Thursday, March 4, 2010

The thrill & challenge of picture books!

Picture books are one of the most delightful and challenging book formats around. Authors and illustrators have a mere 32 pages and relatively few words in which to set up a situation, flesh out characters and resolve conflicts. Deceptively simple in appearance, they are in fact one of the hardest forms of literature to pull off.

In the best picture books, words and pictures combine to create a new whole; the words alone will not convey the entire story because the pictures extend and complement them. This requires a sophisticated level of reading and interpretation that many adults are not aware is required during the reading of what seem like "easy" books. In fact, in some of the most challenging picture books, the illustrations actually contradict the meaning conveyed in the text, resulting in humor and irony (e.g. see the delightful German title When I Grow Up, I Will Win the Nobel Peace Prize by Isabel Pin).

Sometimes parents are in a hurry to see their children move on from picture books to chapter books. However, there are picture books that even teenagers and adults can read and understand on a deep level (see Michael Rosen's Sad Book, a moving story of bereavement).
During storytimes we have been reading the Washington Children's Choice Picture Book Award nominees to kindergarten through 3rd grade in preparation for voting day. It has been interesting to see how the different grade levels interpret the messages conveyed in the books. Some of the nominees have been accessible to and enjoyable by all grade levels, whereas others are too complex for the youngest children to grasp easily (e.g. Leslie Helakoski's fabulous Woolbur, which many kindergartners believed was communicating a meaning that was the exact opposite of the author's intended message, but in which 3rd graders could distinguish all the nuances of motivation and feeling).
Want to learn more about picture books and explore some classics? See below!

  • Original Top 100 Picture Books
  • The Caldecott Medal
  • The Kate Greenaway Medal
  • Kirkus: Best Picture Books of 2015
  • Shirley Hughes's top 10 picture book characters
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