2008-07-25 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio Rockaway Artists Alliance

Book Review: 'What's Our Names?' A New Illustrated Children's Book
Commentary by Susan Hartenstein

"What's Our Names?" is the title of a new illustrated children's book written by Les Kraft and illustrated by Jim Cantirino, both of whom have longtime connections to Rockaway. There is also a corresponding musical CD with the same title, presently available only through the author at: leskraft@nyc.rr.com

An educator for almost four decades, some years ago the very likable Kraft created two affable characters, Charley the Guitar and Chef Karafe, to assist him in teaching his young pupils. The book and CD are about the friendship between these two buddies.

The motivation behind the book, however, goes beyond entertaining children of kindergarten and first grade level with the colorful antics of Charley and the Chef. They are intended to be used by parents for fun reading and listening with their children, and by teachers as interactive, motivational tools to help educate their students in areas of curriculum that include math and literacy, in Read-a- Loud and Shared Reading programs and in music programs.

The ultimate goal, Kraft says, is to teach the children at an early age about kindness and brotherhood, and to give them a sense of self-esteem.

The text of the book is the lyrics of the lilting tune, easily 'singable' and 'learnable' by young children, written by Kraft and recorded by him on the CD. The playful illustrations by Cantirino, a talented artist in pen, ink and paint, bring Charley and Chef Karafe and their environment to appealing visual life. They translate the humor and good-naturedness of the lyrics onto two-dimensional form. The lyrics and sheet music for the song are included in the book.

The two 'stars' of the book have a long history. Kraft, a 30-year Neponsit resident, created Charley the Guitar and the interactive song in 1970 while teaching music at P.S. 135 in Brooklyn.

His own beat-up, duct tape-laced guitar (named Charley) served as an 'assistant' in teaching his young audience. It acted much like a ventriloquist's dummy, involving the youngsters in responses, as Kraft mouthed the 'words' created by strums on the guitar strings.

As principal of an early childhood center, in 1996 Kraft developed yet another humorous character, hefty Italian cook, Chef Karafe, portraying him in cooking demonstrations that motivated his first grade pupils to learn the skills of the kitchen, and integrating math, literacy and other curriculum subjects.

The two disparate characters then became a team, allowing Kraft to demonstrate to his students that very different-looking people, with different backgrounds and lives, could still be best buddies.

After his retirement in 2003, Kraft began developing the idea of the book. He collaborated with illustrator Jim Cantirino, with whom he had worked in the Rockaway Theatre Company (RTC). Kraft says of his collaborator's images, they help create a "very happy book."

Les Kraft will be remembered by Rockaway audiences as a former active member of RTC, playing roles that include Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls" and George Kimball in "Send Me No Flowers." Jim Cantirino was an exhibiting member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, who has been showing and selling his artwork since 1997.

He is presently an active exhibiting member of the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition (BWAC). He continues to create amazing sets for RTC.

Following a short-lived retirement, Kraft is currently an adjunct professor at Touro College, supervising and teaching early childhood education, for which he uses "What's Our Names?" in the graduate program.

In September he will begin a book tour in New York City public schools, where he will give free demonstration lessons, showing how to integrate the book into various curriculum areas. Charley will, of course, assist.

Kraft has designated that "a percentage of the proceeds from the book will go to public schools for their arts and music programs."

A book signing takes place on Monday, August 25, 6-8 p.m., in front of On the Rocks at 450 Beach 129 Street. Anyone purchasing a book and bringing an ad for the book signing, which will be appearing in The Wave in the previous two weeks' issues, will be given a complimentary CD. There will also be prizes, candy and other giveaways. After the event, Sammy's Variety Store on Beach 129 Street will be the exclusive local vendor of the book, which is also available online at: www.amazon.com..

Kraft is very appreciative of his life and the children he has taught, who, he reports, still come up to him after 30 years, asking how Charley is. He sees this book as a means of "giving back to the community, the children and to charity." He dedicates "What's Our Names?" to "all the wonderful children that I've taught and served for 35 years at P.S. 135 in Brooklyn, NY."

Fort Tilden Highlights

FREE: SUMMER MOONS: Scheduled bands every Thursday under the stars in the summer on Moon- Stage & sTudio 7, RoCA, Fort Tilden. 7/24, 8:30 p.m.-12 a.m.: musicians TK Kearney, Mandolin Vic, Steve Hawk & more. LIFE DRAWING CLASS with live model. Every Thursday, 8-10 p.m. in sTudio 6 Gallery, RoCA @ Fort Tilden. Fee: $20 per class. No preregistration necessary. Instructor: Geoff Rawling. PAINTING CLASSES FOR ADULTS: Tuesday nights, 7-9 p.m.; Thursday mornings, 10 a.m. - 12 noon. sTudio 7, RoCA @ Fort Tilden. $15 per class, supplies included. Instructor: Geoff Rawling. FRIDAY NIGHT IMPROV: "No Shame Theater" performs theater games, improvised scenes based on written works; all are invited to join in. ARTSPLASH submission deadline: August 15, 2008.

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