One of many books recommended to me recently is A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature. It has sat in my "To Read" pile, but is now on it's last renewal from the library, so I finally put it at the top of the pile. On this rainy afternoon, listening to rain on the cabin roof and looking out over the alternately silver and pewter surface of Lake Hopatcong, I lost myself in back-stories of some of the finest children's literature currently residing on the shelves of bookstores and libraries around the world.
I loved the segment by Naomi Shihab Nye with the story of the grandfather who woke his grandson each morning by reading him poetry. What an inspiring and gentle way to begin the day: it certainly beats waking up to the world news and traffic reports.
I wondered at the interview with Maurice Sendak about his triumvirate of books: Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, and Outside Over There. I will have to add the latter to my pile. Somehow I missed it. I totally got it that Sendak didn't need to, and didn't want to, do a reprise of Where the Wild Things Are. Some books stand alone: no sequels or prequels required. Do we need a Polar Express II? I think not.
As both an author and illustrator, I found nuggets of wisdom in "The Pictures" by Margot Zemach and "Design Matters" by Jon Scieszka. The essay, "How to Read the Pictures:John Steptoe's Baby Says," also provided food for thought.
New ideas from "The Pictures," included the idea that you can have things in the pictures that are never even mentioned in the text. The dog Margot added in "The Three Wishes," wasn't part of the story, but she used it to reflect and assist in revealing the emotions of the characters. It's nice to know that she, like I, researches deeply to make her illustrations believable and convincing.
"Design is an essential part of any picture book." This is both the lead and the final sentence in Scieska's essay. I am trying to do as he has done: make design almost invisible, and yet let it do all it has potential to do in making an excellent picture book. From the size of the book and the font, to the colors and use of spreads and page turns, design elements make the difference between a script and an award-winning Broadway show. Every new iteration of the book brings me closer to a finer design.
I find that thinking in two-page spreads is essential to designing my artwork. I am tying to think creatively about providing the reader with the keys to various dimensions of my book. If I just print in a foreword that this or that is included in each picture, I think some of the magic will be diminished. But if I don't give the reader a hint, a child may miss some of the fun of the book. I will have to keep working on this. Something to think about while watching the clouds forming in late afternoon sunlight on the lake.