Monday, December 21, 2009

A down-home Christmas

One of the earliest copies of Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" or "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" resides right here in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It was handwritten by Moore and sent in 1825 to his godfather, Jonathan Odell, a prominent resident of Fredericton. Over the years, this bit of literary trivia has captured the city's imagination to the point where you'd sometimes think that this is what Christmas must be: an artifact shipped in from afar, a bit of fame whose coat-tails must be clung to.

And yet, this region represents a picture-perfect Christmas postcard all on its own. Juliana Horatia Ewing knew this when, in 1867, she wrote the region's first Christmas story while living in Fredericton with her husband, Captain Alexander Ewing, an officer in Her Majesty's 22nd (Chesire) Regiment. The story, "The Three Christmas Trees", was published in the collection The Brownies and Other Tales (1886) and can be read online here. One hundred and fifty years later, Ewing's prose stills delights and the picture of that "small town of a distant colony" remains quaint, sure, but fits snugly into this spiritual narrative of the link between our world and the world beyond.

Flash forward to the 1950s where you will find these three hidden Nova Scotia gems: In The Wee Folk: About the Elves in Nova Scotia by Mary Alma Dillman (1953), the first story is "Xmas Eve in Teaberry Hollow" wherein Santa and Mrs Claus rescue Peter, the young elf who gets caught in a blizzard and becomes frozen solid; Alice Dagliesh rounds out her collection The Blue Teapot (1959) with the tale of a family who get their first set of electric Christmas lights; and Julia L. Sauer's 1951 novel, The Light at Tern Rock, tells of an eldery woman and a young boy who spend their Christmas tending a lighthouse off the coast of Nova Scotia.

For an non-Avonlea take on Christmas in P.E.I. try David Weale's picture books, The True Meaning of Crumbfest (Acorn Press, 1999) and Everything that Shines (Acorn Press, 2001). In the former, a young mouse sets out to discover the origins of the plentiful crumbs that come to his people each year in late December. The latter is not so much a Christmas book, but rather a book about dealing with grief that happens to be set in the holiday season.

Newfoundland's Kevin Major has penned two contemporary Christmas classics: The House of the Wooden Santas (1997 Red Deer College Press) and Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards (Groundwood, 2005).

The House of the Wooden Santas is an advent book with one vignette a day for the 24-day lead up to Christmas. As you can see from the illustration above, Imelda George's wood carvings add to the quirky yet lush feel of the book.

Aunt Olga's Christmas Postcards is a tribute to holiday picture postcards from all over the world. Images of hundred-year-old cards are combined with contemporary illustrations from Bruce Roberts as the tale (and poetry) of Aunt Olga and her family unfolds.

Finally, from Newfoundland is David Budge's The Mummer's Song, illustrated by Ian Wallace. This picture book is a simple rhyming tribute to the practice of mumming between Christmas and New Years' in rural Newfoundland. An afterword by Kevin Major explains the tradition to novices.

For additional Christmas books from the region, click over to the Portolan Bibliography where you can search "Christmas" and so much more besides.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An advent calendar of sorts

The holidays are upon us, a time of family, giving, quiet reflection and ... the shameless Hollywood exploitation of picture books. Quick, clear your mind of images of Mike Myers' Cat or Jim Carrey's Grinch; you'll only soil the grey matter. Instead I offer you a YouTube-inspired Advent Calendar for you and all the young children you happen to know.

These animated picture book adaptations are fun and sophisticated. What's more, they are true to the original text. Most were developed by Weston Woods Studios and many are available through the Scholastic Video Collection which I strongly encourage you to buy.* A goodly number were produced in the great Czech animation studio under the direction of Gene Deitch. Enjoy one a day until Christmas or save them for a slow January Saturday. Oh, and don't forget to pick up each of these classic picture books the next time you're at your local library.

December 1st
Rosie's Walk by Pat Hutchins, 1968

December 2nd
Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, 1969

December 3rd
The Foolish Frog by Pete Seeger from Pete Seeger's Storytelling Book, 2000; also published on its own in 1973.

