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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events. Made possible with support from PNC Financial Services.

Datebook: The 'wonderful mindset' of children's art on display at BPL

The mind of a fifth grader is mostly a happy place, though there may be unexpected depths as they create a self-identity. You can sense the mindsets of District 87 fifth graders at the 37th annual exhibit of their art showing at the Bloomington Public Library.

"You can definitely get the fifth graders' sense of humor and creativity. And that wonderful mindset of how to experience life," said Children's Librarian Alex Bell.

There are commonalities in subject. One class will do pottery. Many do self-portraits.

"Those are really cool because there's a flap across the forehead, so you can open it up and kind of see inside the kid's mind. There are some with only one eye, which is kind of reminiscent of the book and movie, 'Wonder.' Some depict candy bars. In years past, we had some that were making the boxes themselves for kind of like movie theater candy. They came up with their own nutritional labels and inventive kinds of candy, which were very silly," said Bell.

Adults put on the clothing of their role, whether it's their profession, or their position in the family. She said children also put on roles in those self-portraits. Often, it shows their interests, music, art, sports, and games. They smile in the portraits and show a sense of joy and happiness, said Bell, adding there's really a great sense of quirkiness. Some pieces have poems or descriptions underneath that she said are fun to read for artistic interpretation.

"One had two cardboard circles painted to look like pizzas. One was orange, like a regular cheese pizza, and one was blue. And it had a poem underneath called, 'My Pizza happy, Your Pizza Sad.' The story was, he was excited to have Monical's pizza when he got home from school. He was really excited and happy for pizza. And when he got in the car, his mom told him they weren't having pizza tonight, he would have to wait until tomorrow. In the end, he did have pizza the next day. So he was happy again. That has just stayed with me. I love, 'My Pizza Happy, Your Pizza Sad,'" said Bell.

Some children's art deals with heavier subjects that go unexpectedly deep for someone in fifth grade. The art shows children developing a sense of self.

"They're not afraid to talk about those emotions, if it's important in their artwork. One picture referenced the bridge between life and death and got very philosophical," said Bell. "I think kids are way smarter than we give them credit for. Fifth graders are wonderfully smart."

The works of hundreds of kids from every elementary school in Bloomington are on display at the library through April 3.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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