Welcome to a casual look at some of the subtle devices picture book authors and illustrators use to give readers a magical reading experience.
This comprises various observations I’ve made over the years, so there is no central thesis here. There is also no central theme to the books I’m using as examples. I’ve got peerless classics, forgotten charmers, contemporary blockbusters. I’ve got nonfiction and fiction. I’ve got horizontal and vertical.
And I’ve got no claim to copyright on any of them. Images are shown for illustrative purposes only. I am using scans I found online or made myself. (I apologize to artists whose beautiful work is partially cropped by my not-huge scanner; same goes for the occasional blurred edges and gutters that are shown as white stripes.)
Let’s begin with a dance.
And Tango Makes Three tells a lovely story in and of itself, but also has one of the most important messages of any picture book I know; further, it subtly delivers that message in a tone that is affectionate but never cloying.
However, nearly every scene takes place in the same setting…which consists mostly of rocks and water…and features mostly penguins…which all look alike. Imagine the challenge this presented illustrator Henry Cole: how to diversify the visuals.
Picture book authors must tell the story efficiently and engagingly, of course, but they must also write in such a way that allows for the illustrator to show his stuff. This involves complexity some of the time, but it almost always requires ingenuity. I feel this book never becomes visually tedious. Cole accomplished this using tactics such as winning expressions and unconventional angles:
A bird's-eye view of birds...now that's inventive and fun.