December 4rth
Changes, Changes by Pat Hutchins, 1971

December 5th
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, 1989

December 6th
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, 1947

December 7th
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann, 1993

December 8th
Bill Martin Jr. reading his book Brown Bear, what do you see? published 1983

December 9th
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss, 1960

December 10th
Dr. De Soto by William Steig, 1982

December 11th
Happy Birthday Moon by Frank Asch, 1984

December 12th
Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, 1965

December 13th
There Was An old Lady by Simms Taback, 1997

December 14th
Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman, 2001

December 15th
The Zax by Dr. Seuss in The Sneetches and Other Stories, 1961

December 16th
Mercer Meyer telling his story There's An Alligator Under My Bed published 1987

December 17th
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight by Jane Yolen, 2000

December 18th
How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food by Jane Yolen, 2005

December 19th
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, 1963

December 20th
The Caterpillar and the Pollywog by Jack Kent, 1892

December 21st
Pete's A Pizza by William Steig, 1998

December 22nd
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, 1955

December 23rd
A Picture for Harold's Room by Crockett Johnson, 1955

December 24th
Harold's Fairy Tale by Crockett Johnson, 1956

Bonus holiday offer
These three Hans Christian Andersen adaptations used to appear on TV all the time in the 1970s. I remember them distinctly from my childhood. The subject matter is heavy, so make sure you watch them first before you decide whether or not to share them with a child.

The Selfish Giant

The Little Match Girl

The Happy Prince

And here's a final link that is definitely fun but I know it would frighten my four-year old. Slightly older kids will definitely enjoy the shivers.
What's Under my Bed? by James Stevenson, 1980

*Not a paid advertisement. The Scholastic Collection has far more videos than are linked to here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Shiver me timbers

There's no shortage of Atlantic Canadian pirate stories. The Portolan Bibliography lists 20 held in the Eileen Wallace Collection alone. There's historical pirates, modern-day pirates, fantasy pirates and, heck, even space pirates. This week saw a new edition to the regional pirate canon (or cannon, if you will): The Dread Crew by Bluenose Kate Inglis.

Inglis' pirates never set foot nor sail in water; they are pirates of the backwoods roaming about rural Nova Scotia in a giant barrow, pillaging all they can find in search of the junk they need to satisfy themselves and their bureaucratic labour union. The Dreads, as they are called, are all spit and vinegar with names like Screemin' Meena and Funky Phezekiah. They stink. One is known for the maggot colony that lives in his beard. Fear and intimidation are their bailiwick. And when the Dreads speak, ... this book jumps out of convention and into pure, silly fun. Each of Inglis' pirates has a distinct voice; none relies on tired, swashbuckling cliché. My favourite is, perhaps, Ill Willie Cusson, the Acadian Huckster whose chiac masterfully blends intimidation and charm.

In many ways, The Dread Crew is an anti-pirate story dressed in the trappings of piracy. For whither the gold, the jewels, the doubloons? Inglis herself lives within spitting distance of Oak Island. She was no doubt raised on Oak Island lore and knows that any self-respecting pirate thinks of nothing but gaining and hoarding treasure. For a true pirate, any means justify a wealthy end. And yet, Inglis' Dreads are accidental environmentalists. They pillage the land looking for junk that can be refurbished and reused. Under the tutalege of gentle Joe, a retired jack-of-all-trades and the heartbeat of this novel, the Dreads learn that they can gain more by investing in community than by running rampant over top it, or as Inglis'--and my long-dead granny--put it, "you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." Yes, there is a strong message to this book, but the imaginative scope, slapstick humour and overall joyful noise of the whole package runs counter to any dread didacticism.

The illustrations by Sydney Smith are both playful and other-worldly. They are the perfect match for Inglis' belching, romping, refreshing words. The illustrations remind me at times of Barry Moser and Chris Van Allsburg with just a hint of cartoon caricature thrown in for fun.

When you are done storming the ramparts of The Dread Crew, be sure to dig up some of these other Atlantic Canadian buried treasures:

Ben Peach and the Pirates by Evelyn M. Richardson
Set in the 1840s, this novel tells the story of Ben Peach who sails from Halifax Harbour at the age of fifteen for the West Indies on a ship named the "Vernon."

The Black Joe by Farley Mowat
This historical novel set in the 1930s tells the story of two boys from a small outport community in Newfoundland who are taken on board a ship named the Black Joke and find themselves swept up into rum-running and treachery on the high seas when a gang of thieves arrives on the ship.

