Who’s knocking picture books?

Carol A. Wright

By A Contributor

Children can teach their parents a thing or two about art appreciaton.

When children look at a sketch, drawing, painting or photograph, they don’t think too long about what they see. They do not analyze, tackle or pick apart every little detail in that picture or drawing. If they did, that moment of pleasure would be lost in the clouds.

Even though it isn’t any fault of adults, it’s a shame how adults so quickly forget how to “look” at art. If one child can’t convince us grownups, perhaps children’s literature historian, New York Times Book Reviewer and television commentator Leonard S. Marcus can.

Marcus, widely-recognized for his theories regarding the equal value of both visual reading and written language, has copiously compiled and edited “Show Me a Story!: Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations With 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators.”

Through a question/answer format, Marcus interviews 21 illustrators and authors. The illustrators reveal their passion for their art and how they became involved with art.

Some of these artists are now deceased. It was good of Marcus to have recorded their thoughts and opinions prior to their deaths.

In his scholarly, yet entertaining publication, Marcus discusses the importance of art to the different illustrators and how they also see how important a work of art is to every child.

Marcus and the other artists prove that without pictures, children would be deprived of fun and a wealth of understanding. The artists have acquired the skills to see art from a child’s point-of-view.

Before Marcus introduces us to these 21 men and women illustrators, he provides an historical account of the beginnings of children’s literature basically from the 1930s on.

This particular genre had been extremely popular in Europe in the beginning, but gradually, more and more children’s illustrators found themselves—or rather their books—keeping company with children and parents in American households.

All 21 illustrators should be applauded for not surrendering to personal defeats, and, according to their autobiographies, there were many. If they didn’t have faith in their imagination, technique and positive reinforcement from their mentors, the public might not have ever met them in now their true form as accomplished artists.

Jerry Pinkney, for example, is dyslexic and has had a tough time reading. As a child, he avoided any story or tale that had words. He constantly struggled with reading.

Pinkney has always felt an intense love of animals and nature. Surprisingly, later on in his teenage years, he followed Ralph Waldo Emerson. Though it was never simple to dissect Emerson’s words, he did get through, and today he owes Emerson and his nature notes much gratitude.

Whether consciously or not, other artists have helped children with disabilities. The children are as receptive as any child can be to drawings, black and white or color, and are able to feel the messages, meanings or connections between pictures and stories.

Picture books delight most children in the United States and internationally. The concept of race, culture and how children are raised all over the world is gaining greater emphasis today throug story-book pictures.

Pinkney recalled “Little Black Sambo” as the only book from his early childhood in which he saw a depiction of a child of color.

Marcus’s book if full of wisdom, respect, wonder and hope. In the middle of the book he includes pictures of art in progressive stages by the illustrators. Any person can witness the energy and hardships of these artists as they near the finished project.

I wish I could write about all 21 illustrators because I admire them all. I am especially fond of the works of Mitsumasa Anno, from Tsuwano, Japan. He can make the alphabet and mathematics come to life, even if a child hates math.

I also have much respect for Tana Hoban, Lisbeth Zwerger, Maurice Sendak and Quentin Blake.

Children are the artists’ greatest fans and critics. Sendak tells Marcus of the letters he gets from children. Some just love ‘Dear Mr. Sendak” and ask for his hand in marriage. Others are not fans at all.

They say “Dear Mr. Sendak, I hate your books. Die now. Cordially….”

However, no matter what kind of honesty throws itself at the illustrators, they know that future pictures just might have the ability to encourage any child to make his or her art work because every picture tells a story.

The writer is a long-time contributor to The Mercury’s book page.









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