THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY PICTURE BOOK: MUCH MORE THAN COLOR AND GLOSS
Last April at the 2011 NMLA conference, Spellbinders regular, Carolee Dean, conducted a librarian workshop along with author, Uma Krishnaswami. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss the diversity of the twenty-first century picture book and to give suggestions to educators for how these valuable resources might be used in the classroom, even with teenagers. During the session, Uma discussed a system she devised for evaluating picture books for teens. She has generously agreed to share it with us here at Spellbinders.
A 7-Point System for Evaluating Picture Books for a Wide Range of Audiences by Uma Krishnaswami
Why seven points? Oh, I happen to like odd numbers.
Why a wide range? Because the best picture books can convey one set of meanings for a very young reader, a different set for that same reader 5 years later, and then yet another set in another 5 years or more. Think about picture books in terms of these criteria. Keep the related considerations in mind to find the right ones for audiences from elementary to high school and beyond.
This is not an all-inclusive list. It's meant to get you thinking about how to construct your own list.
Central question: What is the central question of the book? Can it be discussed in varying degrees of complexity? E.g., The Red Tree by Shaun Tan and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr.
Character development: How are the characters delineated? What is stated in words? What is unstated and picked up in the pictures? What is left to the reader to conclude? E.g., McFig & McFly: A Tale of Jealousy, Revenge, and Death (With a Happy Ending) by Henrik Drescher.
Poetry and Pictures: Is a poetry collection enhanced by the visual poetics of the picture book form? E.g., I, Too, Sing America: Three Centuries of African-American Poetry, edited by Catherine Clinton, or Navajo: Visions and Voices Across the Mesa by Shonto Begay.
Literary connections: How does the book relate to literary works in other forms? E.g. various picture book Cinderella version compared to Perreault, or Albert by Donna Jo Napoli compared to "St. Kevin and the Blackbird" by Seamus Heaney.
Story structures: Does it demonstrate fictional structure that is easier to recognize because of the smaller story structure? E.g., Waiting for Mama by Lee Tae-Jun as an illustration of rising action and the creation of scenes, and Black and White by David Macaulay for a host of characteristics of postmodern fiction.
Introduction or overview of a complex subject: Has the picture book creator distilled primary source research into a compact introduction or overview? E.g., World War II: The Definitive Visual History by Richard Holmes. Or has she shed light on an aspect of reality that has never before been examined in quite this way? E.g., Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary by Elizabeth Partridge.
Rhetorical choices: Has the picture book writer made interesting word choices and demonstrated a suitable variety of rhetorical options? What has s/he elected not to say in words? E.g., The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman.
Uma Krishnaswami is the author of many books for children including picture books (Monsoon, The Happiest Tree), early readers (Yoga Class, Holi) and middle grade novels (Naming Maya and The Grand Plan to Fix Everything). She has been an invited speaker at schools from Texas to Maryland, national and international conferences, and most recently the National Book Festival in Washington, DC.
Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a
speech-language pathologist. Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random
Acts of Haiku."
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well as two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013. She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences. Please visit her website to download free Teacher's Guides and Book Club Guides.
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New
Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.