Picture books, an important genre in literature, play an essential role in a child’s development. These books establish a rhythm between words and pictures. Multi-sensory in nature, picture books stimulate a child’s growing mind and imagination. The holistic nature of these illustrations relate to children emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. Not only do illustrations enhance the words in the story, picture books may be a child’s first experience with art. In wordless books, the illustrations are the story.
Focusing on the artists, consider the variety of techniques used by illustrators; for example, pen, ink, photographs, collage, oil, watercolor, die-cut, and more. Think about the color, line, and texture of Maurice Sendak’s work, the oil pastels in Van Allsburg’s “The Polar Express,” and the collages of Eric Carle, made by tearing and cutting out shapes from painted tissue paper.
I have chosen to highlight the works of two author/illustrators—“In the Small Small Pond” by Denise Fleming and “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick. Last year, I took a workshop with Ms. Fleming at an early childhood conference. Her exuberance for children’s literature was inspiring, especially her books connecting children with nature. Her technique for creating her illustrations is interesting, as well as creative. She works in paper—creating images by pouring colored paper pulp through hand cut stencils.
In “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” Brian Selznick uses pencil on watercolor paper, hatching and crosshatching to create value, depth, and texture to create the illustrations. Filmmaker George Méliès was an inspiration in creating this book which Selznick describes as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all of these things.”
“In the Small Small Pond” was named a Caldecott Honor Book in 1994 and “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” was awarded the Caldecott Medal in 2008. The Caldecott Medal is awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children, and other books as worthy of attention are named Caldecott Honor Books.
• Share a memory you have of a favorite picture book as a child or parent/caregiver.
• Comment on art techniques used by illustrators of children’s picture books.
• Do you think there is a difference in the way young children relate to stories in print versus on an e-reader?