South Middle families kick off reading program by meeting “Shuri: A Black Panther Novel” illustrator

(The Journal) South Middle School students are getting an inside look into Wakanda as the children and families dive into Marvel’s new chapter book, “Shuri: A Black Panther Novel,” as part of a family reading program.

South families kicked off the program on Wednesday and had an opportunity to meet virtually with illustrator Eric Wilkerson on Thursday, asking questions and learning about the process of creating the cover art.

South reading teacher Ginette Dell said the program started as an initiative as part of being a Title I teacher but blossomed into an engaging event as she learned the school’s enthusiasm for “Black Panther” when it was released in 2018.

“One of the jobs as a Title I teacher is to have a family-involvement program. Something that many schools choose is a One Book, One School program,” Dell said. “Because we had COVID this year, we wanted to try a little something (different), put a little twist on it. We decided we would do an audiobook.

“A few years ago when ‘Black Panther’ came out, apparently, it was a big hit at South. I wasn’t there at the time, but another reading teacher said it was a big hit. She said, ‘Maybe it would be a great idea to do our book, ‘Shuri,’ because kids could build off that.’”

As luck would have it, a fellow Title I teacher at the school is friends with Wilkerson, the man behind the cover and with an inspiring story about growing up reading Marvel comics with a dream of one day working for the company. On the Teams meeting, Wilkerson discussed his love for comics as a child, taking it upon himself to sketch and draw, inspired by comic legends like Frank Miller and Jim Lee.

He stressed to the young listeners and families about following your dreams, Wilkerson finally making his own come true when hired by Scholastic and Marvel to create the artwork for “Shuri.”

“When he and spoke beforehand about what exactly we would do in this meeting, that was something he wanted to do to stress to the kids,” Dell said. “When you’re, he told me, an artist, it’s not easy to go out and find that job quick and right away. A lot of times, as the artist, you’re feeling stressed because you don’t know where you’re going to work, and you’ve got your parents going, ‘Are you going to get a job? What are you going to do? Who are you going to work for?’ It was important for him to share with the students to just follow your dreams and stick with it. It might take a while, but it’ll come. That was really touching.”

A presentation full of fun information, Wilkerson walked families through the process, showing all the drawings that led up to the final cover. Throughout, the South students messaged poignant and thoughtful questions while also giving the artist plenty of support and praise for his work.

“I was so proud. I was very pleased to see how many people joined the meeting,” Dell said. “I loved seeing all the positive comments in the chat as he was talking. I know he couldn’t read them as he was going through it. It filled me with proud to see how they felt about it.

“He had a lot of impressive information. I was stunned to hear that he starts his drawings off on his phone. I was also surprised how much of his work is digital. I thought it would be more drawing board as opposed to Photoshop, but I know nothing of the art world.”

Now armed with some insight to the art, the students are families are tasked with listening to segments of “Shuri” weekly, each section lasting about an hour to cover three to four chapters. Students are to then answer trivia questions with a chance at winning some fun prizes to further encourage family togetherness.

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Publication:      The Journal
Author:             Jessica Wilt
Publish Date:   4.18.2021