Some form of picture books have been a part of my life for more than sixty years. We had little extra money for books when I was younger but I still have my copies of The Tall Book of Nursery Tales pictures by F. Rojankovsy, The Tall Book of Make Believe selected by Jane Werner, pictures by Garth Williams, The Tall Book of Christmas selected by Dorothy Hall Smith, pictures by Gertrude Elliott Espenscheid and The Tall Book of Bible Stories retold by Katherine Gibson, illustrated by Ted Chaiko. I took numerous trips to the tiny one room township library in our small community quickly reading through all the books in their children’s section. Our elementary schools had no libraries. In fact when I was in junior high school my mom was the first librarian, library clerk, in the very first library in my elementary school, Sycamore Elementary School, before she moved to Wilcox Elementary School.
She brought in authors and illustrators like Tomie dePaola, Eric Carle and Jose Aruego for her students and staff, staying in touch with them for decades, as well as Pat Hutchins and Dick Gackenbach, who dedicated a book to her. It came as no surprise to me when in college I switched from studying to be an elementary school educator to a K-12 certified librarian. My courses examining picture books increased, as did my affection for this format. Regardless of the level library in which I have served—high, middle or elementary—picture books have always been a part of my collections. I have watched my listeners, no matter their age, sit in total stunned silence. I have seen their eyes fill with tears. I have heard their gasps, giggles and bursts of laughter.
In August a tweet appeared in my feed where another supporter of children’s literature, educator Terry Shay, commented that my blog posts were like love notes. In my way of thinking if an author or illustrator spends years bringing their work to readers, if they are willing to put bits and pieces of themselves on a printed page, the very least I can do is thank them for their marvelous efforts. Your books change lives, book by book, reader by reader. Here are three of many reasons why.
Whether a picture book is a work of fiction or nonfiction for the minutes it is read, readers step into another place, another time, with characters they may or may not know. Your stories bridge the generation gap, break our hearts and heal them again, make us laugh ourselves silly, empathize with sibling problems, make the smallest everyday things beautiful, enlarge our understanding of other cultures, and acquaint us with specific people and the most intricate phenomenon in our natural world. Your works make us truly feel the wonder of a sunrise, believe we can dance with a flamingo, think we can sneeze so hard the shock will be felt miles away, want to shop in a store filled with monsters, and understand a boy and a robot, a bear and a bee, a duck and a goose, or a zebra and a moose can be friends. We want to be like an intrepid tractor, a chicken with arms, a whale finding serenity, a penguin who knows his heart, a protective mama squirrel, a brave mermaid, a boy who tames Toads, lots of dogs and a very special imaginary friend. Your pages make us want to learn more about artists like Horace Pippin, Henry Matisse or Edward Hopper, religious holidays like Passover, significant events in the Revolutionary War, the changed status of bald eagles, the Japanese internment camps, baseball and prominent figures in the game, songs like Sing, Yankee Doodle, America The Beautiful and The Star-Spangled Banner, miraculous days like the Christmas Truce in World War I, rain forests and chocolate, dinosaurs, frogs, trains, butterflies and bees.
Those words you choose, selected with care, connect with readers on an emotional level you may or may not fully understand. We know each reader brings to a book their own personal experiences, but I don’t think we can ever fully predict how they will react to a story. Therein lies the power.
When illustrations become part of the story, or perhaps they tell the entire story, each one, no matter its size, is a piece of art to be enjoyed. I simply marvel at the combined use of color, various techniques and styles, layout and design. How can we not feel sadness when a small dog gets lost, the outrage of cranky crayons, the plight of parrots, the delight of a small girl wearing a red knit cap, the frustration of a days gone wrong, the panic of swallowing a seed, the comedy of a fractured fairy tale, the pure pleasure of discoveries during a nighttime walk, the security of having an alligator, the joy of finding a friend and cupcakes, the fearlessness of a ninja, the promise that comes with wearing a hat, the despair of moving, the love of a grandfather or grandmother, the warmth of family, the purpose of gravity, roots and so many wonders in our world, or the passion of pursuing art.
The truth of this was never more apparent than the last two months of my ninety-four-year-old mom’s life. Every day I would read her at least one picture book I had recently read or was planning to use for a blog post. On the last evening I spent with her, when I arrived in her room, she was lightly sleeping with her head to the side of her raised bed. When she saw I had three picture books with me, her entire demeanor changed. For the time I spent reading those stories with her, she was lively, filled with smiles and laughter. We chatted about how children would feel about these books. As I was leaving her room with my hand on the door knob, I suddenly stopped. Mom had not told me she loved me like she always did. Her bed was around the corner so I called out to her, “I love you, Mom.” She replied with her favorite phrase, “I love you a bushel and a peck.”
So to all you authors and illustrators who create the magic we will always need, who take “what-if” and boldly go forth: “I love you a bushel and a peck.”
I will champion you and your work for as long as I can to anyone who will listen.
Margaret M. Myers-Culver, Margie Culver, has been a teacher librarian for thirty-four years. She did her major course work at Central Michigan University and Western Michigan University. She is head-over-heels in love with talking about books at Librarian’s Quest. For picture books reviewed in 2013 and 2014 you can follow her Pinterest boards. She maintains two Scoop.it! magazines, All Things Caldecott and Gone To The Dogs. Links to her current Goodreads challenge and Learnist board for this year’s Mock Caldecott can be accessed from her blog. She has read so many books her students frequently ask her if she’s read everything in the library. They really enjoy coming to her house on Halloween when she hands out books instead of candy. When not reading or writing she shares the great landscape surrounding Charlevoix, Michigan with her sweet dog, Xena.
Margie is generously giving away four picture books to four winners: Louise Loves Art by Kelly Light, The Troublemaker by Lauren Castillo, Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 by John Hendrix, and The Adventures of Beekle, the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat.
Comment below ONCE to enter. Four random winners will be selected at the conclusion of Pre-PiBo!