Thursday, November 1, 2012

Picture Book Round-Up

November is picture book month. To celebrate, here’s a round-up of some lovely picture books to share with all ages…

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Illustration, allegedly, is different from fine art because it accompanies and amplifies a story. It’s not “art for art’s sake,” but art that serves a story. Still, when illustration stands on its own—with no words to tell us what or how to see—it can be as fine as any canvas in a gallery.

This picture book, illustrated in detailed pencil drawings, calls to mind the wordless sections of The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. In each book, black-and-white illustrations serve to pull us into another time. Unspoken takes us back to the time of slavery and to a girl’s reaction to finding a runaway slave in an outbuilding on her farm.

Simple as the story is, the book itself bears reading and rereading, even though it contains no words. The real artistry here lies in how Cole uses small, telling details throughout.

When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad

This beautiful small-scale Canadian picture book caused me to A) nearly burst into tears B) smile, and C) want to send a copy to my mother. It’s a sweet and tender book that will have you wishing you had a kid or happy you’ve got a kid to pull up on your lap and share it with.

Morstad, in a style similar to Erik Blegvad’s, combines pen and ink illustrations with small, but well used bits of color to tell the intimate and funny story of a boy and his mother. He wants to hear a story of when his mommy was small. And in a twist that brings to mind Lynne Jonell’s Mommy Go Away!, the mommy recalls the days when she was really small…tiny enough to bathe in a birdbath and use yarn for a jump rope.

Pair this with Marjorie Winslow’s classic Mud Pies and Other Recipes (with Erik Blegvad’s wonderful illustrations) and you’ve got the perfect small holiday gift package for a very lucky small person.

Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett, with pictures by Adam Rex

Inventive and fun, Chloe and the Lion is for somewhat older children. They’ve got to be familiar enough with picture books as a genre and with the art of illustration to understand and laugh at the jokes.

When the author isn’t satisfied with the art in his newest book, he gets rid of the illustrator and hires a new one. When that illustrator doesn’t work out, he even tries to do the drawings himself. (Bad idea.) Chloe, the main character in his picture book, just wants to get on with things, and not be a badly drawn girl.

There are hints of Maurice Sendak’s Pierre in there, along with reminders of David Macauley’s post-modern picture book Black and White. For teachers, this is a great book to share when exploring the different jobs of author and illustrator, the parts of the book, and just plain silly stories.