I GOT INTO THE FIFTH GRADE because of comic books,” confesses author and illustrator Eric Velasquez.
He’s presenting to a class at Guardian Angel School in Chelsea. Eight-year-olds in plaid uniforms seem to grow taller without leaving their seats as they study the image on the screen—a black-and-white photograph of the building in East Harlem where Velasquez grew up. Learning English as a second language, it was the pictures, and not the words, that inspired him to write.
Page Turners, a volunteer-based program of the Archdiocese of New York, brings celebrated artists like Velasquez into innercity schools where enrichment offerings like author visits are a challenge to implement without outside funding. The one-time workshops are no more than ninety minutes, built on the simple premise that students can enhance their lives with just a pen and paper. Some artists, like Velasquez, keep the presentation informal. He chooses a student to model for an impromptu portrait—his easy sketch so vivid it could walk off the easel and take a seat in the classroom.
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