Under of the Spell of... Picture Books

One of my greatest life-long loves has been picture books.The incredible journeys and dreams that a reader (or even not-yet reader) experiences within the limited number of pages presented in a picture is unsurpassed as life and literacy moves forward. Anyone who has spent much time around me as a bookseller has, no doubt, heard me say that I believe we take picture books away from children at far too early an age (Generally, only to have the child go back to more 'mature' picture books at a much later age... we call them 'graphic novels' now.) But the pleasures and fascination of picture books remains steadfast in my heart.
Picture books do so much for a child (and adult!). Visual literacy developed in the earliest years is the foundation for 'reading' literacy as it help develop the imagination and assists the growing ability to interrupt signs and symbols and to give meaning to the random. (When you consider what letters and written words actually are... this is it..... random symbols that we have lumped together into more random symbols and then assigned meaning to.) The ability to read pictures gives meaning to a seemingly random world. More than this, picture books are usually (and sadly sometimes the only) the first exposure children have to art. Each one exists as a portable gallery exhibition that can be experienced, enjoyed and owned by a child. As we look at what is important to children themselves about reading and books, this business of ownership emerges with more and more frequency, and at earlier ages. That book belongs to them!
And now the mini-rant about books versus technology..... the experience of having a book (in this case a picture book) is a completely different experience to that of e-books or downloading onto a computer screen. The tactile experience of a book... of being able to go back and forth through the pages, of pondering and wondering over the pictures and noticing new things each time, all the while being encouraged by the feel of the pages, and the smell of paper and ink and glue.... this is irreplaceable in terms of growth and development. It is an integral part of how we become human beings and how we grow to see and function in the world. (Just a mini-rant... could go on for hours.. I'm not opposed to technology; this is a blog, you know... I'm just opposed to on-line replacing books.... there is  NO replacement for a book.)
For these reasons, and so many others, I was overjoyed to come across two books these last few months that are any grown picture book - lover's dream!
Under the Spell of the Moon: art for children from the world's greatest illustrators is a wondrous collection of picture book illustrations from around the world. Each page features a different illustrator and a verse or line or two from the book represented. Quentin Blake from the UK, Vera B Williams from the USA, Angela Lagos from Brazil, Ange Zhang from China, Eva Eriksson from Sweden.... well, you get the picture.... a world of beautiful, tactile, rich picture book illustration in your hands!
Anyone who has ever questions the importance of picture books and the effect they have on a child should have a good read of Show Me A Story: why picture books matter, compiled by Leonard S. Marcus. This book contains conversations with 21 of the world's most famous and celebrated illustrators, speaking frankly about their lives, their work .... and what got them started, why they have/had the passion and the drive for picture books that they had. You will find the likes of John Burningham, Maurice Sendak, Mo Willems, Roberts McCloskey.....along with exceptional commentary and much food for thought.
So, please..... show yourself a good story today. Fall under the spell. Revisit so of the old friends that you remember so fondly from your childhood and remember that it's never too late to make some new ones. You'll thank yourself for it. Now... where did I put  my copy of Where the Wild Things Are ......


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