture book of Michigan fun facts with Kevin and Stephanie Kammeraad.

In 2006, he was one of 12 illustrators of “How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck?” a book of tongue twisters written by Danny Alderman.

He recently wrote and illustrated “Little Steps,” a book featuring the short-lived life of a caterpillar, who talks about overcoming hardship by telling readers how life can be difficult yet still meaningful.

He said he creates and produces music for children, and he makes presentations at schools and libraries across Michigan sharing his work and inspiring young people to be creative by combining their own stories and drawings.

“I hope the kids get a better understanding of how words and pictures work together in harmony, because once you get a solid understanding of that it helps making your writing stronger, it helps making your illustrations stronger,” Hipp said. “It’s really a hybrid – making comics is a hybrid between the two.”

He hopes to prevent children from being self-critical and to help them understand that talent is subjective.

“It’s really fulfilling to see kids get excited,” Hipp said. “I was just like them once, too, and this is how I got my start, so if I can just impart just a little bit of that back on and inspire another student to want to become someone who is doing creative things then my job is done.”

Maggie Porter, 12, of Allen Park said the library is a fun place to hang out, check out books and take part in summer reading programs like the one Hipp presented.

“I just love drawing,” Porter said. “It’s always been a thing I love doing. And I like it that we could really draw (and say) whatever we want on the paper.”

Carringtyn Bateman, 11, of Allen Park also likes how the program is fun, as well as open to children from other cities.

“No matter where you come from, you can go here,” Bateman said. “I enjoy the programs a lot. It’s really fun and you learn something.”

Charlotte Sass, 12, of Riverview is glad she can attend the Allen Park library programs, which she finds fun, with her cousins who live in Allen Park.

Allen Park resident Trevor Sherf, 11, said that not only are the summer reading programs fun, they have nice teachers and the programs are age-appropriate.

“You get an ice cream party when you are younger because the little kids are like, ‘Ice cream!’ and they freak out,” Sherf said. “But then when you are older you play video games and stuff like that, so it’s really age appropriate.”

Emilie Nieves, 9, of Allen Park, who attends the summer reading program because she likes reading books, said the events are like a bonus.

“It’s like really fun, where other people can teach you stuff and everything,” Nieves said.
Kaitlyn Truxall, 10, of Allen Park, has checked out books to read all summer, but this is the first time she attended a summer reading program event, and she said the activities were fun.

Anthony Grooms, 9, of Allen Park, said he lives within sight of the library. He said he goes to the library a lot to check out books and have something different to do, like today’s activities.

Ariel Teatsorth, 9, likes reading, and said the library is a lot quieter than her house, which is often noisy with visiting cousins. She said summer reading programs are fun.

Teen librarian Karen M. Smith is glad the children find summer library programs fun.

“We’ve been trying some really hands-on things with the kids,” Smith said, “like Science Alive, who bring in animals, and a magic workshop and now this drawing workshop, which is new this year.”

She hopes the captioning program will help children express themselves artistically and learn to be creative in all kinds of ways, whether it’s through drawing or music or reading and writing, to foster their creative side during the summer months when they’re not as busy with school and sports.

“We have a super great group of kids this year,” Smith said. “They are active, they are involved, they are polite, they are respectful, (and) they are appreciative. It has just been a really, really great summer reading program.”

She said this is the first time they have combined fourth- and fifth-graders with teens, who are in middle school and up.

“We wanted to do the drawing workshop and we weren’t sure how it was going to work best for what age groups so we decided to combine them this year and see what happened, and I think it has been a success,” Smith said.

Library student assistant Daniel Blakney agrees that the summer reading program and the cartoon captioning and drawing activity attracted a good group of participants, and he is impressed by the turnout.

He said every year the children continue to amaze the library staff and the library has a good turnout.

“The enthusiasm is exciting,” Blakney said. “Despite all the distractions around they are paying attention to everything that is going on and I think they are getting a lot out of it.”