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Teacher encourages reading with mural art

St. Croix Central Elementary art teacher Jason Rhode stands in front of the mural he is painting with the help of student teacher Garith Pipkorn (not pictured). Rhode said the mural, which features characters and the tree house from the Magic Tree House series, as well as other children's book characters, is meant to inspire literacy in children.1 / 2
Jason Rhode "Climbs" up the ladder to the Magic Tree House illustrated on the mural he is painting at St. Croix Central Elementary School. The mural, when it is finished, will be filled with illustrations of characters from children's books.2 / 2

Jason Rhode has spent many nights on a ladder in St. Croix Central Elementary School, painting the wall. He said he hopes his efforts will promote children's literacy.

"Reading is the most important thing for kids to learn," Rhode said. "It's the foundation of everything else they need for math, science..."

Rhode, an art teacher at St. Croix Central Elementary, is painting a mural composed of characters from children's books on one of the school's walls. The mural includes characters (and the tree house) from Mary Pope Osborn's "Magic Tree House" series, "Flat Stanley," Junie B. Jones (of the eponymous book series by Barbara Parks), The Pigeon from Mo Williams' "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!," Eric Carle's "Mixed-Up Chameleon," Roscoe Riley of the "Roscoe Riley Rules" series by Katherine Applegate, and the very hungry caterpillar.

"I've got more emails and more pictures of different characters," Rhode said. Teachers, he said, have been sending him suggestions for other characters the children might like to see in the mural.

The mural is not done, and Rhode said he will be adding more characters, although he has taken a break from painting the mural because school is just starting up. When things settle down again, Rhode said he will agaom start painting the mural after school with the help of student teacher Garith Pipkorn.

But even when the mural is finished, Rhode said there will be room for more characters.

"It's something that can always change," Rhode said, "which is a great thing about art."

Rhode said students at St. Croix Central Elementary have been asking him when he will paint particular characters he hasn't been able to get into the mural yet.

"They like to give me a hard time and say 'is it done yet?' 'How come it's not done yet?'" Rhode said. "They're pretty excited about it and they stop and point... The goal was to get them to smile at something and say 'I read those books."

Rhode said the actual mural-painting process has gone slowly, especially as it takes a lot of time to paint a mural, and finding the time to do the painting can be difficult. Rhode said he spent a lot of summer nights away from his wife and daughters, standing on a ladder in SCC elementary.

"I'd put my girls to sleep and I'd be in here painting until midnight some nights," Rhode said.

However, Rhode said he hasn't had to do all the painting on his own. Pipkorn has been helping Rhode with the mural. Parents have also contributed, Rhode said, by donating paint they used in their homes but no longer need.

"We'd stay there and paint and just kind of mix colors," Rhode said.

Rhode said he hopes the mural will bring books to life for children, and make them excited about reading.

"I'm hoping it helps build a love of reading and excitement," Rhode said. "They're almost in it when they walk down there, because it's life size."

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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