“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” ~C.S. Lewis
“I don’t know what you are going to do,” said Pippi, “but I know I can’t lie around and be lay. I am a Thing-Finder, and when you’re a Thing-Finder you don’t have a minute to spare.”
“What did you say you are?” asked Annika.
“A Thing-Finder.” “What’s that?” asked Tommy.
“Somebody who hunts for things, naturally. What else could it be?” said Pippi as she swept all the flour left on the floor into a little pile.
“The whole world is full of things, and somebody has to look for them. And that’s just what a Thing-Finder does,” she finished.
So I need to fess up: it wasn’t until recently (maybe the last five years) that I started paying attention to the pictures in picturebooks. Despite an unabashed love of kidlit, I always leveraged the words over the pictures. I selected texts to read aloud to my class based on their themes, content, and language. Skillful illustrations/art, while nice, wasn’t a requisite for inclusion in my daily repertoire. I’ve taken several graduate level children’s literature classes, but it wasn’t until working with Laura Smolkin at UVA that I realized how integral pictures were to the picturebook. Pictures carry half (if not more) of the narrative and it’s important that we learn how to make sense of them. [This skill is doubly important now in the age of multimedia and multimodal texts!]
So how do we “decode” images? What does a diagonal line imply? What does negative space mean? There are two sources I highly recommend to anyone looking to beef up their understanding of how pictures work.
First, consider getting your hands on Molly Bang’s Picture This: How Pictures Work
But for a more comprehensive (and always changing!) source, head on over to Carter Higgins’ fantastic site, Design of the Picture Book
This site is devoted to the role of pictures in children’s literature. Carter unpacks design elements and regularly introduces new books. She’s funny. And she’s a writer. Her voice comes through with every post and you’ll finish every reading with a smile and with more knowledge of the craft.
I don’t think it’s hard to love children’s literature, but I think it’s easy to underestimate their sophistication. Carter’s blog has taught me to hone an appreciation that my own bias for text and my own weak training in art never cultivated. She, like Pippi Longstocking, has opened up a world of thing-finding for me. Each reading now proves a new adventure, as I examine how the elements work together and how images work with (or against!) the words in telling a story.