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picturebooks, apps, eBooks, short stories

Tag: kidlit (page 1 of 4)

Trends in Picturebooks

from Christine VanDeVelde for The Chicago Tribune

I’ve noticed from my feed — due to the publishing professionals I follow —  that editors are on the look out for ‘concept picture books’, and meta picture books are big right now — those such as Herve Tullet’s Press Here. I’ve been looking at those manuscript wish lists (#mswl) and wondering why certain critics are so skeptical of book apps while at the same time embracing the meta.  I don’t have a solid answer for that, but it’s great to see Betsy Bird acknowledging that (even if book apps can’t yet take off and fly), at least developers are having an impact on the wider landscape.

Picturebook Study: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where The Wild Things Are Book Cover

from Better Book Titles

from Better Book Titles

When I started reading books about picture books the first thing I noticed was how much the books of Maurice Sendak are referenced as primary sources, especially Where The Wild Things Are. Handy hint: If you’re thinking of reading academic literature in a bid to understand children’s books, have the Sendak oeuvre at your side. (Also Rosie’s Walk, the picturebooks of Anthony Browne and Chris van Allsburg.)

SENDAK_1963_Where_the_Wild_Things_Are_copyright_page

 

I find it ironic that the Book Depository description of Where The Wild Things Are includes the phrase: ‘Supports the Common Core State Standards’. Sendak famously did not write for children, saying, “I write stories, then someone else decides that they are for children.” I wonder what he would have to say about the heavily pedagogical motivations behind adults encouraging children to read his stories. Continue reading

Rodents in Children’s Literature

Mice are widely represented in folktales, both as protagonists and as helpers. Apparently, there is a subconscious identification on the part of children’s writers of a small and helpless child with one of the smallest animals, also know–maybe without reason–for its lack of courage. While rats are in many children’s stories presented as ruthless enemies, mice–in reality similarly harmful–are portrayed as harmless and sympathetic. The emblematic meaning of animals in art and literature deserves special attention there is an enormous diversity between cultures. However, in most ancient mythologies, mice are chthonic animals, worshipped as powerful and benevolent towards humans.

Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in Children’s Literature

Hameln1

Continue reading

Most critics agree that there are at least three types of animal stories:

  1. those portraying animals in their natural environment and only partially allowing them human-like abilities (Black Beauty, Tarka The Otter, Watership Down)
  2. those portraying anthropomorphic animals–talking, wearing clothes, thinking and behaving like humans–in separate communities, with or without contact with humans (The Wind In The Willows, Beatrix Potter’s stories, Charlotte’s Web, The Hundred and One Dalmatians, and, to go beyond the English language sphere, Little Tiger and Little Bear stories)
  3. those portraying anthropomorphic animals living among humans, as friends or intelligent pets (Babar, A Bear Called Paddington, Purrkin the Talking Cat)

Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic To Linear: Time in children’s literature

See also: Why so many animals in picture books?

The Three Assumptions Behind Most Underdog Stories

1. In every situation there always has to be a winner and a loser, so that a happy ending requires not just someone’s triumph but also someone else’s defeat

2. The best way to win is to have the individual power to take control and win by one’s own actions

3. A truly happy ending occurs only when a person who was oppressed achieves a position in which it’s possible to oppress others. 

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are  is an excellent representation of these political assumptions. Surprisingly few award-winning texts for children celebrate the value of groups of people working together as equals; far more celebrate the power of individuals controlling groups.

– from The Pleasures of Children’s Literature by Nodelman and Reimer

 

The opposite of an ‘underdog story’ is a ‘carnivalesque’ story. Read Pippi Longstocking for a prime example of carnivalesque.

Picturebook Study: Grey

Gray, the color we attach to characterless people, often suggests bleakness, lack of intensity, a cool detachment. The oppressively predominating gray of the stone walls surrounding Snow White’s mother in Burkert’s picture of her demands our detachment from her but also contrasts with the vibrantly colored patterns we see surrounding her as we look through her window into her room; perhaps as a foreshadowing of her daughter’s fate, she is a small spot of lively beauty in an otherwise bleak and forbidding world. In Intercity, the wordless story of a train trip, Charles Keeping creates a similar relationship between what can be seen around a window and what can be seen through it. The feeling of boring detachment in the predominantly brownish grey pictures of passengers on a train contrasts with the vibrant colors of the world outside the train’s windows, which the passengers ignore. The contrast between the monochrome of the passenger pictures and the rich colours of the window pictures supports the central theme of the book: we see the passengers as they themselves see the world, and we see the richness of the world they miss because they do not bother to look at it.

