Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Truth and Story in Picture Books

When we talk about Truth and Story, it's often easy to think of chapter book examples. When we evaluate a picture book, it gets harder to pinpoint the "truth" or even the "story" in a picture book, especially in a basic concept book.

Does "Truth" or "Story" matter at the picture book level? Yes and no. Megan is working on an excellent analogy that includes the importance of the illustrations in books. Until its big reveal, we'd like to propose that the literature we introduce to our children when they are young serves a unique purpose: to acquaint them with the pleasure, practice, and purpose of reading.To this end, exemplary text and illustrations are supremely important.

What is reading? To a very young child, who's been read to since (or before!) birth, reading is likely associated with comfort, quality time with older "readers," books, pleasure, entertainment, etc. Reading aloud to children goes beyond their future scholastic achievement and their basic appreciation of literature. Early books are also acquainting young children with ideas of art, of beauty, of language, of communication. These are big! If art imitates life and readers "co-create" with the author/illustrator, then well-executed and artistic picture books will help young children make sense of life, stretch their young imaginations, and raise their internal standards of excellence. Honey for a Child's Heart is a great resource for parents along this line.

Reading to young children often cements in the habit, or practice, of reading: where it is done (in our house--everywhere!), when it is done (all the time for us!), how it is done (eagerly? with expression? with enjoyment? in a group? solo?), and similar practices. Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook is an excellent resource along these lines.

We have a unique opportunity to train readers, to help them associate reading with the Bible, to help young children value words in general, and to begin to handle language. God chose to reveal Himself to us through special revelation (the Bible/words) and through general revelation (Creation). SO many picture books highlight the wonders of creation--be it an Eric Carle book delighting in animals/bugs and colors or something more recent like Red Sings in Treetops or And Then It's Spring. A picture book which delights in language (The Huckabuck Family by Carl Sandburg and illustrated by David Small is a GREAT example), which celebrates the power of story (Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood is riveting), which helps a child learn to make sense of language/reading (Elephant and Piggie--We Are In a Book!)--all of these are moving children along the path to reading Scripture, to reading literature intelligently and with discernment, to marveling at God's Creation, and to learning to ask the big questions in life. They are also learning to use their own imaginations, to reflect that characteristic of the Lord that he gave us in part when he made humanity in his image.

The goal of reading to children is to appeal to all their senses, to provide a pleasurable experience so that they will be drawn to the pleasure of reading in the future and further explore the world God has placed them in, appreciating the wide range of ideas, imagination, wonder and joy. The earth is the Lord's and everything in it--that includes literature!--and every gifted author and artist has something to contribute to this great fine world. Our children, created in the image of God, have something to contribute as well. Reading books for the pleasure of them is one way to nurture and encourage that creative image. Along your pleasurable journey of reading aloud, you will also inculcate the practice of reading in your children.

Thus, when we evaluate picture books on this site, we hope to bring to your attention picture books which draw our attention to the beauty of the written word, to creativity in written or visual form, to the breadth of the imagination, to the marvels of Creation around us, to a better understanding of humanity. It may be hard to pinpoint "Truth" in Anno's Counting Book, but it is a marvel of a book which invites and encourages greater understanding of numbers, of order in Creation, of the flow of the seasons, of the ways in which a community develops--and it does all of this without words! A Richard Scarry book surely delights youngsters with words upon words upon words--silly words (a pickle car!?) as well as informative words; Cars and Trucks and Things That Go also provides immense enjoyment of a book (Where is Goldbug?).

 Some examples of the many exemplary picture books out there in no particular order (in which text and art are both executed well):

  • Red Sings in Treetops: A Year in Colors (Joyce Sidman, Pamela Zagarenski, Caldecott Honor 2009)
  • Heckedy Peg (Audrey and Don Wood, 1992)
  • Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak, Caldecott, 1963)
  • The Lion and the Mouse (Jerry Pinkney, Caldecott, 2009)
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Philip Stead, Erin Stead, Caldecott, 2010)
  • Grandpa Green (Lane Smith, Caldecott Honor, 2011)
  • A Visitor for Bear (Bonny Becker, Kady MacDonald Denton, 2008)
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (series by Russell Hoban, 1960s) 
  • Anno's Counting Book (Mitsumasa Anno, 1977)
  • The Huckabuck Family (Carl Sandburg, David Small, 1999)
  • Cookies: Bite-Size Life Lessons (Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Jane Dyer, 2006)
  • The Story of Ferdinand (Munro Leaf, Robert Lawson, 1937)

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