Thursday, September 27, 2012

Side by Side: Five Favorite Picture-Book Teams Go to Work by Leonard S. Marcus

My job as a teacher librarian is to get the bouncing bundles of energy to cuddle, stroke, and lick their books.  Okay, maybe not lick, but I need to ignite a reading fire inside them. I was reading Bink & Gollie Two for One and laughing hysterically at the illustrations (along with three parents who sat down to listen), changing my voice with the text and mimicking the movement of the characters in the text. I'm no actress, believe you me, but it was such a gas reading this story I was completely caught up in the joy of the plot, characters and pictures. We all had laughing stomachaches by the end. When I finished I thought how much fun it would be to hear the collaboration story of illustrator Tony Fucile who worked on The Incredibles (I think Bink looks like Dash) and writers Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee. This story oozes fun. It is a brilliant piece of collaborative work! One you might even lick!

While this book by Leonard Marcus was written before the collaboration Tony, Kate and Allison, it is special in that it touches on great collaborative efforts between artists and writers in the 1980s and 1990s. You get to see picture book-making as an art form and what went into the creation of some unique books. I want to pass this on to my students and it is really hard for me to find books that are helpful. Don't miss this gem! It is a short bugger and while sometimes I wished for more details, other times I appreciated that it wasn't a thick textbook that would take me hours to read.

First off, ArthurYorinks and Richard Egielski. I'm not familiar with their book, Louis the Fish, but I'm gonna fish for it on the shelves tomorrow. I don't even know if we have own a copy. Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski borrowed from Franz Kafka's, The Metamorphosis, (one of my favorites) when writing Louis the Fish. I can't imagine turning Kafka's odd piece of work into a picture book so I'm anxious to see it. The artwork is in watercolor and the aerial view of Louis in his bed was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's, Psycho. Sounds like a dark book, doesn't it? Mwa-ha-ha-ha.

The next collaboration between the husband and wife team of Alice and Martin Provenson has some great sketches of the dummy which is more cartoonish and funny than the final polished product. I found it fascinating how Alice describes their collaboration as one similar to the Medieval illuminated manuscripts made by many monk-artists. Everyone contributed to the end product and no one took sole credit for any part. She then explains how the two worked on the same picture with one doing the costumes and the other the airplane. I think my husband and I get along but I'm not sure we'd work that well together. It's not exactly the same as sharing a dinner.

The third slice of insight is with Jon Scieszka, Lane Smith, and Molly Leach. Marcus shows how much work these three put into their books. Wow! Wow! Wow! Molly's expertise was in magazine design and I found this particularly interesting how she influenced the look with placement of text and font. It harkens back to my journalism days. Actually it reminds me of how I didn't really understand design, but hey, I knew what Marcus was talking about in this chapter. Dily Evans has a book called, Show & Tell: Exploring the fine Art of Children's Book Illustration!, where she goes into more detail on how surrealist art influenced Lane Smith as an artist.

Julius Lester and Jerry Pinkney had quite a tangle of mixed emotions as they went about retelling of Helen Bannerman's 1988 book called, The Story of Little Black Sambo. Considered by many as prejudice toward blacks in its caricature illustration and the derogatory use of the name, Sambo, Pinkney and Lester not only turned the tale into their own, they avoided the controversies and kept the charm of the story as the main focus. Great storytelling and illustrations!

Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen of The Magic School Bus series were the last collaborators explored by Marcus. Their combination of nonfiction facts with fantasy elements was extremely complicated and difficult to pull off. Degan was faced with presenting a myriad of facts and drawing the body anatomically correct - not an easy feat. But as you know, they not only pulled it off, they made it a highly successful series.

A great book to add to your knowledge-base of picture books, if that interests you as a reviewer, artist, writer, or teacher.

5 out of 5 Smileys

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