A blog for parents, teachers, writers and illustrators.

October 25, 2014

The Art of the Picture Book

I'm taking a short break from blogging about humor in books to talk about the art of picture books. Being an illustrator, I love to study the pictures that illustrators create to bring books to life and I am fascinated at the diversity of the illustrations I see.

There are all different kinds of illustrations found in picture books from very basic drawings to very elaborate paintings. Just look at the difference between these two!


Picture books have more than just a story to tell - the illustrations are works of art! You can find many art shows around the country throughout the year that put illustrations on display. Right now, if you're in New York you can view some of the most amazing works of art in picture books today at The Society of Illustrators.

This year's gold medal winner at the exhibit is "The Bear's Song" by Benjamin Chaud. There are beautiful illustrations done in pencil and digital art. Other winners include "Wildwood Imperium" by Colin Meloy and illustrated by Carson Ellis, "Harlem Hellfighters" by J.Patrick Lewis and Illustrated by Gary Kelley, and "Little Elliot, Big City" by Mike Curato.

And here is a list of the 166 books that are on display at the show.

It's amazing to see just how many different mediums can be used to illustrate children's books - pastel, watercolor, pencil, ink, digital, gouache, graphite... the possibilities seem endless!

As an illustrator, it's important to study the craft of the picture book, not just so you can see what your competition is like but also so you can see what works. Why was that illustrator chosen for that particular story? Why did they use that particular medium and style? What are the different compositions, perspectives and view points shown on each spread? How are the characters drawn? Are they consistent from spread to spread? Why were those colors chosen?

Another important aspect to consider is how the illustrations support or enhance the text. Nowadays, picture books have a shorter word count. Therefore, there is a lot of information that can be found in the illustrations that help explain or move the story along, allowing readers to infer or interpret rather than just read a text and see pretty pictures.

Dr. Mira Reisberg and Chronicle Books Art Director Kristine Brogno held a webinar about how illustrations can provide a second story, or additional storyline, to go along with the text. They'll be holding a 5-week course on illustrating for children's books through the Children's Book Academy called "The Craft and Business of Illustrating Children's Books" where you can learn a lot more about techniques and styles to make a picture book successful.

I'm taking the course, my fourth one with Mira, and I highly recommend taking it if you're interested in learning more about the craft of picture books. Whether you're a writer or illustrator, you can benefit from the information Mira and Kristine are going to provide. 

You can also attend a free webinar with Mira and co-founder of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Stephen Mooser, on Thursday, October 30 at 5pm PST/8pm EST.

There is so much more to say about the art in picture books, but I'll save more for another day. I'm not sure if book publishers produce books with the idea that they're really producing works of art for adults and children to enjoy. But for now, I'm off to the bookstore - or should I say art gallery to admire more amazing works of art!

October 6, 2014

Say "Yes!" to David Shannon!

It's been a couple of weeks since my last post - that's what happens when work and life get in the way. Now it's time to get back on track.

The last couple of posts dealt with humor in children's books. Since humorous books are really my favorite, I can't stop at just two posts. So today I'm going to talk about one of my favorite author/illustrators, David Shannon.

One of the funniest characters in children's literature is David, who stars in Shannon's books called "No, David!", "David Gets in Trouble" and "David Goes to School," among others. The illustrations are very kid-friendly, looking as if a kid drew them. And his text is very simple - very few words are on each spread or page. Shannon let's a lot of the narrative come through the pictures and actions and emotional expressions of David. What's great about these texts also is that they're like a one-sided dialogue. The person "speaking" or doing the narration is David's mom or his teacher, some adult or person who is talking to David as he's "acting" in the scenes. They're brilliant, silly, funny, and perfect for young readers who want to laugh. And they're especially good for your very active or even "naughty" children who will find out that even the most misbehaved children are loved.

