Illustrator leads workshops at Molly Stark

BENNINGTON — Middlebury native and author and illustrator of children's books Ashley Wolff stopped by Molly Stark Elementary School on Tuesday to chat and draw with students.

Wolff has written and illustrated 11 books and illustrated dozens more in a career that has spanned parts of four decades. She has taught college courses at The University of California Berkeley Extension and Hollins University and has presented hundreds of times at schools and libraries across the country. At Molly Stark, she read through some of her books and drew some illustrations along with the students, while with the older students she talked about how she became an illustrator.

The author visit was sponsored by the $25,000 "Year of the Book" grant from the Children's Literacy Foundation, which is funding literacy-based programs at the school throughout the school year, including author visits and family nights. Each Molly Stark student will receive 10 free books as part of the program, including one that they took home on Tuesday. The students, as a reward for how many of them signed a pledge to read with their parents every day, will have an ice cream social on Friday of this week.

Wolff visited the school's two pre-kindergarten classes first, where she assured them that, despite her name, she was not, in fact, a wolf. "Do I look like a wolf?" she asked the students. "No, my teeth aren't that sharp."

Wolff read some of the students her book, "When Lucy Goes Out Walking," which follows the first year of a puppy's life, with month by month descriptions of her walks. The book, said Wolff, was based on a real puppy she had about 20 years ago. "You all grow pretty fast, but you don't grow as fast as a puppy grows," she told the pre-K students. She then asked students to come up with animals that began with the first letter of their names, and drew a group of the animals the children selected going to a party.

With the older students, she talked about how she wanted to be an illustrator from a young age. When an elementary school teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she answered without hesitation, "An artist!"

"I don't know how to draw, even though I really loved to draw," said Wolff of her five-year-old self. "So I practiced, a lot." She told the students to find something that they love to do, and then to remember the five P's: passion, practice, patience, perseverance, and possession, knowing that your love belongs to you and that no one can take it away from you.

One of the second grade students was surprised to hear that Wolff has made a career out of being an artist. "You get paid?!" he asked incredulously.

Besides the ten books that each student will be able to take home, Year of the Book also funds new books for the school's library and visits from authors and other literacy figures throughout the year. At Bennington Elementary, which received the grant last year, the program's funding allowed students to be visited by Vermont authors such as Jim Arnosky and Natalie Kinsey-Warnock.

As part of the Year of the Book program the Bennington Free Library also received $1,000 for new books. The library also used CLiF grant funds to kick-start last summer's "1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Program." Children's Librarian last year Linda Donigan described the program as "amazing" and "transformational" and said that it went a long way to strengthen connections between the children, their families, and the public library.

According to CLiF, "The CLiF Year of the Book sponsorship supplements literacy curricula at schools with high percentages of students scoring below state standards on reading and writing tests and high percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The grant aims to build a culture of literacy in these communities by working with schools, families, town libraries, and even local businesses to inspire a love of reading and writing amongst children. The grant provides new books for town, school, and classroom libraries multiple literacy presentations and workshops by professional authors, storytellers, and illustrators field trips, mini-grants for teachers' classroom projects parent literacy seminars professional development opportunities for teachers and up to 10 new books for students to choose and keep over the course of the school year."

To learn more about Wolff, visit her website:

Derek Carson can be reached at, at @DerekCarsonBB on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 122.


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