July 22, 2017
School & Youth
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  • On February 17, author and illustrator Jennifer O’Connell visited Jones Elementary to discuss her perseverance as a writer and the importance of preserving the environment.
    On February 17, author and illustrator Jennifer O’Connell visited Jones Elementary to discuss her perseverance as a writer and the importance of preserving the environment.
  • On February 17, author and illustrator Jennifer O’Connell visited Jones Elementary to discuss her perseverance as a writer and the importance of preserving the environment.
    On February 17, author and illustrator Jennifer O’Connell visited Jones Elementary to discuss her perseverance as a writer and the importance of preserving the environment.

Jennifer O’Connell Astounds Jones Students With A Tale About A Whale

Zach Sparks
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March 7, 2017

Children often become engrossed in fairytales and whimsical stories about magic or unearthly creatures, but on February 17, Jones Elementary students were captivated by “The Eye of the Whale - A Rescue Story,” a real-life account presented by Bethesda author and illustrator Jennifer O’Connell.

O’Connell kicked off her visit by talking about her growth as an illustrator from elementary school on, showing the children her early drawings.

She recounted details of an intense rescue involving a whale and divers, and she outlined her research methods: traveling to California to interview rescue crew members and the main diver, and riding into the Pacific Ocean on a rescue boat. O’Connell then shared sketches, dummy books and final paintings from the book, emphasizing an important message as she does with every school audience she visits.

“I talk about how this book was submitted to numerous publishers before it was contracted, which is important for students to hear – that success doesn’t always come right away, and sometimes we have to revise and make changes and continue submitting and persisting,” O’Connell said.

Determination and persistence were themes of O’Connell’s lesson, as was the importance of being an environmental steward. The author discussed watersheds and how, even if the children’s neighborhoods do not seem close to the water, their actions still affect the ocean.

“She ended up being a compelling speaker,” said Kate Rogers, a media specialist at Jones Elementary. Rogers said the school found O’Connell through an online search. “We invited Jennifer because her book related to our theme, ‘Into the Sea.’”

O’Connell concluded the presentation by drawing three whales on blue pastel paper and asking the kids to guess the size of a newborn baby blue whale. With the help of three teachers, she then unfurled a mural of a 23-foot-long baby blue whale. “I like bringing life-size things to these presentations because it is one thing to see a photo of something in a book,” O’Connell said, “but when you see the actual size of something, it can be memorable!”

Rogers said the students’ reaction was priceless. “To kids in elementary school, it’s pretty dramatic,” Rogers said of the mural reveal.

Jones Elementary students left the auditorium with newfound knowledge and an exciting memory, and O’Connell departed with gratification from a successful presentation.

“I like the idea of inspiring [the students] to embark on their own stories and projects,” she said. “With ‘The Eye of the Whale’ presentation, I know that they will remember the story and that it has the power to inspire them to be stewards of the natural world. They are our future, our hope! When I connect with children during my presentations, it inspires me to continue creating books for children.”

For more information about O’Connell, visit www.jenniferoconnellart.com.


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