November Is Picturebook Month

Picture Book Month was founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and her children’s book author/illustrator colleagues. The 2017 celebration is particularly heart-felt since this is the first year of the annual event since Dianne passed away in a tragic house fire.

Picture Book Month is on a mission: “In this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book” (http://picturebookmonth.com).

Every day in November, the Picture Book Month Web site offers a new post from a picturebook champion explaining why he/she thinks picturebooks are important. School and public librarians will want to tap into this resource, think about their own picturebook selection practices, and consider how the information on the site can serve the literacy needs of children (and teens), families, and educators.

“Picture books are books in which both words and illustrations are essential to the story’s meaning… In a true picture book, the illustrations are integral to the reader’s experience of the book and the story would be diminished or confusing without the illustrations” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 50).

My article “The Mighty Picturebook: Providing a Plethora of Possibilities” appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Children and Libraries, the journal of the Association for Library Services to Children. The photograph above was published on the cover. As can happen, my article was shortened to fit into a tight space. These are the main subheadings in that article and some of the information that ended up on the cutting room floor.

Young Audiences for Picturebooks
The photograph above shows a 12-year-old sister reading to her 5-year-old brother on the eve of his first day of public school kindergarten. Ready and Waiting for You was expressly created for this very purpose—for more proficient readers to engage emerging readers in conversations about what they will experience when they begin formal schooling. Engaging in dialogic reading with a trusted reader builds literacy skills and in this case, can build excitement and help ease the fears of young children. Children who are new to school or transferring to a new school can ask and get their questions answered by a trusted older reader.

Ready and Waiting for You also aligns with kindergarten curriculum that focuses on learning about the community of school. Adult readers might notice this book emphases the need for a “village” to educate a child: a classroom teacher, principal, office staff, nurse, librarian, computer tech, art, music and P.E. teachers, custodian, and parent volunteers, too. (Does your child’s school include all of these essential staff members who help educate “the whole child”? If not, why not?)

Word Count and Book Length
Word count and book length should not be the primary criteria for book selection. Many of today’s picturebooks offer fewer words. Are some stories constrained by lower word counts or the typical 32-page limit? It is important for anyone who shares picturebooks with young children to realize their “willingness to listen to stories grows with experience, which may result in a younger child who has been read to regularly having a much longer attention span than an older child with no story experience” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 51).

Visual Literacy
“The ability to make meaning from images is an essential twenty-first century skill. Visual images dominate access to ideas and information via the screens that are all-pervasive in daily life” (Moreillon 2017, 18). Studying the illustration media and techniques used by picturebook illustrators can give youth a greater appreciation for the sophistication of this artform. Picturebook illustrations can inspire students to illustrate their own texts and give budding artists ideas for a possible career in illustration or graphic design.

Reading Comprehension and Inquiry Learning
Picturebooks can serve as mentor texts for reading comprehension strategy instruction. While word count is not the sole criterion for an appropriate mentor text, picturebooks that offer complete story arcs with developed characters and compelling themes tend to contain a thousand or more words. There are many examples in my professional book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon 2013).

Using Picturebooks with Older Readers
In addition to elementary school use, picturebooks are also used in middle and high school classrooms and libraries to teach comprehension strategies and literary devices. For example, picture books by Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan provide opportunities for educators to model drawing inferences and for students to engage in rich discussions and infer themes for Tan’s sophisticated work. One such book is The Rabbits written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. This sophisticated picturebook addresses the historical fact that some people have used technological advances to invade, dominate, and oppress indigenous people. This text clearly portrays the power of an analogy to communicate deep meaning. Although categorized as picturebooks, Tan’s work is not intended for a young child audience.

Making Meaning as Discovery
“Picturebooks offer exceptional opportunities for literacy learning and teaching as well as pleasure reading in preK-12 schools and libraries. When authors and illustrators create and publishers publish picture books with complete story arcs, compelling themes, intriguing illustrations, and rich information, parents and families, school and public librarians, classroom teachers and reading specialists can use these authentic texts in a plethora of ways” (Moreillon 2017, 19).

Check out the Picture Book Month calendar to see which authors and illustrators are participating this year. The Web site includes links to author and illustrator pages and provides resources and activities for students, educators, and families.

Celebrate the beauty and power of this artform to shape family literacy practices, to offer children mirrors and windows on the world, and bring delight to those who read or listen to the mighty picturebook.