The Hand of Robin Squires by Joan Clark. 1977
In this illustrated historical novel, based on the Triton Alliance Company's November 23, 1971 discovery at the Oak Island site, fourteen year old Robin Squires tells the story of his family's involvement with the mystery of the island.

Pirates of the North Atlantic by William S. Crooker, 2004
Each chapter in this illustrated collection of short stories chronicles the world’s most notorious pirates and how they visited the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Boston and Cape Breton to the Bay of Fundy. The Atlantic Canadian adventures of famous pirates such as Blackbeard, William Kidd, John Phillips, Thomas Pound, Edward Low, Bartholomew Roberts and the pirate couple of Edward and Margaret Jordan are all revealed as well as the mystery of the Isle Haute, the Saladin, and the suspicious story of the Mary Celeste.

The Secret Treasures of Oak Island by J. J. Pritchard, 2002
This mystery novel tells the story of Emma and Jake Morgan who spend their summer visiting travelling with their uncle to Oak Island, Nova Scotia and try to discover the truth behind the treasure of the Oak Island Money Pit.

Torrie and the Pirate Queen by K.V. Johansen, 2005
Torrie, a magical being and the oldest Old Thing of the Wild Forest, tells the story of an adventure aboard a pirate ship. The captain, a twelve-year-old girl named Anna, plans to use her grandfather's hidden treasure to rescue her father, who has been kidnapped by the Pirate Queen, Nevilla.

The Trouble with Jamie by Lorrie McLaughlin, 1966
This historical illustrated chapter book tells the story of charismatic Jamie, a young boy growing up in Liverpool, Nova Scotia in the 1800s. Jamie thirsts for adventure and finds just that when he accidentally stows away on a ship named the Rover.

The Wizard's Eye by Andrew M. Scott, 1993
This illustrated chapter book is an adventure story about cousins Paul and Marie from East Sable on Nova Scotia's South Shore who are researching the pirate Red Randall when they meet a mysterious Major with a particular interest in the man.

And although it's not Atlantic Canadian, the 1922 collection, Great Pirate Stories edited by Joseph Lewis French and published by Tudor Publishing Co. of New York is a must for any aspiring deck-swabber.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mum's the word

There are numerous, excellent wordless or near-wordless picture books out there that foster solitary reading for the pre-literate child or, better yet, that enable children to interact with an adult whose sole focus can now be on pictures instead of words. Wordless picture books help to level the playing field between adult and child, and they give imaginative children free reign in building their own stories. They're not just for young children either; many are aimed at older children specifically. Others are acutely aware of the adult reader. No matter what the target audience, though, good art is never meant for any one category of person alone.

You can't go wrong with any of these:

The Carl books by Alexandra Day wherein a beloved Rottweiler minds the baby, while the baby's mother gets on with her errands and her life. There's at least a dozen in the series now.

Eric Rohman's wordless or near wordless picture books:

Time Flies depicts the journey of a bird through a prehistoric, dinosaur-laden landscape. It's a must for any dinosaur-crazed kid.

My Friend Rabbit should've been left alone as a book. The TV show knock-off is all talk, talk, talk. Who needs words when the pictures say it all?

Peter Spier's Noah's Ark and Rain, Raymond Briggs' The Snowman and Quentin Blake's Clown are classics in the genre,

as are Pat Hutchins' Changes Changes and a personal favourite of mine, Picnic, by Emily Arnold McCully.

Both these works have been adapted into excellent short films that have now become part of the Scholastic video collection.

More recent works include several of the books by David Wiesner. My daughter loves Tuesday, Flotsam and especially Sector 7.

There's also Australian Jeannie Baker's Window

And finally, here are two that are colour-themed:

Jae-Soo Liu's The Yellow Umbrella and Barbara Lehman's The Red Book.

There's also books like Chris van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and the Imagine a Day/Night/Place books that use the paintings of Rob Gonaslaves. These books are neither wordless nor do they tell a continuous narrative; instead, they provide an evocative caption for each illustration that prompts the reader to take control of the storytelling. It's like having 10-20 individual stories per book.

There's plenty more books in the wordless genre than the ones I've listed here. Do you have a favourite? Have you read any of these with children? Did you enjoy the experience or did you find yourself awkwardly sputtering, trying to fill in the story? Do you leave them lying around for kids to stumble on? Pack them in the car for long road trips? Use them as prompts for crafts or writing assignments? Tell me. I'd like to know.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beyond the Veil

This Sunday at the Fredericton Playhouse, Quebec dance company Bouge de là will be performing a choreographed version of Old Thomas and the Little Fairy, the 2000 picture book by Dominique Jolin, illustrated by Stephane Poulin.

