On Sunday, November 27, 2016, grandparents and their grandkids flocked to Holy Blossom Synagogue at Bathurst and Eglinton, for an afternoon full of family fun. Former Forest Hill resident and artist Jonathan Rotsztain engaged six groups of grandparents and grandkids in an intergenerational comic book making workshop, during which they learned about the surrounding neighbourhood, created art, and enjoyed each other’s company.

First, Jonathan took the group on a neighbourhood walk and discussed the origins, history, and contemporary culture of the Cedarvale and Forest Hill neighbourhoods surrounding the synagogue. On our first stop, at the corner of Ava Road and Chiltern Hill Road, Jonathan informed the grandparents and grandkids about the geological origins of the area as a forested valley surrounded by rolling hills. At our next stop on the north-facing side of the synagogue, Jonathan and the group explored Cedarvale’s social history and engaged in discussion about the area’s original First-Nations inhabitants, and its subsequent transformation into a fruit orchard, farms, and finally, into a suburban community. Jonathan and the families also thought about animals they’ve seen in this area and commented on how the ravine-adjacent neighbourhood is still home to many animals, both wild and domesticated.

After discussing the façade of the Synagogue itself, and Jewish culture in Cedarvale, Jonathan led the grandparents and grandkids back into a classroom in the synagogue, where they practiced comic-drawing and cartooning techniques before conceptualizing an idea for a comic that they would be drawing collaboratively together. Jonathan prompted the grandparents and grandkids to draw a comic of their family tree, a comic about a fun time that they spent together, or to develop an imaginary storyline narrative. Grandparents and grandkids were encouraged to draw themselves into the comics and to present themselves as human, as personified animals, or as object versions of themselves.

The grandparents and grandkids collaborated on the same sheet of paper to create a shared comic, or each created panels for a comic that would be put together as a single story. Through comic-creating methodology, the groups of grandparents and grandchildren learned how to use lines and simplistic imagery to convey a specific narrative, and about working together as a family to produce a fun creative expression. Overall, everyone had a great time spending an afternoon making art together.

On the Sunday following the intergenerational comics workshop, we had our first Bookmarkers of 2016/2017: a book club for parents and young children, in partnership with Groundwood Books. Families gathered in Small World Music Centre, to watch author Sara O’Leary and illustrator Qin Leng read and discuss their children’s book: A Family Is A Family Is a Family, published by Groundwood Books, and to listen to Jonathan Rotsztain talk about his comic-making process.

This beautifully illustrated picture book tells the story of a child who is nervous to talk about her family with her classmates because she thinks that her family is too different from everyone else’s. To her surprise, she learns that everyone’s family is different and that “a family is a family is a family.”

Sara started the afternoon with a reading of the book and then Qin took to an easel to engage families with her quick drawing skills and to share how she created all the characters in the book. Qin then asked parents and kids to participate in a drawing activity during which they were asked to draw themselves and their families.

Following this activity, Jonathan showed families his artistic process. He presented his daily drawing exercise: Dreary Diary; and did a reading from his short comic book: The Everything Bagel. He then showed families how to draw different types of lines and the families participated in another drawing activity about how to use simple types of lines to express different moods, feelings, and environments.

The afternoon was a hit with parents and kids alike, and everyone enjoyed the readings and activities, as well as snacks provided by Prairie Boy Bakery.

Stay tuned to the Koffler website for more information about our next Bookmarkers event in 2017!

  • Posted by Emma Hoffman. Photos by Mary Anderson.