Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Break for Picture Books


Since my reading is at such a standstill, I decided to head downstairs to the children's collection, and nose around a bit. I'm a sucker for a good picture book given my love of art AND stories. It's a match made in heaven really.

When I was poking around the stacks I happened upon a book I haven't read in ages, Tuesday, by David Wiesner. This is one of those picture books that I was never introduced to as a youngster (since I was 17 when it was published), but I spent quite a bit of time with it in graduate school.

There's a reason I'm so endlessly attracted to picture books and comics. Quite simply, there's a whole lotta magic in the way a writer and/or artist can string together images to communicate a narrative. The great part about Tuesday is that it's told almost exclusively with images. There are only two pages of words: "Tuesday evening, around eight," and "Next Tuesday, 7:58 P.M."

This mostly wordless picture book relies on graphic narrative style frames and the transitions from page to page to tell the story of a very special Tuesday night on which frogs take to the air on their lillypads and zoom, unbeknownst to the human residents, around town all night.

Besides being a really fun book with gorgeous illustrations, the narrative technique is almost seamless. Before I got really into image studies I never would've noticed the way a reader must fill in the action between the frames (gutter) of a comic or the pages in a picture book. We as readers do SO MUCH of the storytelling all on our own without ever thinking about it.

In fact, all this narrative technique stuff is the subject of the paper I'm giving at the Children's Lit conference in July. I'll be focusing on Gary Crew and Steven Woolman's Australian picture book, The Watertower. It's probably one of the most unique marriages of text and image I've ever seen, employing film-like reel sequences and unique "shots" of narrative action.

If you haven't yet, get hold of a David Wiesner picture book for yourself. The Three Pigs is fantastic, and his newest offering, Flotsam (2006), won a Caldecott medal. While it might be hard to lay hands on it, The Watertower is a great read for all ages.

5 comments:

  1. I think Wiesner is brilliant. Haven't heard of "The Watertower"; I'm going to have to search it out, you make it sound like a must-see.

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  2. I must see if 'The Watertower' is available in the UK. My research area is narrative organisation and I gave a paper not so long ago on how the elements of a narrative get split between picture and words and what the implications are for the child learning to read. This sounds as though it might be an interesting text to use to take that further - thanks.

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  3. I love all the Wiesner books. I haven't read or heard of the Watertower. I may have to check this one out.

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  4. I LOVE kids books. Especially, and with good reason, the one's I grew up with. Up until I changed jobs last year I was in a program where I would go once a week and read with an elementary school kid. The program is called "everybody wins" and it was so fulfilling to me and the kid! It was so fun to push my old fave's on him and then learn about his favorites and some of the newer books. They all just make you feel good inside.

    I did at one time think I would write/illustrate childrens books. But alas...here I am in the corporate jungle. BLAH!

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  5. Isn't he, Melanie! And I never would've known about him had it not been for grad school. Scary. You would loooove The Watertower.

    Ann, The Watertower sounds like it would be perfect for what you're doing. I've been doing some similar work, although not as it relates to the child reader.

    Lisa, you'd totally dig it. It's little known in the US, but it's soooo good. One of the best picture books I've seen, as a matter of fact.

    Funky, that program sounds so great! I would love something like that. In the meantime, I torture my college students with picture books whenever I get the chance. hehe

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