– Words About Pictures, Perry Nodelman

Daniel Miyares

Daniel Miyares

The Boy and the Airplane

 

girl-and-the-bicycle-9781442483194_hr

 

the farmer and the clown

 

Gaston

 

The Invisible Boy

 

Oliver

 

morris

 

Little Elliot Big City

 

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover

 

Frederick-754x1024

 

wombatdiary

Jumanji

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold, book jacket

 

Related: Do you know the word eigengrau?

As outlined by Nodelman and Reimer in The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, here are the common-characteristics of best-selling modern children’s books.

  1. They are written and sold as part of a series.
  2. They have a simple and straightforward writing style.
  3. The central characters are enough like their intended audience for readers to relate to and identify with them. These characters tend to be underdogs (weak/poor/young/otherwise powerless). In the story, these underdogs will need to deal with theoretically more powerful enemies.
  4. There’s a clear distinction between the “goodies” and “baddies”. There’s not much moral ambiguity.
  5. The plots are straightforward and focus on action rather than description/setting/characters’ thoughts and motivations.
  6. Best-selling children’s books operate as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their readers. Despite their theoretical lack of power, main characters perform well under pressure, win against great odds and win the admiration of others as a result.

Now I know there’s a theory today that we must never write for children and, after all, we’re all just big kids, but I don’t believe that. It’s partly because I refuse to think of myself as a large wrinkled child, but also because, through my children, I have come to see that childhood is a special time, that children are special, that they do not think like adults or talk like adults. And even though we adults sometimes feel that we are exactly the same as when we were ten, I think that’s because we can no longer conceive of what ten was really like, and because what we have lost, we have lost so gradually that we no longer miss it.

– Betsy Byars, 1982

Pair with: The Psychology Of Your Future Self, a TED talk by Dan Gilbert

The current publication life of any given title can be very short and this can result in the fairly rapid silencing of work that challenges prevailing norms and values.

– Charles Sarland, Understanding Children’s Literature

Picturebook Study: Rudie Nudie by Emma Quay

Rudie Nudie Cover

ABOUT THE STORY

A sister and brother have a bath together. Their mother towel dries them. Instead of getting dressed immediately, they take a few minutes to prance and leap and enjoy the way their textured environment feels against their skin. The story ends with their parents putting pyjamas on them and tucking them into bed. Everyone is exuberant from start to finish.

WONDERFULNESS

The words  have wonderful mouthfeel, and remind me of the prose of Dr Seuss at  his best. This is a kind of chant, which I can see being memorised and played out in real life by children who emerge from the bath.

There’s an argument to be made that there is not enough nudity in children’s book, or in media in general. Left to their own devices, children are interested in the body in its natural form.

Hannah's Undie People

by Hannah, age 6

There may well be a time when we look back on this period of history the same way we modern people tend to look back on the Victorian era: There’s something very strange about how we conflate nudity with sex. And surely this is the reason we don’t see more naked children in picturebooks for young children. Children in real life are naked a lot more often than they are naked in the books they read. The conflation of sexuality and nakedness is especially the case for naked little girls.

As Perry Nodelman writes:

There are few [especially] female nudes in picture books, simply because there are relatively few pictures of unclothed girls in picture books — it seems that we so associate feminine nakedness with sexual availability that artists tend to forbid its appearance in the theoretically sexless atmosphere of children’s books. Nevertheless, the rare female nudes in picture books tend to sit in bathtubs or hold towels around themselves or hide behind trees; they almost always take on the traditional gestures of nudity, and they almost always smile out at viewers. For instance, Carl Larson’s “Bedtime scene,” reproduced in Wiliam Feaver’s When We Were Young, shows a young girl in nothing but black stockings, facing the viewer; she stands and looks at us without modesty but clearly not without consciousness of her full frontal nudity. Her gesture implies that she knows she is being looked at and clearly assumes that her viewers have the right to look at her, and her pout makes it clear that she enjoys being looked at.

Even rarer than female nudes in picture books are naked females. The only two I have encountered are both infants, and thus, presumably, representations of a safely asexual innocence, and both were drawn by Maurice Sendak. When Sendak depicts the Princess of MacDonald’s The Light Princess as a naked baby with exposed genitalia, her facial gesture is unlike those we associate with nudity; she is neither smiling nor pouting nor in repose with her eyes close; she looks a little drunk. Of all the naked goblin babies depicted in Outside Over There, only one reveals her genitalia and only once, and that happens when she is too busy dancing to Ida’s wonderhorn to look very enticingly available. The other naked babies in Outside Over There do often take the poses of nudes, but their doing so establishes an ironic tension both with the fact that they are dangerous goblins and the fact that they are “just babies”.

