In swirls of sidewalk chalk in Lenoir, second-graders draw happiness

Sep. 25, 2013 @ 07:43 AM

Before the next time it rains, go out and look at the sidewalks surrounding the square in downtown Lenoir.

There you’ll be able to see, in sprawling pastel color, the things that make second-graders happy.

Kids from each second-grade class at Davenport A+ School marched to the center of downtown Monday, armed with buckets of sidewalk chalk. They were there for an integrated-learning project based on a book they had been read in the classroom – Nancy Poydar’s "Cool Ali."

As the cluster of kids arranged themselves, legs criss-crossed, in the square, local artist Charlie Frye treated them to one last reading of the book. It focuses on Ali, a little girl in a big city who, on a sweltering day, relies on chalk drawings of all things cool to bring the temperature down. Her illustrations of north winds, beach umbrellas, polar bears and dots of snow come to life, cooling down both Ali and her neighbors.

On Monday in Lenoir, there was no need to change the weather. So the students on the square, hair whipped by crisp wind and eyes creased in bright sun, were given a simple directive: Draw something that makes you happy.

So the kids drew lakes and hearts and crosses. They drew anthropomorphic suns with smiling faces and versions of the symbol on Superman’s chest. Some drew elaborate swirls of wind while, on other sections of sidewalk, games of tic-tac-toe sprung up.

Sunshine, Superman and sidewalk games: The things that make a second-grader smile are awfully simple.

Of course, with kids under 10, you usually have to ask what’s being drawn to have any idea what you’re seeing (the drawing of wind, for example, was not particularly self-evident to an adult's limited imagination). And for a few kids, there wasn’t much of an answer.

One second-grade girl spent her time making what might best be described as a big, shapeless mound of blue. Asked what the drawing was, her answer: “I ‘unno.”

But then again, maybe joy’s just that simple at the age of 7 or 8 – as simple as hands covered in chalk that will later swirl down sinks of cool water, as simple as transferring color to pavement, as simple as cool air and hot sun.