Trying to Get Caught Up, Some Elisa Kleven Art,
and This NYT The-Picture-Book-Is-Dead Nonsense

h1 October 12th, 2010 by jules

(Click to enlarge illustration.)

Well, as I indicated in Sunday’s post, I was away and offline all last week, so having blog posts ready this week—though I have a ton of stuff planned, as you’ll see in a moment—is tough, since I had no time last week to compose posts, format images, etc. But I’m going to tide you over today with some illustrations from Elisa Kleven’s latest picture book title.

As you can see at this page of 7-Imp, where I archive all illustrator or author/illustrator visits of any kind, Elisa’s visited many times, because this blog is, for all intents and purposes, a fan site, and I’m the nerdiest of all fans of her work. (Her 2008 interview is still one of my favorites.) The book is Welcome Home, Mouse—a fitting post as I return from some time away from my own home—and it was released at the end of last month by Tricycle Press. In their starred review, Kirkus wrote, “Every word and brush stroke is spot-on in this luminous celebration of creativity, conservation and compassion,” which tells the story of Stanley, who loves to help but isn’t always so physically graceful about it. While running errands for his mom one day, he bounces his ball right on top of Mouse’s house, smashing it “to bits and pieces.” But Stanley makes up for his mistake by creating the Mouse her own brand-new home out of bits and pieces of items he sees while he’s out. And that’s all I’ll say, ’cause if you pick up a copy of this yourself, its wonders can then unfold for you.

As is always the case with Elisa’s titles, this exudes joy. I asked Elisa if she could please share some spreads from it…

“‘Stanley,’ said Mom, ‘why don’t you go out and play with your ball?’
‘But I want to help,’ Stanley said.”

(Click to enlarge.)

“‘What a house!’ cried Mouse. ‘What a lovely surprise of a house…'”
(Click to enlarge.)

Now, I share this art this morning in the wake of Julie Bosman’s New York Times article on picture books that I briefly mentioned on Sunday and folks are still talking about. I do think the cause-for-concern in the air is valid in that, for instance, as a school librarian (though not currently in a library), I hear a lot of parents pushing their children toward chapter books at ages when picture books can still be enjoyed. It goes without saying, though, that I’m a picture book nerd with a blog that has changed over the years but now primarily focuses on picture books and illustrations, and I find picture books to be a fascinating art form for any age. Nevertheless, this pushing young children away from what they consider “babyish” picture books is maddening. It happens. As I said, I may not currently be in a school library, but I see parents at my daughter’s school do it, too.

But do I also think the NYT over-reacted a bit? Yes. As Betsy Bird pointed out in her post yesterday, Pat Cummings recently stated that for years folks have been saying the picture book is dying. Betsy also points to scholar Philip Nel’s wonderful post on the matter, in which he states:

The lack of attention paid to picture books’ artists is just a symptom of our culture’s tendency to dismiss illustration as less serious than writing… Those of us who study, teach, or write picture books are used to hearing such ignorant remarks. The thought that such misinformed people were harming something we love — the picture book — made us upset.

A picture book is a portable art gallery. It’s also an intricate dance between pictures and words, in which — though neither leads, and neither follows — no step is out of place, no dancers trip. A picture book can of course also be wordless, such as Istvan Banyai’s Zoom or Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse. But for most picture books, pictures and words have an interdependent relationship. The pictures do not simply “illustrate” the words, and nor do the words “name” the pictures. They work together, often in a creative tension with one another, to make meaning.

I could be mistaken, but I’m skeptical of the claim that the picture book is in peril. Indeed, I think we are living in a golden age of picture books.

Hoo boy! And amen to that, I say.

And this all leads to my point, which I oh-so briefly made on Sunday: Let’s just keep on keepin’ on. I’m going to keep talking about picture books and illustrators and sharing lots of art, and I hope you’ll keep reading. ‘Cause picture books, as author Denise Doyen pointed out in a comment on Sunday, is “necessary brain food” for children, but—best of all—“{c}hildhood is meant for snuggling in bed with your Mommy or Daddy and a stack of good picture books!” Why, yes, it is. So, the fact that it’s good for the wee brains of the world is great, but even better is that it is an art form like no other that is a joy to share with budding minds. As The One and Only Sendak once wrote,

{t}he picture book is a peculiar art form that thrives on genius, intuition, daring, and a meticulous attention to its history and its various, complex components. The picture book is a picture puzzle, badly misunderstood by critics and condescended to by far too many as merely a trifle for ‘the kiddies.’ Children are routinely patronized, and thus so are we who spend our creative lives entertaining them and nourishing their spirit.

