SOMETIMES WE CAN appreciate a book not just because of its content or impact on our lives, but because of what it symbolizes and how it came to be. Alice Brew’s bilingual, family-oriented book of creative activities for special needs children represents a cross-cultural labor of love that grew out of the collaboration of two Peace Corps Volunteers and their host country nationals in Ukraine.
Brew wrote this book as a guide for care-givers and parents when she was working as a Peace Corps teacher at a center for severely mentally challenged children in Vinnytsia, Ukraine. For illustrations, she asked Andrew Hamilton, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, to photograph the activities in her art classes.
The author’s Russian tutor, Laryssa Oleksiyenko, translated the text into Ukranian, and Valentyna Bezdushna, a graphic designer in Ukraine, planned the layout. The book was printed in Ukraine with funds donated by the author’s family, friends and church and initially distributed at no cost to families with special needs children in Ukraine. Now the proceeds from the sale of this self-published book are donated to NADIYA, a non-governmental center that offers rehabilitative activities for mentally disabled children and young people in Vinnytsia.
In her introduction, Brew invites everyone in the family to join together and make art with things from around the home. Parallel blocks of text in English and Ukrainian describe materials and directions for twenty creative adventures with art, including painting, collage, printmaking, modeling, and construction. On each page, Hamilton’s colorful photographs show children actively engaged in each process along with examples of finished artworks, some made with pickles and olives. Facilitating the creating of these fun projects does not require a background in art, so the book should appeal to home schoolers and families with youngsters who are looking for something fun to do when there’s nothing to do!
Eldon Katter is the former editor of School Arts magazine and the co-author of Art and Human Experience, a middle school textbook series (Davis Publications).