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It's the (ExCo) Final(s) Countdown!

December 14, 2009

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

This semester, I took my fifth ExCo. Five is the magic number for ExCos at Oberlin, since that's the number of credit hours you can apply toward graduation. That doesn't mean that you can't take more, but you just can't count them toward your magic number of 112 hours needed to graduate. Somehow, the timing worked out perfectly for me, as I finally had time to take ExCos starting at the beginning of my sophomore year. I've taken a wide variety of classes: The Calvin and Hobbes ExCo, PoiCo, Storytelling, the Concept Album ExCo, and now, the Picture Book ExCo.

Our class is very small, Professor Ardea Thurston-Shaine (she and I cooked together sophomore year on Wednesday nights in Harkness, now we're both old seniors), and two Harkness freshmen, Rachel Eaton and Arianna Goodman. We met weekly to read stacks of picture books, divvying up the books at the beginning of class and reading them around the circle. We read some about picture book theory in the days before the class, and then discussed those theories in terms of the books we read.

Midterms and finals for ExCos are the best things during the otherwise completely stressful weeks. Calvin and Hobbes was culminated with Calvinball, PoiCo ended with choreographed poi performances, Storytelling had a stunning final performance in Starlight Lounge, and the Concept Album ExCo had a series of final projects ranging from concept cakes, musical performances, and homemade concept albums.

For our midterm, we read Molly Bang's book, Picture This: How Pictures Work, which explains the emotional reasoning behind picture book design in basic visual elements. After learning this technique, we created a set of pages based on the story "The Musicians of Bremen," using specific colors and shapes to symbolize each character, emotional scene, and important plot point. It was a really cool process, since all kids, no matter their college education, still love playing with scissors, construction paper, and glue sticks.

Two students decorate paper

Arianna and Rae work diligently on their creative pages.

A book titled "picture this"

Molly Bang's book, and the irresistible scissors and gluesticks. (See that label on the front of the book? I've extolled the glory of OhioLINK already, but I reiterate its awesomeness.)

Can you recognize the story in the pictures below? (Full explanation at the end of the post.)

An image of paper cut outs

An image of paper cut outs

An image of paper cut outs

An image of paper cut outs

An image of paper cut outs

An image of paper cut outs


Our final for this ExCo was to make our own picture book, the four of us creating a fabulous story. Sadly, I missed the class when we decided on the topic because of a crazy tech week schedule for circus, but when I was filled in on the details, l couldn't have asked for a better story to collaborate with.

Rae spent the next few days writing up a story and Ardea, Arianna, and I drew a set of monsters, and at the next class, we chose two monsters from each of our characters to incorporate them into the plot. We then storyboarded from Rae's amazing story, and started drawing.

Our basic plot was a young boy gets a new bed, and with arrival of this new furnishing, his under-the-bed-monster has gone missing. He journeys around his house, looking for his other monsters, behind the bookshelf, in the oven, in laundry room, the attic, and finally finds all his monsters accompanying his old bed in his little brother's room. He gifts his monsters to his brother.

While we sketched, we tossed around possible titles, arriving upon My Monster is Missing. Over three weeks, we completed all the art and edited the story, which we finished last Monday night during a final ExCo party at my house over hot cider, tea, huckleberry taffy, and leftover flourless chocolate torte. Funnily enough, this party was held at my house, the former storytelling house featured in my photos from my ExCo from last fall. Life is cyclical.

My lovely housemate Melissa got home right as Arianna finished the final page of our book, and she sat down to read it with us. For your reading pleasure, I will share it with you below. Story and art by Ardea Thurston-Shaine, Arianna Goodman, Rachel Eaton, and Ma'ayan Plaut.

"Today my mom told me I was getting a new bed.  A big boy's bed. 'What's wrong with my old one?' I asked. 'You're too old for it,' she said.

Today my mom told me I was getting a new bed. A big boy's bed. "What's wrong with my old one?" I asked. "You're too old for it," she said.

A boy day dreams about a bed

I went up to my room to look. In the corner, next to my toy box, was the new bed. It was huge. It didn't have any dinosaurs on it, like my old bed, and it wasn't blue either. It was made of wood and was too high off the ground for me to climb up on.

A boy looks underneath his bed

Something else wasn't right either. I looked at my bed really carefully. I couldn't figure it out until I looked underneath. Where was my under-the-bed monster? He'd been there for as long as I could remember.

A boy day dreams about a monster next to a bookshelf

Then I thought, if my under-the-bed monster is missing, what about my other ones? I ran into the living room and looked behind Mom's old bookshelf.

A boy searches through a book shelf

No monster!

A boy day dreams about a frog in a n oven

Next I went to the kitchen. Mom was making lunch, but she still let me look in the stove.

A boy looks at a pie baking in an oven

But my monster-in-the-stove wasn't there either!

The boy day dreams about a monster in the washing machien

The laundry-room monster must get lonely. They could be in there with him, I thought.

A boy sits in a basket of clothes

There weren't any monsters in there, though. Just dirty clothes.

The boy daydreams about monsters having a birthday party

Maybe they were all having a party with my attic monster. It could be his birthday.

The boy stands in a dark room

I ran the stairs to the attic. But when I got there, I couldn't find anyone.

A monster sits in a pile of clothes

There was only one other place to look. I went into the closet in my parents' room. All Mom's clothes were hung up nicely, but my dad's old coats were in a pile on the floor. A monster poked his head out. He was kind of old and tired and didn't try to scare me. He wasn't the monster I wanted.

The boy sits in a chair at a table

I was out of places to look. Maybe I couldn't find my monster because they're run away. Maybe they didn't want me anymore. I didn't know what to do. So I went back to the kitchen, hoping my mom would be done with lunch and could tell me what had happened. But she only asked me to go get my little brother.

A monster underneath the bed, a monster next to the book shelf, and a monster next to a pile of clothes

When I went into the room, I couldn't believe it. There were all my monsters! The stove monster was talking to the laundry-room monster, and the attic monster was making faces at the bookcase monster. In the corner, where my brother's crib used to be, was my old bed! My under-the-bed monster growled from underneath.

The boy holds a monster and talks to his borther

My little brother smiled nervously at me. "Aren't all these yours?" he asked. "They were," I said. "But you can have them now."

The boy holds a  monster with the words "The end" above him

You can look at the whole book at large at my Flickr page.


Luckily, this final didn't involve any of reading period, or spending any time in Mudd, or extensive studying. An ExCo final is a great thing to have in the mix of finals (or pre-finals) week.


The Musicians of Bremen, page 1: The donkey runs away from his abusive master.

The Musicians of Bremen, page 2: The donkey, the cat, and the dog meet the rooster, who joins them on their quest.

The Musicians of Bremen, page 3: The quartet peeks into the robbers' house.

The Musicians of Bremen, page 4: The quartet starts singing and fall into the robbers' house, scaring them away.

The Musicians of Bremen, page 5: Later in the evening, a robber ventures back into the house, where he is attacked by all the sleeping animals.

The Musicians of Bremen, page 6: The robbers never return and the animals set up house and begin a new life.


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