Saturday, 9 March 2013

Why Picture Books Matter

"The first art that children see is in picture books. That’s a big responsibility for the illustrator. Leonard Marcus showcases a group of artists who recognize that responsibility and respond with work that challenges and inspires kids’ burgeoning visual literacy. In 21 captivating and intimate interviews, Show Me A Story offers an in-depth look at the passion and vision that these amazing artists bring to their work. No two are alike, except in their remarkable levels of creativity. Their books leave kids amazed and moved. They leave their imaginations energized. And quite often they leave the kids giggling maniacally on the floor." - David Wiesner, Introduction to Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators, edited by Leonard Marcus

Sometimes I like to randomly research authors and illustrators of my favorite picture books, partly because I love the books and partly for my own development and aspirations to be a published children's picture book author and illustrator.  I found this great excerpt at David Wiesner's website.

As a mechanism for drawing children into the world of art picture books are unsurpassed, it is focused on them, dedicated to them and their  dreams, desires, innocence and sense of humour.

Here are some of my favourite picture books and illustrators, unsurprisingly they are also some of the books I recommend for teaching art the children.

The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
This book is filled with great rhyming sentences that have a really nice flowing and musical habit and complement the magnificent ornate and decadent atmosphere of Horace the elephant's eleventh birthday.  Any Graeme Base book will fascinate a child's imagination with its spectacular imagery.  Animalia was a book that I would spend so much time immersed in the intricate artwork.

Flotsam by David Wiesner. A magical adventure for a child to explore with you or by themselves, Flotsam is particularly wonderful because David Wiesner has left the reader to create their own narrative for his magnificent artwork.  Like a chain letter the images on the camera convince the finder to perpetuate the adventure by sending the camera back out to sea again to bring its delights to the next person who finds it.  The images are from the latest underwater travels of an old underwater camera making its way from child to child, generation after generation, out to sea and shore again.

This image always makes me think of John Brack's paintings.

Gorillas by Anthony Browne.  Gorillas, like any Anthony Browne book, is filled with beautiful illustrations and in the case of at least this book and 'Me and You' have more to them that your average sweet and happy tale to treat a child to at book time.  Gorillas is a book about a girl fanatical about gorillas and in desperate need of time with a work focused, constantly busy or tired father.  Hanna is taken on a very special adventure to the zoo to see a real gorilla, which despite her obvious obsession with them, her father had never found the time to take her to see at their local zoo.  Real or dream, her sleep time adventure is like an omen to a brand new day.

 The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan.  Anything Shaun Tan is absolutely beautiful and magical food for your imagination.  The Lost Thing is the story of a wondrous creature found wandering the streets by a boy who was out collecting bottle tops.   The boy tries to find where it belongs and discoveries a whole world of strange and unusual things living off to the side or the rest of the world.  This has been made into a beautiful animation.  Love Shaun Tan, love, love, love.

The Bunyip of Berkeley's Creek by Jenny Wagner, illustrated by Ron Brooks.  This is such a gorgeous book, lovely story that is fun to read aloud.  The wonderful pictures in this book are done with cross hatching and look like etchings.  This book follows the Bunyip from his inception through his journey of self discovery and final acceptance of self and self satisfaction.  "What am I, what am I" He asks himself and others, trying to learn about himself through any creature who would answer him.  Never very happy with the answers he keeps searching and finally settles by another billabong with his hopes and a mirror to enjoy being the beautiful creature he decides he is.  This book is sweet and funny and a frequent read for us.  An Australian Children's classic.

 Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.   Another classic and also another illustrator that uses cross hatching to give shadow and depth to his illustrations.   Sadly I have not read another Sendak book but even with that said I cannot exclude him from this list and doubt there is a list about great picture books like this without him.  His illustrations are spectacular and have everything needed to really inspire a child's imagination.  I always remembered this book and these illustrations but like the 60 frames a second that fool the human eye, a really wonderful illustration doesn't need to be super realistic or photographic to have a massive impact and create an image in a child's mind that is spectacularly real to them.

Norris. The Bear Who Shared by Catherine Rayner.  Norris, the Bear Who Shared is the adorable tale of a wise and kind bear, a raccoon, a mouse and a juicy, ripe, soft as fairy floss, delicious, sun kissed plorringe.  When my son first saw the pears out the front of the NGA we played hide and seek around them and he has since then called them the plorringes.  Catherine Rayner uses a gentle and effective technique that includes silk screen printing, pencil and ink or water colour.  Her clean and beautiful brush strokes give body to her illustrations , reminiscent of brush strokes in Japanese calligraphy, with the minimal pencil lines still visible beneath them.  I love her style and the beautiful and kind faces of her animal characters.

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth. Based on the story of the same name written by Russian author Leo Tolstoy, Jon J. Muth creates an accessible story about a boy who wants to know the answer to the three questions he thinks will make him a better person.  His illustrations are very realistic but also use the beauty of the way ink and water seep into an move over paper, illustrated perfectly in the included image.  In this book, and in the Zen Shorts series, he gives a great set of books to introduce children to more eastern concepts of morality and wisdom. 

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.  We have the Peter Rabbit's Giant Story Book and my four year old son loves reading it.  It always reads a little strangely but it is wonderful and silly.  Like Alice in Wonderland but bearable ("Oh Diner, I don't think I can take another over stated notification of  how outstanding in its unfathomable curiosity something is.  Gloves on a rabbit!" Please.), Beatrix Potters stories always elicit a very funny voice from my partner as he reads the over the top language in 'The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse'.  Some of the stories are a bit brutal but the illustrations are always gorgeous.

To be continued...

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