Friday, April 29, 2011

NMLA Handout on Picture Books Across the Age Range

For NMLA attendees and anyone else who might be interested:

From the session with Carolee Dean and me, on The 21st Century Picture Book: Much More Than Color and Gloss,  here is some more on our conceptual framework.

A 7-point system for evaluating picture books for a wide range of audiences
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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. Literary connections: How does the book relate to literary works in other forms? E.g. various picture book Cinderella versions compared to Perreault, or Albert by Donna Jo Napoli compared to "St. Kevin and the Blackbird" by Seamus Heaney. Here's a link to Heaney reading the poem: Thank you to my VCFA student, Rachel Hylton!
  5. Story structures: Does it demonstrate fictional structure that is easier to recognize because of the smaller story container? 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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