Let’s keep our heads up and keep runnin’ our mouths about picture books. Whaddya say?

On that note, here are just a few of the things I’m working on — as a bit of a preview and in my attempt to convince some mad scientist out there to create more hours for my day:

Author/Illustrator Matt Phelan

Hang in there, folks. I’ll get to it all soon. In the meantime, I’ll see you at the picture book shelves…

* * * * * * *

WELCOME HOME, MOUSE. Copyright © 2010 by Elisa Kleven. Published by Tricycle Press, New York.

12 comments to “Trying to Get Caught Up, Some Elisa Kleven Art,
and This NYT The-Picture-Book-Is-Dead Nonsense”

  1. Yes! Let us keep on keeping on. Thank you so much, Jules, for all that you do for children’s picture books. :o)

  2. Me, again. I just wanted to say that the Elisa Kleven art in this post is so charming!

  3. Thanks, Tarie. I am grateful for your voice, too — your blog and your contributions to the discussions in children’s lit.

  4. Thank you for all your wonderful posts, Jules. Picture books are alive and well in my house!

  5. Parents pushing their kids to jump right over toddlerhood into reading — well, I’m not in a position to judge, having no kids of my own. And among them, I do not doubt, are some wonderful loving parents.

    But man, I gotta say, and not to dilute your central point: the way our culture pushes “usefulness” over every other value just drives me nuts. Every now and then I hear about a college chopping away at liberal arts in favor of engineering, etc., and I want to shriek. A couple years ago under the aegis of our then-“education governor,” Jeb Bush, proposals were floated to get high-school juniors — SIXTEEN-YEAR-OLDS — to declare their college majors.

    I remember reading someplace, in college I think, that in the Dark Ages there was no childhood per se — that infants went straight to “small personhood,” or some such thing. That’s one reason they were the DARK Ages, duh!

  6. So good to read about Elisa Kleven. I was just putting together a small display of her books in my library to celebrate her birthday. Also good to read the picture book debate. As the teacher/librarian for a Prep School (3 – 8 year olds only) I am constantly fighting the parent rush for novels and the comments such as ‘oh no, you’re past that!’. If I can convince them to read fairytales they will borrow ‘reader’ versions rather than picturebook versions that have rich language and magnificent art such as Ruth Sanderson’s or Errol Le Cain’s. That is why I put together so many displays of picture books and write about them constantly in newsletters. Thanks Jules, your blog always gives me ammunition for this.

  7. Jill, my pleasure. And amen to that.

    John, I just LOVE that comment. On a skerjillion levels.

    Victoria, you go on with your talented library self. And you’re welcome. I love to talk picture books.

    All these comments make me happy.

  8. I pretty much saw that headline with horror/ disgust /irritation. Part of what it is saying isn’t necessarily a surprise, coming from inside the industry, however the headline was definitely overstating in a greedy attempt to grab readers- most of whom were incensed. I think it was a sloppy story, and it is exactly the sort of fear tactic journalism that I hate. PLus telling people the picture book is dead IS a sure fire way to convince them that is so. The point it makes about parent’s pushing their children is valid, but not central.
    The picture book will never go away, but it has a lot of competition. Hopefully if the # of books goes down the quality will go up?? I hope so. THe best thing we can all do is buy lots of CHildren’s books 🙂
    I love that Sendak quote. I’m going to cross stitch it on a pillow -or something.

  9. Amy, I’ve always loved that quote, too. For the record, it comes from the James Marshall George and Martha collection of stories. Sendak writes a lovely tribute to Marshall, which opens the book.

  10. I have been a lurker for ages and have used your materials with glee when presenting a study of children’s book illustrators for my daugher’s second grade class. We have decided to study David Wiesner this month as my daughter really wanted to use pastels during the art project follow up and I was thrilled to discover that Wiesner uses the medium. Can’t wait to read your interview with him…

  11. Thanks, Stacey! His interview might be in December. If he gets super swamped, it may not happen, but the last I heard was maybe December. If it happens, I’ll try to remember to email you.

    Thanks for enjoying the blog. Aw shucks!

  12. Very interesting points you have observed , thanks for posting . “Death is Nature’s expert advice to get plenty of Life.” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

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