Today marks the end of International Picture Book Month. I started my collection long before I had children of my own. What makes them so appealing?
Picture books are described as an art of visual storytelling. Lots of pictures but not a lot of words yet are quite challenging to illustrate and or write. The story must be compact yet have a beginning, middle, and end. There must be a setting that includes characters, a problem, and solution. The illustrations are accompanied by text of complex simplicity. The pictures help to construct meaning in the absence of words. In most cases, each on its own is not enough.
Children enjoy picture books because illustrations help them add meaning to the text. The Bracelet written by Yoshiko Uchida and illustrated by Joanna Yardley comes to mind. Emi and her family are Americans of Japanese heritage sent to an internment camp during WW2, and her best friend gives her a bracelet as a reminder of their friendship. The words tell a story about a difficult time in American history, the illustrations help the reader with the emotional journey Emi and her family experience during this time. Another book that comes to mind is The Elijah Door: A Passover Tale written by Linda Leopold Strauss, and woodcut illustrations by Alexi Natchev. The story is about two Jewish families living in the old country (Russia) who get into a feud. This review explains the importance of the book’s pictures, ”Alexi Natchev’s beautifully colored block prints evoke an Old World feel but also are playful and filled with expressive detail and movement.” – Arizona Jewish Post, 3/20/2012. The illustrations help the person being read to, or the reader, to imagine Russia back then. Eve Bunting’s book One Green Apple illustrated by Ted Lewin is a story about Farah, a Muslim girl who struggles to learn English and fit in her new school after her family immigrates to the United States. The illustrations are bright and engaging giving hope that the character will indeed find her place.
Picture books can be timeless and address issues common to childhood. They are often used to support curriculum in schools. Parents and teachers are often able to find just the right book to address a particular topic like belonging, bullying, courage, conflict, motivation, etc. at a time when it matters most to a family or student. Where the Wild Things Are is a timeless classic written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak that has 12 lines. The emotion is packed in the words and illustrations and certainly germane to children who are in or have been to that dark place and time in their young lives.
Are picture books still relevant? According to the PEW research center, even in this digital age, tech savvy parents still consider reading print books very important when it comes to their children. Yet, for the first time, Dr. Seuss books are now available in e-book format. Susan Brandt, the president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises says the e-books will mirror the classic print versions. The debate rages on about ”real” print media vs. the ebook format, but one thing is crystal clear, when a need arises, picture books have it covered.
Read and write on.