I've got my tickets. Last Saturday, as a tie-in to the upcoming performance, the Fredericton Public Library hosted a reading of the picture book. The audience mainly comprised the 5 and under set while parents and grandparents sat in the seating at the back. Loralie Boyle from the children's department led the children through a series of actions wherein they mimicked the ocean and various creatures within it. She then read the book accompanied by Alex Bailey on guitar. The combination of words and music was mesmerizing. Yet, how could any reading of this book not draw the listener in? The themes of life and death, love and loss, and anger and redemption flicker behind this deceptively simple tale about an old man who nurses a fragile, ailing fairy back to health.

This book got me to thinking about the sub-genre of children's books that carry a strong undertow of maturity and meaning, books that many would argue are not children's books at all--except for the astonishing fact that many children love them deeply and come back to them time and again.

In our house, three such books have become obsessive favourites:

Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book is nothing more than a series of highly descriptive prose poems. It begins with a simple object:
"The important thing
about a spoon is
that it you eat with it."

Each page then describes a different object or phenomenon--an apple, snow, wind, a shoe--in an effort to crystallize its essence. The illustrations by Leonard Weisgard are simple and suggestive. They politely step back and allow the cadence and visual images provided by the words to explode inside the mind of the young reader.

The last page of the book moves into the metaphysical:
"The important thing about you is
that you are you.
It is true that you were a baby,
and you grew,
and now you are a child,
and will grow,
into a man
or into a woman.
But the important thing about you
is that
you are you."

Rather than a straightforward illustration of a child on the page, the accompanying illustration simply shows the words "you are you" written in script--for part of what makes you you is the ability to frame the abstract world around you, as you grow, through language.

Jan Andrews' Pumpkin Time is an odd book. The illustrations by Kim LaFave create an expectation for light, seasonal whimsy. Instead, this picture book is, I think, an extended metaphor for maternal depression. When three children wake one morning to discover their mother has transformed into a pumpkin, they take the situation in stride. They go about their lives hiding their new reality from the world and making do as best they can. Their strength and independence call forth a sweet music from the pumpkin. But the burden of caring for themselves and the loneliness of being without their mother begins to wear on them. At the point where they become overwhelmed by their new lot, the children wake up to have their mother restored.

The first time I read Pumpkin Time to my daughter, I had no idea what it was going to be about. As I read along, I anticipated anxiety, fear or even boredom on her behalf. Instead, she was completely drawn into the story and has insisted on having it read over and over again for weeks on end. I think it helps her work through her fearful fours and the new awareness of how independence can and is tied up with abandonment issues. (As a companion book to Pumpkin Time, re the theme of maternal depression, check out Liz Rosenberg's Monster Mama. It is less ethereal and is decidedly cheeky.)

The most beloved book in our collection is, without a doubt, Arnold Lobel's Uncle Elephant.

This easy reader by the author of the Frog and Toad books is a masterpiece of literary minimalism. When the young narrator's parents get lost at sea, he is taken in by his aged Uncle. The book playfully explores youth vs age and naivety vs wisdom. It is a testament to grief and a quiet tribute to the love that can grow from mutual loss. The nonesensical elephant song that serves as the emotional climax of the book makes both me and my daughter very happy.

Now, tell me, what are the books in your collection that show a more complex world beyond the veil? Do you enjoy reading them? Alone? With children? What is the response of the children you read them to?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Poetry and Folklore for the Kindergarten Set

I had the pleasure of talking with 50 or so local kindergarten teachers a week and a half ago. The focus of my talk was poetry and folklore. Why single out these genres? Because of the dominance of the story-oriented picture books in kid culture today. Now, you'll find no bigger fan of the picture book than me, but many picture books (and tv shows and movies) tend to privilege certain kinds of storytelling over others. Key among these are tales of adventure or conflict resolution. But if the adventure story, the quest motif, or even the simple age-related problem/resolution story becomes not just the dominant form of narrative that children are exposed to but the only one, then a child's ability to imagine art, the self and the broader world beyond that genre becomes limited.

