One of my first posts on this blog was about the opportunity Cora has provided for me to engage with picturebooks again. My first encounter with picturebooks as an adult was through the wife of an M.F.A. classmate of my ex-husband. She was a children’s librarian and seemed to spend all her pocket money on picturebooks. She had, what seemed to me at the time, a massive collection. She spoke of them with the same passion as her husband reserved for the Dutch masters.
When I was teaching high school, and an alumna came to speak to the advanced classes about her college experiences studying Illustration at MassArt or some other place in Boston. Her goal, as I recall, was to illustrate picturebooks. I was intrigued by the quality of her work and the creativity of the challenges her professors assigned. It was very different than the liberal arts-oriented fine arts program where I was a student, more career-oreinted. Suddenly, I saw illustrations everywhere, – not only in picturebooks but in print ads, on book covers, and on products at the market – and I became much more attuned to things I could consider as I looked at them.
I encountered Illustration again when, as I also wrote about in November, I had the pleasure of meeting Ken & Sylvia Marantz, the godparents of so many who look at picturebooks as portable, multimodal, (intellectually) provocative works of art. They taught be how to look at and speak about picturebooks in new ways, to new audiences. It was around that same time that I met my step-children. George had just turned six and started kindergarten, Rosa, was about to turn four. I helped them get their first library cards and loved to take them to pick out stacks of books. Often we’d hunt and gather around a theme like pizza, planting a garden, or cats. That was always fun because we got a sense of how lots of authors and illustrators approached the same topic.
This is all a very long-winded introduction to establishing Picturebooks on the Potty as a regular column. (I won’t commit to its regularity at this time, but I promise it will be at least once a year. Really, I’m planning for about once a month.) I hope the column will appeal to thinking people as a whole, not just parents and art educators who might already appreciate the artistic and cultural value of picturebooks. I want to inspire folks to read a picturebook any chance they get, and to allow themselves to engage with the story and the pictures as a total experience.
I never use the term children’s book because I don’t believe these books’ value is confined to children. I’d love to see the reading materials in doctors’ office waiting rooms and coffee shops replaced with picturebooks. How cool would that be? (J. Rapp, are you reading this??)
To get started, I offer this trailer for 13 Words (2010), by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman.
Readers of The New Yorker and The New York Times should recognize Kalman’s work. Her style is approachable because it is based on contemporary observation, reflecting the world we see everyday. It is bright, painterly, and playful. Lemony Snicket is known for his books for kids who don’t expect all their stories to end with “…and they lived happily ever after.” I can’t find the backstory on how they put 13 Words together – how they chose the words, whether they conceived of the story together. If anyone knows, please share!
13 Words also brought cake (Word Number 3) into the house, and whenever that happens you should be grateful. As Snickety suggests in the trailer for the book, few people refuse a piece of cake, even when it’s not that good. In this case it was good. After looking at Kalman’s drawings a few days in a row, Cora and I had to take a field trip to the bakery where she could look into the display and see the layers of cake a icing topped with fruit and marzipan. We brought home a few different slices and had our own little party, just like the bird (Word Number 1), dog (Word Number 4), goat (Word Number 7), and the mezzo-soprano (Word Number 13) in the book.
Have you read any good picturebooks lately?
(Note: Also pictured in this week’s collection on our potty are Paul Thurby’s (2011) Alphabet Book and Oliver Jeffers (2008) Great Paper Caper which I recommend and wish I had time to write about. I will address I am Buzz Lightyear (Tilman, 2011), soon as it is a good example of what I would consider a bad picturebook. Really, it’s just a Disney marketing tool which isn’t even very good as that.)