Phil Yeh is up on his scaffold. And his soapbox.
"It goes back to Thomas Jefferson," he said Wednesday, pointing a paintbrush in the air. "You can't have a democracy if people aren't informed, and people can't be informed unless they read."
Yeh - cartoonist, muralist and creator of the popular children's book "Theo the Dinosaur" - is founder of Cartoonists Across America & The World. The group's members crisscross the country creating murals that boast Yeh's trademark dinosaurs and promote literacy. Classrooms across America contain Yeh's posters featuring Theo, the book-loving dinosaur, and the motto: "Read. Avoid Extinction."
A funny, hip guy in paint-spattered black jeans and T-shirt, Yeh was perched high above the floor at Borders Books and Music on Westheimer as he and fellow cartoonist Geoff Bevington, with necks craning, stroked bright colors onto a circle on the cream-colored ceiling. Slowly they created an astronaut-themed mural, just right for Houston, with his dinosaur characters zooming about in spaceships, books in their hands.
"Why do I do this? I love this country and I want to see it live, at least long enough for the Cubs to make it into the series," joked Yeh, who has painted murals as far away as China and Budapest.
Bookstore browsers paused to watch the mural take shape and to listen as Yeh expounded on his favorite subject - getting folks to read.
"I challenge every adult to get involved in a community literacy or tutoring program," he said. "Adults out there need to read to their children, to their grandchildren, to kids in the neighborhood. I challenge kids to read to other kids."
A former journalist who grew up in inner-city Chicago, Yeh became inspired to do his murals after interviewing cookie man Wally Amos, spokesman for Literacy Volunteers of America. He vows to keep creating murals until the year 2000. So far he's painted more than 500 in malls, schools, community centers and other public places.
He also talks to school kids around the country, stressing the need to read and how it's cool to be smart.
Yeh and Bevington will paint another mural - a portable one destined for area schools -from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. today in Baybrook Mall's Grand Court. Yeh also will give away copies of a new Texas-themed reading poster and sign copies of his new "Winged Tiger's World Peace Party Puzzle Book."
Source Citation:Stoeltje, Melissa Fletcher. "Cartoonist promotes literacy with mural; Bookstore browser watch painting take shape." The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX) (Oct 17, 1996): 1. General OneFile. Gale. Alachua County Library District. 26 Oct. 2009
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