In Words and Pictures


While it was Young Adult Literature that drew me to the world of children’s book initially, once I started exploring picture books, I fell in love with picture book illustration as an art. I loved the variety, the experimentation, and the visual storytelling evident in the picture books I saw. I can’t claim to be an expert on artistic styles or media, but I know what I like, and after over ten years in the kidlit world, I have a pretty good idea of what works with kids, critics, or both.

The In Words and Pictures exhibit at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design is an opportunity to see a small window into the picture book world to get a sense of what is possible when it comes to picture book illustration. The exhibit includes Debra Frasier’s cut paper collages from A Fabulous State Fair Alphabet, Betsy Bowen’s wood block prints from Antler, Bear, Canoe, and a variety of other artistic styles. But the really interesting part, for kidlit fanatics like myself or kids who are curious about the story behind the books, are the notes and sketches paired with the art that give a sense of the process.

What better way to show kids that the process is messy than to show them the way a rough sketch goes through so many iterations before it becomes the book they know and love?

winterithewarmestI must admit, I was particularly captivated by Lauren Stringer’s paintings from Winter is the Warmest Season, which has long been one of my favorite wintery picture books.  But all the artists and books in the exhibit—from veterans of the field like Nancy Carlson to some that were new to me—taken together offer a fascinating look at the different paths that these stories take from idea to publication and all the twists and turns in between.

If you can get there in the next few days, I highly recommend In Words and Pictures to families. Even those who aren’t usually drawn to art exhibits may find that the opportunity to see where your favorite books come from or discover a new favorite is the real pull here. While you’re there, have a seat in the cozy reading nook and grab a book to read. Whether you are a book lover or an art appreciator, it’s well worth the visit.

You Are Stardust

I read the first line of You Are Stardust: “Every tiny atom in your body came from a star that exploded long before you were born.”  My 4 year-old interrupted, “Is that true?”  She is the child of skeptics, and I could hear the disbelief in her voice.  I had to smile as I assured her it is, indeed, true.

I mentioned You Are Stardust in a recent post I contributed to Parents Beyond Belief about gift books for secular families, and I’ll probably bring it up again because it is easily my favorite picture book of 2012.  I could go on and on about science and wonder, but you read this blog so you know how I feel about that already. ;)

I really want you to see inside this book.  The illustrations are rather extraordinary. Take a look:



Here’s a video that shows the making of the book and there’s more cool stuff, including a teacher’s guide, here.

More about the book:

  • Julie Danielson said on the Kirkus blog, “Don’t miss this one, which begs to be shared intimately with children. Gather together, be still, and learn how we are stardust.”
  • Illustrator Soyeon Kim talks about her work in this “extraordinary debut” at Shelf Awareness.
  • More from inside the book in this Scientific American blog post.


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Wonderland Week Begins

At the outset of this post, I should admit something: I have never read Alice in Wonderland.  Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly confession-worthy except that I own three different versions of the book.  Somehow every time I weed my personal book collection, I find myself paging through the books, marveling at the illustrations–one by Ralph Steadman, another by Alison Jay, and the last by Helen Oxenbury.  I always end up finding room in my collection for all three.


According to Alice scholar Michael Hancher, who spoke at Minneapolis Central Library on Saturday to kick off Wonderland Week, Alice has outgrown her own story.  “She has escaped her narration,” he says.  She is a part of pop culture.

People who have never read the book, like myself, know the story from various versions of the story that exist in movies, plays, picture books, etc.  Hancher pointed out that Lewis Carroll was not opposed to transforming the story.  He supervised several versions, including translations and dramatizations that didn’t hold strictly to his original.  Odd, since Carroll was so picky about the design of the first edition.  He wanted the illustrations and the text to align just so for dramatic impact in the scene where Alice passes through the mirror, for example.

Earlier that day, the library hosted a dramatized scene from Through the Looking-Glass as part of the Alice-themed storytime for families.  Local performance group Mixed Precipitation made the story come alive for kids. My little one loved the scene with Humpty Dumpty almost falling again and again.  The intensity of “Jabberwocky” went over her head, and she spent most of the show laughing.  Afterward, the kids were invited to a tea party where they decorated cookies and drank juice (not tea).

I guess this makes me wonder: Is Alice a children’s story? I don’t know.  There is something about it, though, that seems to speak to a wide variety of people as evidenced by its popularity over all these years.

Families who want more of Alice can get more Wonderland fun next Saturday, November 12th.  Grown-up fans may want to get tickets for the new ballet version of Alice at the Northrop that looks very interesting.

You can compare the many, many versions of Alice that are available online or delve into The Annotated Alice for all the clues to what you might be missing as you read.

As for me, I think I might choose one of the versions I have sitting on my shelf and actually read it.  After all, it’s a part of our culture.