This is going to be one of those long horrid blog posts that no one wants to read but is present because the author feels this overwhelming need to pontificate. Sort of. No honestly, I think we can do with some variety in the posts and I haven’t done a Bibliophilic Monologues post in such a long while so really, you, my darling Reader, cannot complain about this post. Not too much anyway.
But before I begin talking (writing?) in earnest, let me post a picture so those of you who need some visual interruptions get your due after (not even) a paragraph of text.
Not that the picture (which I credit to the internet because I don’t have a source, if you do, please tell me) has anything to do with the topic in question (about which I’m still thinking) but it is nice to have pictures break walls of text. Ah ha! Which brings me to my topic (I told you I was thinking):
So before I started my Grad program, I would not have glanced too keenly at picture books. I thought they were for babies (and they are) and I didn’t think that they had the intellectual complexity that I needed in books I read for recreational pleasure.
I was wrong.
I was very very VERY wrong.
Okay sure, the way in which some picture books are physically manifested, at a superficial glance they may seem childish and thus appropriate for the targeted audiences. However, the construction of picture books, from the writing to the structuring, is an incredibly sophisticated process. Because your readers are still in their development phase, what they read and interpret from their reading may be vastly different from what you intended as an author. An example I can give is one given to me by a lovely illustrator of books whose name I can’t quite remember but she told us an anecdote about an instance where she was reading a story with a child and on one page, the illustration depicted a baby kangaroo from a distance while the next page showed a closeup. The child looked at both illustrations with interest and then exclaimed, “She grew up some quickly!” The child did not perceive depth of field and distance in pictures. How interesting is that?
Usually publishers do not let the author of a picture book illustrate their own books (if they know how) and according to my professor, you don’t get to interact as much with the illustrator as you would like being the author because you might try to badger the illustrator. I rather think that writing for children may be a bit more challenging than writing for adults because when you write for children, you have to be aware of how what you are writing is going to be perceived and this awareness adds another level of challenge to your craft.
So I took this class called Contemporary Children’s Literature and in the academic world, contemporary means the last thirty years (don’t ask). Also the term contemporary does not mean what I thought it did. We, in the book blogging world, use contemporary to denote books that deal with contemporary social issues, while in academia, contemporary is simply used to denote the time and “realistic fiction” is the term given to books set in the modern period that have themes of social issues etc. Anyway, in that class we studied 30 years worth of picture books from North America, Australia, Asia and Britain. Obviously we weren’t able to go into detail about each and every book but we saw enough to be amazed by picture books.
They are beautiful and layered so that a mother reading to her child will interpret the book in very different (perhaps with more depth) ways than the child might. For example, Maurice Sendak (who is something of a celebrity like Brad Pitt in my circles) wrote a picture book called In The Night Kitchen. This has been challenged and banned many many times. Biggest reason given? The naked kid and that it is too sexual. Hmm. Maybe that’s the wrong example but my point is, the duality to picture books is fascinating. And that’s why reading them as adults is such a joy.
You’ve already seem my post on Shaun Tan who is absolutely amazing. His works are crossovers and I do recommend that you check them out. Other picture book creators that I reallly like include:
He is a Caldecott winner and his art is out of this world. His books usually (from what I’ve read of them) are not focused on the text but on the illustrations which open up surreal worlds that will blow your minds. The metafictional elements to his Three Little Pigs are so awesome. Anyway, look at some pictures!
Read Flotsam, I insist!
John Scieszka and Lane Smith
This duo also won Caldecotts for their work. They are mostly famous for their fractured fairy tales which are hilarious. Scieszka writers and Smith illustrates. Their story are full of metafictional awesomeness and funny, they are funny and anyone can do with some chuckles, right?
I first got intrigued by his books after reading a review on one by Eden and then I finally read two of his books (I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat) this term (one of them was actually read to us in class which was an amazing experience). Klassen is hugely popular and with good reason. The two books mentioned are brilliant in their execution, their simplicity and their complexity! Deadpan humour always wins. Plus he’s cute. Haha.
And this concludes my post on picture books and I hope I evoked your interest in them because they really are awesome and they have so much to offer adults as well as babies. The crossovers are becoming increasingly frequent and, let’s be honest here, there’s nothing so awesome as reading a picture book and feeling like you are five again.