The Nursery Rhyme tradition, poetry and folklore are three forms of literature for young children that can help break the stranglehold of genre. They are older forms of telling that have evolved from oral traditions. Nursery rhymes and poerty help children peg down the natural cadence and rhythm of a child's mother tongue. Folklore, at its best, offers astute insights into human nature without being trite or didactic. There is also a wealth of international folklore available for young children.

The following is a list of the books I lugged along to the workshop. This isn't a definitive list, just a glimpse at some of the material that may be available at your public library.

Nursery Rhyme Collections
The Little Dog Laughed and Other Nursery Rhymes, illustrated by Lucy Cousins, 1989
Mother Goose Remembers, illustrated by Clare Beaton, 2000
My Very First Mother Goose (1996) and Here Comes Mother Goose (1999), edited by Iona Opie; illustrated by Rosemary Wells
A Day of Rhymes selected and illustrated by Sarah Pooley, 1987
The Glorious Mother Goose, selected by Cooper Edens with illustrations by the best artisits from the past, 1988
Gregory Griggs and Other Nursery Rhyme People, selected and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 1978.
Lavender's Blue, compiled by Kathleen Lines; illustrated by Harold Jones, 1954 (reissued in facsimile edition, 2004, facsimile paperback, 2007)

Here's a Little Poem, selected by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters; illustrated by Polly Dunbar, 2007
The 20th Century Children's Poetry Treasury, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Meilo So, 1999
Poetry by Heart: A Child's Book of Poems to Remember, compiled by Liz Attenborough, 2001
Poems by A. Nonny Mouse, selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Henrik Drescher, 1989
The Llama Who Had No Pajama: 100 Favorite Poems, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Betty Fraser, 1998
Alligator Pie (1974), Garbage Delight (1977), Jelly Belly (1983) by Dennis Lee
Sleeping Dragons All Around by Sheree Fitch, 1989/2009 (an example of excellent, stand-alone poetry held together in a quest-centred picture book)
Toes in My Nose (1987) , I am Small (1994) by Sheree Fitch
For Laughing Out Loud: Poems to Tickle Your Funny Bone selected by Jack Prelutsky; illustrated by Marjorie Priceman, 1992
Beast Feast: Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian, 1994

Sylvia Vardell maintains an excellent children's poetry blog called Poetry for Children. Along with excellent reviews and discussion, she provides numerous author links.

Folklore and Fables
The Helen Oxenbury Nursery Story Book, 1985
Anansi the spider : a tale from the Ashanti adapted and illustrated by Gerald McDermott
Tomie de Paola has numerous folktale adaptations for young children. The two titles I brought to the workshop were Strega Nona, 1975 and Jamie O'Rourke and the Big Potato, 1992.
The Three Little Pigs adapted and illustrated by Marie Louise Gay, 1994
The Travelling Musicians of Bremen retold by P. K. Page, illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton, 1991
Cinderella (1989) and Red Riding Hood (1987), retold and illustrated by James Marshall
Belling the Cat and other Aesop's Fables, retold in verse by Tom Paxton; Illustrated by Robert Rayevsky, 1990
Fables, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel, 1980
How the guinea fowl got her spots : a Swahili tale of friendship, adapted by Barbara Knutson, 1990
Something From Nothing adapted by Phoebe Gilman, 1992
The House that Jack Built, pictures by Jenny Snow, 1992
This is the House that Jack Built, adapted and illustrated by Simms Taback, 2002
The Seven Blind Mice adapted and illustrated by Ed Young, 1991

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Visual Literacy and the Picture Book, pt 3

This three-part series explores the role of picture book art in creating a foundation for visual literacy. In writing these posts, I have relied on The On-line Visual Literacy Project at Ponoma College for my terms of reference in defining the 11 basic design components of all visual communication. I have grouped these components into 4 broad categories:

Part 1. The building blocks (dot, line, shape, and texture)
Part 2. Movement (motion and direction) and Perspective (scale and dimension)
Part 3 (today's post). Colour (hue, value, and saturation)

has become a dominant design principle in illustrated books for children over the last several decades. Classics, such as Johnson's Harold books and McCloskey's Make Way For Ducklings or Blueberries for Sal, however, are evidence that illustration can be divine on a monochromatic scale.

