Bob Seeney on Books

Picture Books as Lilterature?

September, 2014

Louise Loves ArtWhile young adult and children’s literature is certainly my first love, I find that I am being drawn more and more to picture books and their use in the classroom for all ages. In fact, in my last two conference workshops, there was more focus on picture books than young adult lit. I caution you not to let the sometimes-simplistic effect of picture books lead you astray. There are in-depth themes, plots, and techniques that make the genre of picture books a most interesting and, yes, challenging resource for readers of all ages.

This introduction is actually a transition into the picture book I would like us to consider in this column. I will go so far as to say a picture book extraordinaire! It’s the rather amazing Louise Loves Art!, by Kelley Light (2014: Bazer+Bray, Harper Collins), her solo debut. The very first sentence reaches out and grabs you as the main character, Louise, comments, “I love art! It’s my imagination on the outside.” That’s certainly a line you will hear me quoting.

The story continues as Louise works diligently, almost frantically, to create a series of drawings for her first show, to be exhibited on the walls of her own home. Louise makes the observation,“To be a great artist, you have to notice everything.” This seemingly simple, innocent sentence turns out to be extremely important in the story. Finally, she creates her “master piece” and she knows the perfect spot for it: “The Gallery du Fridge!”
It is at this point where a close “reading” of the illustrations and what is happening in the background is so important. For it is here that the plot thickens and the theme of Louise Loves Art plays out. Again, this is one of those books that the reviewer is tempted to tell too much about, and I must stop here. The discovery of the nuances of the in-depth themes of the importance of art and the importance of relationships must be left up to you, the reader.

The illustrations play an unusually important role in this book — and not just as illustrations. Their style and layout are important story elements as well. Author Light uses Prismacolor pencils on vellum, which she then scans into her computer, using Photoshop to complete the final product. One of the most dramatic effects is her use of a white background. Using bold black lines and the color red on that white background gives the impression that the book itself is an artist’s sketchbook. The author is quoted in an Amazon.com review as saying,“I wanted the black drawn lines and the red solid areas to be what guided the reader through the story. I wanted the whole book to feel like drawings.”

I suggest the reader go to the bottom of the book’s Amazon page for the full review on Light’s techniques. Very interesting, and it could make for an interesting class discussion in itself.

Happy Reading!

A Trend

Readers of this column may be aware that for several years I have also written reviews for NAGC’s Teaching for High Potential (or THP) under the title “Books, Books, and More Books!” The focus of that column is to encourage the use of picture books in the secondary classroom. Yes, secondary classroom.

Over the past several years, the sophistication of picture books has grown and grown. No longer are we looking at illustrated texts that simply support the young reader, but we are dealing with quite sophisticated texts and illustrations that easily lead to in-depth discussions and investigations. For example, my last THP column dealt with the books and illustrations of the amazing, young new illustrator Jon Klassen, who has produced these award winners:

  • I Want My Hat Back (2011, Candlewick Press), winner of a 2012 Caldecott Honor
  • A sequel to his 2011 book, This is Not my Hat (2012, Candlewick Press), a Caldecott Award winner in 2013
  • Extra Yarn (2012: Balzer + Bray, Harper Collins), written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Klassen, which also won him a 2013 Caldecott Honor.

The plot of Extra Yarn is quite clever. As the book jacket states, “This looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn. But it turns out it isn’t.” Thus, a theme is introduced that is quite reminiscent of Charles Williams’ 1930 novel War in Heaven (New paperback edition published in 2012 by CreateSpace Independent Publishers’ Platform). Connecting picture books and “serious” literature? You bet!

—BS

Bob Seney

 

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. At conferences, he often presents a session titled “What’s New in Young Adult Literature.” Reach him at bseney@muw.edu.

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