Some days it’s easier than others to identify the perks of parenting a young child. (Note: For me the likelihood of this happening increases exponentially when a nap for the wee one is involved.)
Today, I’m thankful for the pile of picture books on the back of our potty.
The literature in one’s restroom is primarily there to help pass private time. But on a secondary level, it tells visitors something about you as a reader. Think about it. Have you ever wandered into someone’s bathroom at a house party to discover Thich Naht Hahn’s Being Peace somewhere about? What do you assume about that person? What about the one with Jon Stewart’s America: A Citizen’s Guide to Inaction or Martha Stewart Living magazine? For now, I’m quite happy to be represented by Dr. Seuss, H.A. Rey, and Eric Carle (though I’m really more partial to lesser known authors). While many people mistake picturebooks as children’s books, the best are exemplary works of art worthy of adult attention.
I first started thinking about the picturebook as an art object while teaching a course on arts integration for elementary classroom teachers as a graduate student. In preparing to inspire my students to approach the picturebooks in their classrooms as works of art, I was able to spend time with Dr. Ken Marantz (Professor Emeritus of Art Education, The Ohio State University) and his wife Sylvia to talk about their work with picturebooks. (Read all about them and their collection of books housed at Kent State University). They always offered me cookies and passed me a stack of the latest (and sometimes yet to be released) picture books they’d received from publishers. It was truly an honor and a pleasure to visit with them.
I brought what I learned from the Marantz’s to bear not just in my classroom, but at home with my step-children. I used the library’s catalogue to search for pictures books on themes that were relevant to our lives. For example, we had a tradition of making pizza on friday nights so we took out a half dozen books on that. The summer before Rosa went to kindergarten, we brought home a stack of books about starting school. We made reference to the books as we engaged in our lives, and talked about our lives as we read the books.
I feel it is my obligation to surround Cora with picturebooks. While I do loose control of my wallet from time to time at our local children’s bookstore (Cover to Cover in Columbus, OH) we generally rely on the library to keep our collection shifting. These books are providing her with a rich and varied introduction to complex storytelling presented through a synergistic combination of images and words. One could say they are a primary component of burgeoning visual culture. As Marantz (1977) suggested, “For me, picturebooks should be perceived and valued as a form of visual art, not literary art. To insist on valuing them as literature makes us appreciate the pictures primarily in relationship to the text, more as handmaidens than symbols having unique personalities.”
The following are three picturebooks I would put atop our potty to exemplify this concept.
Extra Yarn (Barnett/Klassen)
This is the story of, Anabelle, a girl who finds a box filled with an endless supply of multi-colored yarn who winds up knit bombing her dreary town into a colorful menagerie of sweater-covered people, places, and things. The illustrations are a combination of sharp edged pen and ink drawings and printings made using a knitted fabric.
The story of a hoarding magpie. The text in this book is minimal, a series of words that describe increasing quantities, while illustrations are brimming with details to explore. This is a book that would really not exist if it weren’t for the pictures.
The Little House (Burton)
At the beginning of this story, we meet a house in the country. By the end, a city has built up around her. The way the images unfolds offers a great introduction to the differences between rural and urban landscapes, as one observes the changing context enveloping the house. This was one of my favorite books as a child and I often credit it with my distaste for the housing developments that took over so much farmland in the 1990s and early aughts.
What books would you add to a collection of picturebooks that are works of art? For the bathroom or any other exhibition space??