J at German School 6 06 at 9.46.16 PM

“Her vivid presentation of her latest picturebook, the true story “Elephants Remember,” captivated the attention of all our students ranging from K-5th grade... 
This was a fantastic, unforgettable presentation.”
— Ursula Eberhard, Librarian,
German International School, Washington, DC

(Click here to view the full testimonial)

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“You know your author visit is a success when you have 600 students sitting quietly and hanging on every word the author says. Jennifer O’Connell captures students’ imaginations and draws them into the story as it unfolds

 — Nicole O'Keefe, Teacher, Buffalo Trail ES, Aldie, VA
(Click here to view the full testimonial)


I would love to show your students my process of creating picture books. They will learn firsthand how books are written and illustrated and be inspired to create their own! Either in-person or virtually, with colorful slides I describe my beginnings and then my process - from the spark of an idea to the printed book. I hold up props and draw, and students have a chance to draw too, with my drawing exercises. 

Honorarium: For Maryland, DC and Virginia, $700 for one presentation, and $150 for each additional presentation. For over an hour's drive from Bethesda, MD, please email or call me (301-537-4878) and I will provide you with a fee that includes travel expenses. Virtual presentations are $300 for one presentation and $200 for each additional presentation.  


eye of whale cover sealElephants Remember – The Challenges, Fun and Rewards of Creating a Nonfiction Picture Book (All Ages)

Classroom Guide

After telling my story of becoming an illustrator and author, I share my experience of researching, writing and illustrating Elephants Remember. I discuss (and project on screen or hold up mounted visuals) the many drafts, storyboards, dummy books, sketches and final illustrations that went into this book about a traumatized matriarch elephant and the man who strived to earn her trust. I will touch on the importance of research and accuracy in nonfiction work, and the necessity of missteps and ‘re-dos’ – how they lead to improvement and ultimately success!

Using pastels I will create a quick sketch of a mother and baby elephant, and share some amazing details and facts that I learned about them. I then unveil my life-size painting of a newborn elephant calf, and hold up my life-size painting of an adult African elephant ear (6' tall by 5' wide!) as I share the many important functions of their ears. A lively Q & A session will follow. (45 minutes)


eye of whale cover sealCreating The Eye of the Whale - A Rescue Story (All Ages)

In this presentation, I share the many steps involved in writing and illustrating The Eye of the Whale. The process included exciting research, interviewing the lead diver and motoring out to sea on board the rescue boat. With PowerPoint slides and props I show the many drafts, storyboards, sketches, dummy books and final paintings that went into the book. I stress how multiple revisions are an integral part of the process, and I discuss ways in which we all can take action to become stewards of the natural world.

Using dark blue paper on an easel, I sketch three different whales in pastel while playing a tape of dreamy whale-like music. Then I share some amazing facts about the whales and unfurl a life-size baby blue whale that is 23-feet long (but don't tell the students - it's a surprise!) When I arrive, I also set up a life-size humpback whale's tail that easily leans up against a wall with a pvc pipe frame and transforms the room! A lively Q & A session follows. (45 minutes – an hour)


ten timid ghosts coverHow Ten Timid Ghosts Came To Be (All Ages)

I love to share the story of creating my best-selling picture book, Ten Timid Ghosts. Using PowerPoint slides and props, I show my numerous drafts, sketches, reference photos, dummy books, revisions and final illustrations. I include several progressions of sketch revisions. Sometimes I’ve had to draw a scene 10 times to get it right. It helps kids to hear this!

Next, using pastels and dark blue paper on an easel, the students direct me as I draw a new, made-up spooky character. While playing fun, Halloween music I quickly draw in the background/setting and then we all make-up a story about our character. If time allows, I will then guide everyone in a character-emotion-story sketch exercise. (See below for a description and video of this drawing exercise. Pencil and white paper are needed.) (45 minutes – an hour)


Let’s Make a Picture Book!
(Grades 2 - Adults)

After reading aloud Ten Timid Ghosts, I briefly discuss key aspects to consider when creating a picture book. I then demonstrate how to make up a story by either using brainstorming boxes or by fracturing fairy tales. Each student will create a picture book with provided paper, pencils and markers. The participant will put his/her own picture book together using prepared Tagboard paper for the cover, hole-punched white paper for the pages and decorative fasteners. (45 - 60 minutes)

             Let’s Make a Picture Book! - Five Day Workshop (Grades 2 - Adults)

In this workshop, participants learn and execute the many steps of writing and illustrating their own picture books. 
Day 1: I give the “Eye of the Whale” or "Elephants Remember" presentation, focusing on my process.
Day 2: We discuss brainstorming and first drafts. Then the participants begin planning and writing their stories.
Day 3: I demonstrate editing and revising and the students apply it to their stories.
Day 4: I talk about illustrating a story and the students begin the pictures for their stories.
Day 5: I discuss book covers and everyone starts work on their covers. I also discuss the "team" of people that work together to publish a picture book and describe each person's job.
Day 6: Finishing up and a celebration of the finished books!

I would be happy to discuss a possible workshop for your school or group. I can provide a more detailed outline of my program and can tailor it to fit the needs, age and size of your group. 

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        Creating Picture Books About Helping People, Animals and Our Planet 

After explaining and showing my process in creating The Eye of the Whale - A Rescue Story, I share visuals with ideas of ways that we can show kindness and empathy toward others by helping people, homeless dogs and cats, bees, birds, marine life and the environment. Then each student creates a book with their own illustrations and words about their chosen topic(s).

The workshop can be tailored to the needs and budget of the school. It worked very well as a 5-day residency with the K - 5 students at the Bullis School, Potomac, MD. Each day we created illustrations using a different technique used in picture books, including pencil and watercolor, collage and acrylic paints. 

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photo for flyerCreating Characters, Emotions and Stories
- A Drawing Exercise
(Grades Pre-K - 5)

After I read Ten Timid Ghosts, budding young illustrators will see first hand how I create my picture book characters. Then they will follow my lead as I show them, in simple steps, how to draw their own original characters and how different expressions will show differing emotions. When backgrounds are added, stories emerge! This lively art/language arts activity yields successful outcomes for children/people of all ages and abilities and inspires stories and ideas! It can be a "mini-workshop" that follows one of my presentations. (Materials: paper and pencil.)

Click here for the "draw along" video.


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