Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury, Morag Styles

No wonder I can't figure out artist's techniques in picture books. It can be intaglio, screen-printing, lithography, and a long list of doodads that are oftentimes combined and infused with digital editing using Photoshop and scanners. I'm not sure how much of these techniques my brain will transfer to picture books in my library, but I'll give it a go. I need to stretch myself as a librarian and I'd like to teach students visual literacy as I do read alouds; hence, my recent gorge of professional books on illustrators. This latest morsel is a terrific introduction to the art of book illustrating with a focus on European illustrators but not exclusive to them. The book included illustrators worldwide. Some are famous. Some are newbies. Some are oldies. Some make their own books and others get subsidized by their governments. All make for an interesting read. The scholarly text has a chronological layout that gives a clear progression of the beginnings of illustrations to the present and a comprehensive index, glossary, and resource page allowing for future reference. The authors say in the introduction that their focus is visual literary and not verbal, but they cover both emphasizing the artistic side of picture books.

This is not a long book, but it took me a while to get through, because I was ordering a bunch of books by illustrators who caught my interest from examples of their works. Many of the books did not have English translations which is probably okay because I found many in spite of this bump. The authors are professors from Europe and I found I didn't know many of the illustrators being mostly familiar with American illustrators. Working in an international school makes it even more important I widen my knowledge base. I was thrilled to find a Taiwanese illustrator I didn't know about, Jimmy Liao. The chapter, Suitable For Children, covers illustrators who are pushing the boundaries of what is suitable for children. I didn't realize that some countries subsidize publishing costs to allow for more experimental books. One example of the Norwegian authors, Gro Dahle and Svein Nyhus, who create picture books for counselors to use with kids in order to discuss depression and domestic violence was unusual.

The authors cover a huge range in history from the printing press to present day eBooks. Like I said earlier, it's an introduction, and not an in-depth look into one period. Areas that are going to interest the reader can be pursued by referring to the additional resources in the back of the book or the resources referenced in the text. For instance, I want to pursue some printing processes. I kept thinking of the book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Erin Stead and was wondering if she used one of the older techniques mentioned here - I want to be able to share techniques with students. I also realize I don't look closely enough at the pictures and the emotional arc of the story as displayed in illustrated characters. I focus too much on the text and if anything this exploration of children's books has been good at revealing that tendency I didn't even know I had.

Ironically, I didn't like the design of the book all that well. I thought the flat matte and small typeset washed out the illustration details and was hard to read. I have a preference for glossy matte with illustrations so I'm prejudiced here. Perhaps it is too expensive to make a book this way.  Also my tired old eyes strained a bit on the small typeface, but I have 50 year old eyeballs; you young eyeball readers won't have problems with it... until you turn 50. Just wait. I was also trying to read it on the elliptical machine in a poorly lit room. Perhaps I am not being fair? You decide.

Several illustrators talk about their target audience of adults and children or not targeting any audience and just being self-indulgent. Illustrator, Bjorn Rune Lie, didn't have any children in his illustrations and has littered the space with so many graphic motifs that I'm not sure how a child would react to it. Only a few reprinted pages are exhibited, but the truck stop and all the odd characters in it make for a busy picture. It reminds me of a graphic novel in some ways and a collage of letterforms in another. The unique style gives pause that makes me wonder why don't we have picture books for adults? Why does it stop after a certain age? Why can't it be like graphic novels that are enjoyed by all ages like I see here in Taiwan? The authors raise many thought-provoking questions. A good book for professional development.

4 Smileys

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