Children’s picture books are like poetry. The author of a novel has hundreds of pages, thousands of words, to develop ideas and plot. The picture book author has only a few words to get ideas put into a form that a small child–or an adult–can grasp. And then couple that with the art of the illustrations!
Working in a children’s library for 12 years was enchanting. Hard work and enchanting. Not only did these works of art pass through my hands–literally hundreds of them daily–but I had the joy of watching children’s reactions to them.
One of my favorites was a Caldecott Medal winner in 2007 (the award for art design) by David Wiesner, Flotsam (New York: Clarion Books, 2006). I seriously misjudged it. The story is told only in illustrations–no words. A boy finds an old-fashioned box camera on the beach. When he develops the photos, he sees pictures of an underwater fantasy. The bright colors, imaginative creatures and
settings are amazing. The final camera photo, however, is of a child who is holding a photo of another child, who is holding a photo of another child, etc., etc. The children are from varied ethnic and geographic backgrounds and different time periods. He takes a picture of himself holding this photo and then throws the camera back into the ocean. The final scenes in the book show another child finding it.
As I processed the book when it first came into our library, I had to look through it several times to try to understand the concepts. Even though I loved it, I couldn’t imagine children understanding this idea, and I thought the author had miscalculated the abilities of his audience. Perhaps older children could understand it–but they wouldn’t slow down for a picture book without words.
I was amazed to see it checked out over and over by young students. It was one of those books that never “cooled off,” still warm as I checked it out to another youngster. I think they were grabbed by the beautiful and zany illustrations, but I also believe that children are generally a lot smarter than we think they are.
Other people look at technology as a thermometer of how much our lives have changed over the past century. I look at the very few books written for children then compared to the wide range of titles available now. Step into any bookstore and peruse their children’s picture book section. Good for the soul!