Read, Explore, Create at Vadnais Heights Elementary

Reading a book has become a very creative experience in a number of Twin Cities Metro Area schools, due to a special program that received funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board Arts Learning Program.

Vadnais Heights 4th- and 5th grade classes with Ms. Jensen, O’Donovan, Przybylski, Bliss and Girard, are participating in Read, Explore, Create (REC) this year!  Read, Explore, Create is a partnership between Milkweed Editions, a publisher of books for youth and adults, and COMPAS, which brings artists into schools.  Through REC, students read a Milkweed young readers book, meet with the book’s author in-person or via a live web chat, and explore the book’s themes with a COMPAS artist.

Vadnais Heights 4th-grade classes selected Milkweed’s, The Dog with Golden Eyes, written by the late author Frances Wilbur. In this novel, Cassie, bored, friendless, and lonely, finds a beautiful dog in her backyard. After adopting him as her pet, she realizes he's a full-grown Arctic wolf. Determined to care for her new friend and find his real home, Cassie learns that she has resources and strengths she never realized she had.

From December 5th through January 13th, 4th graders will work with COMPAS artist Rhonda Lund to explore wolves as they are portrayed in different cultures, from European myths and folktales to Native American stories. Students will improvise, rehearse and perform a story using wolf mythology.  They will develop problem-solving skills and learn how to build a supportive atmosphere that encourages teamwork as they create and perform their new tales.

Rhonda Lund is an experienced storyteller, actor and director.  Specializing in folktales and masks, she has researched source material on multiple trips to China and India, and also Borneo, Singapore, Mexico, Spain, Morocco and the Czech Republic.  Rhonda is the Artistic Director and theater teacher of Theater Nest, a south Minneapolis children’s theater company.  She has co-created over 200 children’s performances about nearly every topic under the sun.

In November, Vadnais Heights 5th-grade classes began reading Milkweed’s The Great North American Prairie. This anthology gathers the literature that best conveys the region's natural heritage. Students will find songs and narratives from Plains Indians, stories of nineteenth-century settlers (including freed slaves) and contemporary stories, essays, and poems about coyotes, meadowlarks, farm life, wild places in the city, and efforts to restore native prairie. As they dip into this book, they'll hear the whistle of prairie dogs, witness the dance of sandhill cranes, catch the white flash of a pronghorn's tail, and revisit the massive buffalo.

5th-grade selected COMPAS poet Dana Jensen to lead students through a deeper exploration of the prairie.  The workshops will take place in January, 2012.  Dana teaches students specific techniques of figurative language and other aspects of poetry such as form, sound, rhythm, alliteration, rhyme and repetition.  The themes of nature will be explored through poetry, which students will share with the greater school community.

Dana Jensen both writes poetry and teaches it to children.  He has taught poetry residencies with COMPAS in Minnesota’s K-12 classrooms for many years.  His recent children’s book, A Meal of the Stars:  Poems Up and Down, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in March 2012. 

Along with the artist visits, a local writer and contributor to the Prairie anthology will meet with students to talk about the writing process and lead a hands-on writing activity.

Milkweed Editions is a fiscal year 2011 recipient of an Arts Learning grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is funded by the arts and cultural heritage fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature with money from the Legacy Amendment vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008 and RBC Dain Rauscher.

Milkweed Editions ( was founded in Minnesota in 1979 and is now one of the leading independent, literary nonprofit presses in America and one of the very few to publish children’s books in addition to fiction, poetry, and nonfiction for adults. Through the Alliance for Reading, Milkweed has worked in Twin Cities Schools for more than fifteen years.

COMPAS (, a statewide nonprofit arts organization, lets people experience and create the arts by connecting communities, cultures and artists. For over forty years COMPAS has worked with schools on creative arts projects that practice professional art techniques, build connections with classroom curriculum, and explore global history and cultural diversity.