From Blueberries for Sal (1948)

Other books, such as Richard McGuire's Orange Book (1992), which uses only the complementary colours of orange and blue, or Cathy Stinson's Red is Best (1982), which emphasizes the narrator's preferred colour, or the wordless picture book Yellow Umbrella (2001) by Jae Soo Liu deal in the essence of hue.

Hue is plucked straight from the colour wheel and comes in the infinite combinations of those three primary colours: red, blue and yellow.

Bob Staake's The Red Lemon (2006)

from Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Lois Ehlert (1990)

A picture can comprise mainly warm hues:

a cross-section of the old white cabin in Delicious by Helen Cooper (2007)

Or cool hues:

From Rob Gonsalves' Imagine a Place (2008)

Sometimes the lifeblood of the image is a pocket of warm colour lying in a sea or sky of cool:

Marie-Louise Gay's Stella: Star of the Sea (English language version) (1999)

Christopher Myers' Wings (2000)

Value refers to the amount of light or dark in an image and the interplay between them.

From Peggy Rathmann's The Day the Babies Crawled Away (2003)

From Creation by Gerald McDermott (2003)

Whereas Beatrix Potter uses value to show the warmth of the hearth in winter,

Chris Van Allsburg plays with value to eerie effect in The Mysteries of Harris Burdick (1984), a suggestive, imaginative picture book for elementary aged children.

Ed Young's mice sparkle against their black backdrop in Seven Blind Mice (1992), and

Ted Harrison's depiction of the Aurora Borealis feels like stained glass, so filled with light are his colours. From O Canada (1992).

Saturation deals with the amount of grey that influences a colour.
In Janell Canon's Stellaluna (1993), the contrast of the bats who lack colour saturation with the highly saturated night sky provide maximum visual impact. The resulting ultra-realism emphasizes the vulnerability of the bats, creatures that the reader may not normally sympathize with.

In Knuffle Bunny (2004), Mo Willems splashes highlights of mid-saturated colours over top of black and white photo stills of a Brooklyn neighborhood to add a family atmosphere to the city backdrop. His illustrations often look like animation stills.

The use of water colours produces a canvas of lightly saturated colours.

In many books, and Barbara McClintock's Dahlia (2002) is a fine example here, such illustrations have a rural or old-fashioned feel to them, no doubt because they hearken back to the 19th and early 20th styles of early masters in the genre:

Randolph Caldecott

Kate Greenaway

Leslie Brooke

and Beatrix Potter

And then there is Norton Juster's Hello, Goodbye Window, illustrated by Chris Raschka, that conjures up a rustic nostalgia by using mid-saturated, high value colours.

If you want to see what Rashka has to say about his approach to illustrating this book, read the engaging caption he put on one of his pictures that was reproduced for the New York Times.

Raschka uses a similar style for a cover of the Horn Book Magazine.

Highly saturated colours often, but not always, suggest an urban or contemporary setting, partly because contemporary printing technology allows for the mass reproduction of rich colours.

Here is Raschka again with Yo! Yes? (1993)

Vera B. Williams' A Chair for My Mother (1982).

Then there's the tropical feel of Dayal Kaur Khalsa' My Family Vacation (1988):

Highly saturated colours also feature prominently in many folk tales. Different colour combinations can be suggestive of different cultures or ethnicities:

Leo and Diane Dillon's Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears: A West African Tale (1975)

Ricardo Keens-Douglas' The Nutmeg Princess; illustrated by Annouchka Galouchko (1992) (a folk tale from Grenada)

Gerald McDermott's Raven: A Trickster Tale From the Pacific Northwest (1993).


In regaling you with examples of how the 11 design principles work in picture books, it was my hope that you would see how smart illustrations, when combined with visual literacy skills on the part of the reader, can contribute to the overall experience of reading a book. Do I kid myself that my daughter sees all this when she is looking at books?

No. Not for a second. But she does see a lot of things in illustrations that I don't catch right off. We also spend a lot of time talking about the pictures in her books in an effort to tease out both our ways of seeing. Books that are flatly illustrated don't allow us to open up the conversation. They don't influence our mood or emotions as we are reading. The really good books do, though, and each time I come back to those books to figure out why, the answer is usually right there in front of me in their finely crafted illustrations.

The images in this post have been used as part of a work of criticism and under the clause of "fair dealing" in the Canadian Canadian Copyright Act. I have not used more than 10% of any given work.