Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Behind the Books: Art with Heart

Some children’s book creators are writers as well as illustrators. So naturally, they have a lot to say about the type and style of art that appears in their books. But increasingly, writers too are thinking carefully about art choices early in the process. And editors and art directors are eager to hear their ideas.

It’s hard to imagine Sy Montgomery’s Quest for the Tree Kangaroo working as well without Nic Bishop’s incredible photos. And Sarah C. Campbell’s text for Wolfsnail: A Backyard Predator cried out to be accompanied by the photos she and her husband Richard P. Campbell used to illustrate the book.

The text of Redwoods by Jason Chin is clear and straightforward and full of wonderfully detailed information about the trees and the microhabitats they support. But the art holds the magic. The illustrations gives readers a peek into the imagination of a boy reading a book about towering redwood trees. The journey begins in a New York City subway car, but transports the boy—and the readers—into a redwood forest where climbing gear magically appears, allowing readers to scale the giant trees and take a look around. It’s not often that a picture book shares fascinating science content and simultaneously promotes curiosity and fosters imagination, but this book does it all.

The energetic, stylized illustrations in The Day-Glo Brothers by Chris Barton (illus. by Tony Persani) and Pop! The Invention of Bubble Gum by Megan McCarthy are delights to behold. The art perfectly compliments the stories and accomplishments of the people highlighted in these picture book biographies.

Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai by Claire A. Nivola and The Secret World of Walter Anderson by Hester Bass (illus by E.B. Lewis) are more serious stories with a special kind of quiet drama. These texts demand soft, watercolor paintings, like the ones created by Nivola and Lewis.

For each of these four picture book biographies, something about the personalities and accomplishments of the heroes attracted the author and compelled him or her to share their stories with a particular voice and cadence. And those choices are reflected in the artwork.

Can you think of other nonfiction books with exceptional or innovative art? I’d like to add them to my reading list.

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