PWR 91EE: Saving Lives with Picture Books

PWR 1, PWR 2

Time: Monday/Wednesday, 11:30 A.M.-1:20 P.M.

This course gives you an opportunity to improve the health of thousands of mothers and young children in Bangladesh. How? By collaboratively creating original picture books designed to effectively communicate information about child stimulation, nutrition, water sanitation and hygiene, the dangers of lead, and healthy ways of thinking. (No artistic skills required.) Working in consultation with a team of Stanford-led researchers, you’ll learn about the people whose lives your work aims to improve, then collaboratively craft at least one picture book that addresses the researchers’ needs and communicates with your audience.

Creating your picture book(s) will be a step-by-step process. You and your classmates will research Bengali culture, pitch story ideas, create storyboards and dummies, and revise and edit in light of feedback from the team in Bangladesh, as well as some of the mothers participating in the study. Again, no artistic skills required—our class will assess its members’ artistic abilities and ambitions and, if necessary, recruit an outside illustrator or illustrators. The book(s) may use traditional media, digital media, or a combination of both. The mothers and their children will experience the book(s) in digital form, via tablet, but the research team may decide to print hard copies as well. This course builds upon PWR 1 and PWR 2 by immersing you in a real-world project that combines writing, visual rhetoric, and oral presentation, with an additional emphasis on cultural rhetoric, media, and technology.

Major Assignments

  • Story pitch: Individually pitch a story idea for a picture book that effectively addresses the research project’s learning objectives. Our class and members of the research team will evaluate these ideas for their potential as books. We’ll probably end up using story elements from multiple pitches. (2 minutes)
  • Storyboard: Roughly sketch a storyboard that brings a selected story idea to life in a unique and compelling way. Don’t worry about your drawing skills—stick figures are fine. But you’ll need to think carefully about how to visualize your story, taking into account structure, pacing, page turns, and double-page spreads.
  • Dummy: With a group of classmates, roughly sketch a black-and-white mock-up of your picture book, complete with carefully placed text and carefully planned double-page spreads and page turns. We’ll share your dummies with the research team in Bangladesh, who will give us feedback and let us know what some of the participating families think of your stories in their current form.
  • Picture book rationale: A collaboratively written companion piece to the dummy, this 2-page (single-spaced) document aims to persuade the research team that you and your classmates made wise rhetorical choices in planning your picture book.
  • Picture book(s): The final deliverable of the course—at least one compelling and original picture book that effectively and memorably communicates vital information for the target audience.
  • Final presentation: A 10-15-minute group presentation, videotaped for the research team, that argues for the value of your group’s final picture book(s), with a focus on the compelling rhetorical choices you made while researching, conceptualizing, designing, writing, revising, and illustrating.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Erik Ellis

PWR Advanced Lecturer

Areas of specialization: creative writing, journalism, rhetoric and composition

Genre expertise: applications, personal statements, and multimodal composition

Enjoys coaching writing productivity, brainstorming, and revision strategies

Erik Ellis has been teaching in PWR since 2011. He holds a BA from Beloit College, an MA in journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, an MFA in creative writing from New York University, and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English from the University of Arizona.

Erik's PWR 1 course, “Prowling Toward Certainty: Exploration as Argument,” challenges students to research and write about controversial issues about which they feel ambivalent. Students get to practice writing as a way of thinking—an authentic, exciting quest for meaning that values intellectual discovery over formulas.

Students in Erik's PWR 2 course, “Once Upon a Cause: Producing Picture Books for Local Children,” not only analyze picture books and write essays about them but collaborate closely with a group of classmates to create an original, compelling, and educationally appropriate picture book for children at Lucille M. Nixon Elementary (a short bike ride from campus). During a series of field trips to the school, the kids offer inspiration and constructive criticism to PWR 2 students as they develop and revise their picture books, which also reflect individual research projects. Needless to say, Erik loves picture books and considers this multimodal genre not only fun--though not always--but rhetorically sophisticated and powerful.

Erik has written about style, the essay, the multimedia essay, and is currently working on a project about picture books.