Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Hidden Art of Picture Books

Picture books are my new obsession.

When I worked in the Kids' section at Borders, I used to read picture books before the store opened. One week I read The Giving Tree five times. Spoiler: I cried every morning that week. Books of Wonder is the greatest bookstore in the universe for many reasons, but my favorite reason is their offering of picture books. I spent hours and days there last summer reading or examining the gorgeous art. This year I desperately wanted Grandpa Green by Lane Smith to win the Caldecott Medal. It received a Caldecott Honor so hooray for that recognition. Ever since the ALA Youth Media Awards, I've been keeping a list of  current and upcoming picture books to request from the library in my attempt to READ ALL THE PICTURE BOOKS.

So if I drooled at the art, and they're winning prestigious awards, they can't be hidden very well, right? See, I've also been thinking about how picture books are consumed by readers. The bookstores I've been exposed to hide the majority of their picture books by shelving them rather than facing them out, which is totally reasonable because picture books are wide, and would take up an inordinate amount of space were they all faced out, BUT I never see picture books at the front of the store in bookstores not specifically for children. They are always regulated to the kids section. The only books for children at the front are the bargain books, if that.

I imagine the space-saving technique is used in homes that contain a picture book collection. This is part of what makes the art of picture books a hidden art. Picture book art isn't the type of art most people have hanging on their walls. Why? I wonder if it because the majority of people buying a picture books don't consider the illustrations to be art. Children's literature has a bad rep as being cheap entertainment because it is made for age groups with small statures and developing minds. Think of how many times you've witnessed someone look at a 4-year-old and say, "She's like a little person."

Hey, buddy, that kid is a person. I once told someone so and received the reply, "No she's not. She's just a kid." I know adults have trouble understanding this concept because they're brains are not the sponges of young people, but trust me: Children are people, and children's literature is literature.

Anyway, my point is that picture book art is the first and most crucial exposure a kid has to art. In a society where artistic expression is thought of as unnecessary to human health, and arts programs are at the top of To Be Defunded list when it comes to budget cuts, we need to start treating picture books as pieces of art right now. Stop hiding it on the shelf. Do you have a picture book with a beautiful slipcover? Take the kitsch picture of flowers off the wall, and put the slipcover in the frame. Bam, your brain now registers this framed piece as art. Your house is now a private children's book art museum. How awesome are you? SO AWESOME. Do you work in a bookstore that puts employee recommendations on end caps? Recommend some picture books. You will be DOUBLE AWESOME.

On a final note, many, many, many, many, MANY, people can't afford books for their kids. Half Price Books is holding a book drive until March 31st. Please donate what you can. If you do, some under privileged kids with untapped talent and potential might learn to love art and reading before someone tells them it's not cool.

Don't let them believe a lie.

Here is the list of picture books and middle grade novels I want to read in 2012. Leave your recs in the comments. I'm looking for 2012 work primarily, but feel free to recommend on older work that you love.

Picture Books

Penny and Her Song by Kevin Henkes
Extra Yarn by Marc Barnett and Jon Klassen
Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter and Marjorie Priceman
Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon
Cats’ Night Out by Caroline Stutson and Jon Klassen (2010)
The Lonely Book by Kate Bernheimer and Chris Sheban
And Then it’s Spring by Julie Fogliano and Erin Stead
Moonlight by Helen V. Griffith and Laura Dronzek
Crafty Chloe by Kelly S. DiPucchio and Heather Ross
King and King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland (2003)
Ballerina Swan by Allegra Kent and Emily Arnold McCully
Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D.B. Johnson - April 17, 2012
Tua and the Elephant by Randal Harris and Taeeun Yoo – April 18, 2012

Middle Grade

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
The Last Song by Eva Wiseman - April 10, 2012

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