Shannon's "David" books are also perfect examples of how an author can use his or her experiences to create a story that readers can relate to. Shannon adds a preface in the books and explains how he based the character on himself and his childhood experiences of always being told "No." or "Stop it, David." The "relatability" factor is extremely important in publishing because publishing companies need to be able to sell the books. Duh, of course! Right? But it becomes a lot easier to sell the books to readers who can relate to a character or situation in the book - then they'll want to pick up the book again and again. Or they'll pick another book with the same character, or by the same author, because they felt a connection to the first book. Help the children make that connection, and authors like Shannon will come up with more stories with the same characters, publishing companies will sell more of his books, parents and teachers and librarians will buy his books, kids will read those books, and the cycle starts all over again.

Many of Shannon's other books are also character-driven (meaning, the plot revolves around a particular character and his/her troubles, inner thoughts and feelings, inner conflict and relationships, etc.) Some like the "Pirate" books have also developed into a series like the "David" books. Some are spinoffs, like "Good Boy, Fergus," where Fergus has made appearances in the David books.

Some have a very surreal theme or topic, like "A Bad Case of Stripes" while others have very quirky characters such as "Alice the Fairy". One of my son's favorites is "Duck on a Bike", about a duck who decides he wants to take a ride on a bike one day. As he's passing by the other animals, they all  have something to say to him or warn him about. Then a group of kids ride by the farm on their bikes while the other animals watch. Finally, the other farm animals see how fun it is to ride a bike and they hop on the bikes to join the duck. Once the riding adventure is over, the farm animals go back to their normal lives while the duck has his eye on the tractor, leading us to believe a sequel is on its way. The repetitive text makes it easy for children to read and the fun illustrations and different perspectives of the scenes really make it a great read.  No matter if Shannon is drawing animals or people, or writing about mischievous boys or bugs in your hair (yuck!), his illustration style and humor is consistent from book to book. 

 So if you have any reluctant readers in your home or classroom or library, turn them onto one of David Shannon's books - they're very hard to say "No" to.

September 15, 2014

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

Today we continue talking about humorous children's books but focus more on novels. And no blog post on humor would be complete without talking about the creative, talented, and unique author Roald Dahl.

A new holiday has just emerged on my calendar - September 15th is Roald Dahl Day! Today Puffin Books is hosting an interactive live event on this site to celebrate 50 years of Dahl's amazing book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. During the event an expert on Roald Dahl, Michael Rosen will be answering questions and the incredible illustrator of many of Dahl's books, Sir Quentin Blake, will be drawing and talking about his work.
Roald Dahl has written some incredible stories through the years that continue to be classic reads for young readers. They're filled with mischief, invention, fun, imaginative words, mean characters, loveable protagonists, rhyming dialogue, humor, and much much more. As I said in my very first post on this blog, I was a reluctant reader as a child. But reading some of Dahl's books changed that in many ways. I found myself reading them over and over, and laughing each time.

Some of my other favorites include:

Dahl pushed the boundaries of writing in so many ways. For example, the crocodile in "The Enormous Crocodile" went around looking for children to eat. Giants ate children, too, in "The BFG". Children were stretched and turned blue in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". Farmers wanted to kill Mr. Fox in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox." And that's just the beginning.

Today, there are probably not too many books published that involve eating children, unless they're Goosebumps or other horror books for kids. But there's something about Roald Dahl's stories and style of writing that keeps his books popular, no matter what outrageous things may be included in the them.

If you have a child or student that is a reluctant reader, try introducing one of Dahl's books to them. Read along with them for the first book and then help them work their way to reading independently. Allow them to read the same story over and over if they really like it. Start with one of the shorter books and have them work their way up. 

You can also try having students or your children recreate some of the characters by Quentin Blake - they're very kid-friendly and simple enough for children to draw as well.

So hhere's to another 50+ years of celebrating Roald Dahl day! As for me, I'm off to eat my scrumdiddlyumptious lunch!

Which Roald Dahl book is your favorite? I'd love to hear about it - leave a comment on the blog and share the blog with your fellow parents, writers, illustrators, teachers, and friends on facebook and Twitter.