References
Moreillon, Judi. “The Mighty Picturebook: A Plethora of Possibilities.” Children and Libraries, vol. 15, issue 3, 17-19.

Moreillon, Judi. Ready and Waiting for You. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013.

Short, Kathy G., Carol Lynch-Brown, and Carl M. Tomlinson. Essentials of Children’s Literature. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014.

Image Credit: From Judi Moreillon’s Personal Collection – Used with Permission

Two More Book Recommendations

stories_of_my_lifeKatherine Paterson has been a long-time favorite author of many ‘tween and young adult fiction readers. In her latest book, Stories of My Life (2014), Ms. Paterson shares her own life story and shares how she has woven the people, places, and events in her life into her novels. At the American Library Association (ALA) Conference in San Francisco in June, I picked up a “Special Librarian Preview.”

In the book, Katherine answers three most frequently asked questions of authors: How did you become a writer? Where do you get your ideas? How does it feel to be famous? When educators guide student inquiry centered on author studies, these are some of the first questions youth want to investigate. Inquirers will be delighted to find her answers and may be surprised that even though a college professor encouraged her to write, Katherine, who considered herself a mediocre writer, had no intention of pursuing writing as a career. Later, she learned that “if you don’t dare to be a mediocre writer, you’ll never be a writer at all.”

Katherine Paterson’s book Jacob Have I Loved (1980) was the first of hers I read and remains an all-time favorite. To illustrate how Katherine’s own mother influenced the character of Susan Bradshaw, Louise and Caroline’s mother in that book, Katherine tells about her own mother’s reaction when she broke her mother’s precious antique Chinese tea service: “Are you all right, darling?” Katherine claims she could not have created a character like Susan Bradshaw had she not had the example of her own mother.

Heather_MommiesAt ALA, I stood in line to ask Lesléa Newman to autograph a copy of her just released edition of Heather Has Two Mommies (2015). This ground-breaking story, originally published in 1989, about a child with two mothers has weathered many storms—from censorship challenges and inflammatory reviews—to acclaim by being read into the Congressional Record and parodied by Jon Stewart. (See the downloadable author’s note available from the Candlewick Web site.)

With the June, 2015, Supreme Court ruling in favor of the freedom to marry for same sex couples nationwide, this new edition of Heather Has Two Mommies will speak to a new generation with bright new illustrations by Laura Cornell. Librarians and teachers who are committed to children’s access to literature with diverse characters will want to be sure to add this seminal story, this new publication, to their collections.

Stories of My Life cover image courtesy of Dial Books

Heather Has Two Mommies cover image courtesy of Candlewick Press

The Marvels – A Preview

marvelsA room bursting with librarians waited with baited breath for the appearance of an amazing children’s literature hero—Brian Selznick. When he flew up the center aisle, arrived at the podium, and faced the screen, the live (!) piano music began, the curtain went up, and all eyes turned to the images from Brian’s forthcoming book The Marvels. Readers who have come to expect great works of art from Mr. Selznick will not be disappointed. (There are no spoilers in this post.)

The Marvels begins in 1766 with more than two hundred images that tell the mysterious story of a theatrical family. Spanning several generations, Brian’s drawings portray the ships and their rigging, theater stages and scenery, and tell of  sea-going adventures and land-based dramas. (Did you know that theater terms such as “crew” and “boards” were derived from sailing terminology? I didn’t. Brian taught me that during his presentation.)

When the images end, readers find themselves in 1990 reading a story based in print only. A boy named Joseph has run away from boarding school and is searching for the address of an uncle he has never met. When he arrives at his uncle’s home at 18 Folgate Street, Joseph learns family secrets and more. Finally, an illustrated-only conclusion brings the first two parts of the book together in a satisfying present-day conclusion.

During this Scholastic-sponsored book launch at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco (June, 2015), Brian shared his finely drawn art, read from the print in the book, and shared bits of his writing and illustrating process. We were privileged to peek inside his studio to see hundreds of thumbnail sketches and then more than two hundred final illustrations displayed in sequence on his studio wall. We also had the opportunity to travel to London where Brian researched and worked on the book. He shared photographs of his apartment in Piccadilly and the marvelous home of Dennis Severs at 18 Folgate Street.

We who serve the literature needs of young people (and feed our own imaginations and love of story with children’s books) are once again thankful for the wonder that is Brian Selznick. Pre-order a copy today and kick off your fall reading with an awe-inspiring book.

Image courtesy of Scholastic Books, Inc.