Feb 16, 2017

Seeing the World in the Pages of Picture Books

When I launched this blog five years ago I named it after my workshops for educators, librarians, and anyone interested in working with kids and books: Unpacking the Power of Picture Books. I extended my in-person workshops to this blog in an effort to  reach a wider audience and maintain an archive of picture books and comments as a resource. My thesis in both platforms is that picture books are a) alive and well, and b) high quality literature with powerful benefits for many ages.

 I'm not the first to notice that not only are picture books thriving in the publishing world, they are finding wider attention among bloggers, educators, and readers of many ages. That's despite predictions of the demise of picture books in 2010 New York Times article. 

As for the power of picture books for any age, let's consider two examples in this post. First, though, I offer a caution that I've repeated in many posts and in workshops.
Books are meant to be experienced intact, whole and complete. Quality books of any kind, but especially picture books, offer immersive, absorbing engagement, visual feasts, luxurious narratives, and page-turning entertainment. Each book deserves to be read, initially, in that way. Often repeatedly. In fact, before returning to explore books as mentor text for writing, tools for concept discussions, or other analysis, 
HONOR THE BOOK as a whole.
And then, dive in more deeply.
Beach Lane Books, 2009 
ALL THE WORLD is written by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee, a magical pairing of talents. It was released several years prior to recently organized efforts to raise awareness of and opportunities for greater diversity in images and stories in every format for young readers. (We Need Diverse Books)
Even so, the universality of Scanlon's  lilting, rhythmic, rhyming text  finds it's ideal expression in a visual community realistically and inspiringly varied in age, ethnicity, interest, and expression. It resonates with a natural diversity that sets a high bar for all others.
In scenes that range from expansive to intimate, small visual narratives invite exploration and discussion. Lives intersect and culminate in a gathering in which any and all readers can find themselves revealed. The lushness of the settings contrast with the economy of lines and strokes in the characters' expressions and movement. The cast of dozens, on page after page, offer up ingredients for stories of individual and interconnected lives. The potential for discussions of relationships, mentoring writing craft, and the balance of visual and verbal narrative is unlimited.
Read what New York Times had to say about it, here.

Chronicle Books, 2016

Next, turn to another Caldecott honor winner, more recently released. Both words and images for THEY ALL SAW A CAT were created by Brendan Wenzel. Again, this book must be savored, multitple times, in its wholistic glory. As a cat walks through page after page, it maintains essential traits (whiskers, ears, and paws) but is utterly transformed by the point of view and attitude of each observer. The inherent relationships (and assumptions) of "the others" shape and color their perceptions of what a cat is, or can be. 

Eventually, though, it's worth considering on another, deeper, level. THEY ALL SAW A CAT offers an extended metaphor of the way in which many rely on narrowed perspectives to define others based on individual, predetermined expectations and protective assumptions. Rich discussions can emerge from examining the double-page spread on which the cat is portrayed as bits and pieces of each viewpoint. Being defined by others' limited perceptions of us, especially in adolescence, can have a similarly jarring, disorienting impact. 
At any age, and especially in the pervasive environment of social media, the views of others can shape one's identity, one's sense of self. When teens find narrowly defined labels offered by others disrupting their personal development, a book like this can be a lifeline of perspective and validation. 

Then, in the final page turn, we see the ultimate truth: even when trying to view ourselves honestly and directly, what we discover is ever-changing, not fully accurate, and requires frequent reflection and consideration.

I hope you'll take a close look at these two books, and then find readers of many ages with whom to share them.

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Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.