There are more naked boys than girls in picture books, probably because we unconsciously accept that boys can have their clothes off without implying their availability for our pleasure. In fact, pictures of naked boys almost all show them clearly doing something–moving, active, not posing. One of Caldecott’s illustrations for “The Farmer’s Boy” shows a naked boy cavorting on his nurse’s knee while a nude girl with the pouty mouth of many pinups sits quietly in the tub, her voluptuous back awaiting our inspection. When male frontal nudity occurs–more often than does female frontal nudity–the boys in question are too involved in intense activity to be passive pinups. The action lines at the elbows and knees of Carlos Friere’s depiction of the unabashedly naked Simon in Daniel Wood’s No Clothes make it clear that is is in motion even though he directly faces viewers.

– Perry Nodelman, Words About Pictures

 

The wonderful but rare thing about Rudie Nudie is that we see two naked children (one boy and one girl) and neither of them is aware of the ‘gaze’ of the imaginary camera. They are completely unselfconscious in their nakedness. Not only that, but they take great delight in the sense of touch, rubbing their bare feet across the coir doormat, running through leaves, feeling the wind rush past as they run. This is a period of early child which is all too soon gone, but Rudie Nudie is a celebration of that carefree time.

 

NOTES ON THE ILLUSTRATION

Rudie Nudie bath scene

The best picture book illustrators are able to show characters in motion. Too often (as described by Nodelman, above), characters are too static. It is indeed easier to draw a character who is poised for the viewer. Much more difficult to convey a sense of movement. Emma Quay notes this on her blog, and realised between creating the first drafts and the final that even the mother needed more movement:

When I look at this page from my sketch book, I can see the history of the development of my ideas for the bath illustration. I tried a few positions for the little boy, and at first Mum was a bit too static, sitting on the right hand side of the bath. I decide to move her to the left and have her leaning in to splash the children. The various diagonal lines help add more movement to the picture.

Emma Quay

Illustrators and writers have had difficulty getting naked children published in books, and there are no signs that the self-publishing era is making it any easier. (Apple, for instance, has its own restrictions on nudity in products available on its app and iBooks stores.) Even when naked bodies are published, there is the hurdle of getting past the gatekeepers of children’s literature: teachers, librarians, parents. Maurice Sendak’s In The Night Kitchen ranks high on the list of banned books.

So how does Emma Quay avoid the ‘icky’ feeling that some adults harbour about children cavorting naked in books?

1. This is an Australian publication. I’m going to hazard a guess that Australians are generally a little more open when it comes to showing vast areas of skin. It’s probably to do with the subtropical/tropical climate of the top part of this continent. A hypothetical question: Would this book have emerged out of England, or America? If it had, it probably would have taken a slightly different form. I can’t imagine English children finding delight in rushing outside naked for all but a few weeks of the British summer. On the other hand, there are parts of Australia where you wouldn’t let your children run around outside without shoes on. In the end, anything is possible in a picture book.

2. There is no depiction of genitalia. The children are drawn side-on and in motion, and their raised legs hide any genitalia. Their bottoms are in full view, but…

3. These are highly stylised drawings of children.  It wouldn’t do to make these drawings too realistic, to the point where a viewer could recognise the child model upon which the illustrations are based. these children are everyone and no one.

4. The illustration style never lets the reader forget that these are just drawings. Apart from the highly stylised line-drawings, the colour of the children extends beyond the line, reminiscent of cut-outs glued on. So the reader thinks of collage. The graphic design of the book is quite like a scrapbooking project, with blocks of pastel colour forming the background. The ‘cut-out children’ therefore seem like embellishments, like part of a decoration. Their nakedness therefore is very much secondary.

Interestingly, the hue chosen for the colour of the skin is what we typically think of when we think ‘flesh colour’. This is the colour of the ‘flesh’ labelled crayon of my 1980s box of Crayolas. In other words, it’s nobody’s colour in particular, though undoubtedly reminiscent of ‘white’.

Rudie Nudie running down the hall

I really like that there is a father who gets involved in bath time here. Although the story could have been completed without a father in sight, I get the sense that some fathers (more often from an earlier era) feel uncomfortable getting involved in the nitty-gritty personal care of their (or especially other people’s) children.

Rudie Nudie dad's involvement

STORY SPECS

Published 2011 in Australia by HarperCollins

Children’s Book Council Of Australia short-listed book

Australian book industry award winner

COMPARE WITH

Books mentioned by Nodelman, and which work as counterpoints to Rudie Nudie:

When We Were Young William Feaver

The Light Princess Cover

Scene from The Farmer's Boy

Scene from The Farmer’s Boy

no-clothes-daniel-wood-paperback-cover-art

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