Picture Books to ‘Grow Into’
The strongest and most vibrant picture book is the one that stays on our shelves, defying time and transcending age. It is an enduring work that begs to be “grown into”, reread and re-interpreted as time passes, as the best picture books often are.
“The picture book is a picture puzzle” [Maurice Sendak]
And in the way that I see it, hands of all sizes shouldn’t be able to resist turning, rotating, manipulating all of its colorfully jigsawed pieces …
“Even tiny children looking at a picture book” as British author/illustrator Philip Reeve reminds us, “are using their imaginations, gleaning clues from the images to understand what is happening…”. And, as they grow, a more challenging text, with all its knobs and tabs, loops and slots, beautifully unfolds. All its subtle nuances, intricacies and patterns begin to interlock.
One-size-fits-all / Transcending the age barrier
Spain’s Vincente Ferrer (Media Vaca) often lamented that too many children’s book creators think like tailors, believing that “children’s books should be like children’s suits: smaller by several sizes”. His philosophy: children don’t have to understand everything that they read. Adults don’t comprehend everything either!
The “ageless” picture book has always been a little misconstrued. But in a recent panel discussion about how picture books have a unique power to transcend the narrow confines of age, author Jacqueline Woodson couldn’t have voiced this potential more clearly. “You can get different things from picture books depending on your age. An adult can read a whole other meaning to the book and readers of all ages can appreciate the poetry, the rhyme breaks, hidden rhyme schemes. The possibilities are infinite.” Authors from Silverstein to Sendak instinctively understood this power and, challenging the conception of what a children’s book should be, achieved what seemed to be the impossible. They bridged the worlds of adult and children’s art.
No backpedaling when writing for children
So, my thoughts, echoing E.B. White’s, are “to never write down to children, but to write up. Anybody who shifts gears when he writes for children is likely to wind up stripping his gears”!
Especially relevant and fascinating:
- Crossover Picture Books: A Genre for All Ages – Sandra L. Beckett
- The Children’s Authors Who Broke the Rules – Pamela Paul