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.
Barbara Park created the funny, opinionated, and sassy character, Junie B. Jones. Park viewed the world; everything and everyone in it through the lenses of a 6 -year- old Kindergarten student. Her character’s innocence and honestly rang through in every book. Each book tackled problems common to children her age and even when she passed on to first grade Junie B. continued to express her opinions and didn’t much mind what anyone else thought.
I have very fond memories of reading and rereading this series with my firstborn, then a few years later again with my second child. Honestly, I’m not certain who enjoyed them more, my kids or me. Park came up with just the right words to describe how Junie B felt. When stating her opinion, Junie B. Jones would finish by saying “The End”. And she didn’t hold back those opinions. What she said is what she thought! And it just so happened that Junie B was funny because she was so darn earnest about things that were confusing or frustrating or just didn’t make a lot of sense to her. That’s about how Barbara Park fans feel about her death at age 66 from ovarian cancer. In our adult brains we know bad things happen, but it still doesn’t make sense.
Too many women still die from ovarian cancer. According to the CDC, “Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. But when ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment is most effective.” What is most frightening is that it also says, “There is no simple and reliable way to screen for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms.” And furthermore, “The Pap test does not check for ovarian cancer.” The only thing a woman can do is to know her own body and ask questions of her doctor if symptoms arise. Woah. Where in the world are the advances in this field? Educate yourself. Learn your family history. Listen to your body. Ask questions. Learn about the latest research in the field.
Do everything you can to make sure this disease doesn’t claim your life. When it comes to your health, be Junie B. Jones.
My previous post told about a contest I entered that had very specific criteria. The story had to be about a particular holiday, Halloween, contain specific vocabulary and could not exceed 100 words. That exercise got me thinking about how authors approach writing, which then got me thinking about how I came to write the story I submitted. First, I typed out the three required words and starred at them on a blank page. I saw one noun, one verb and an adjective. Then I started thinking about experiences children could relate to during that holiday. Feeling frightened, going trick or treating with friends and family, getting candy, dressing in costume, and so on. That’s when I decided to write about the feeling of being frightened in a story about siblings trick or treating.
Some writers find it useful to start with specific criteria and write on demand. They may know what subjects interest them or what theme they would like to use. The story idea for my soon to be published book came to me when I was baking. Sorry Agatha, I loathe doing dishes so cannot imagine any good book ideas resulting from that activity!
After reading a well written story, are you ever curious about how the idea came to the author? I know I am.