March 18, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Read A Picture…Book | Bold New Titles for Bolstering Visual Literacy and Discussing Design

Standouts for their elegant and inventive book designs, these newly published picture books make clever use of visual presentation to convey information and story essentials, establish ambiance and tone, and challenge readers’ imaginations. Packed with child appeal, the tantalizingly creative titles will fortify reading skills and engender enthusiasm for literature. They also enrich visual literacy by encouraging children to interpret symbols and pictures, explore the interaction between words and images, and analyze pictorial content to determine meaning and significance. Perhaps best of all, these volumes inspire youngsters to think outside of the box…and the boundaries of a book’s traditional format. Use them along with Mark Gonyea’s A Book about Design or Chip Kidd’s Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design to introduce children to basic design fundamentals, and build a foundation that will empower students to not only appreciate art, but better function in a world where visual media is pervasive.

Journey Far
In A Long Way Away (Little, Brown, 2013; PreS-Gr 4), Frank Viva brilliantly utilizes book design to delineate a dazzling there-and-back-again adventure and express the wonder intrinsic to a journey of discovery. Held sideways, the story unfolds from top to bottom as a young octopus-like alien bids farewell to loved ones and gently descends through space along a winding yellow pathway, gliding past snoozing planets and other whimsical objects, entering Earth’s atmosphere, sinking through ocean depths, and nestling on an underwater cliff to fall “Deep/Asleep.” Read in reverse, this two-way tale depicts the return trip, as the voyager awakens and soars upward through sea and space and into his family’s welcoming arms (“A Happy Place/A Happy Face/A Hug/A Home”).

Large yellow arrows on front and back endpapers point out the appropriate direction, and the fun-to-finger-trace yellow line keeps readers on the narrative pathway and in the action. The terse poetic text works remarkably well in either direction, and the graphic-style artwork makes striking use of stylized outline images and a restrained color palette. Like the intrepid protagonist, readers will delight in exploring the universe of possibilities presented here.

Germano Zullo and Albertine’s Line 135 (Chronicle, 2013; K-Gr 4) describes a youngster’s train trip from her city home to her grandmother’s house in the country, and the book’s long, narrow trim size is perfectly suited to convey both the physical logistics and fanciful facets of her excursion. As the lime-green train glides along the tracks, the girl muses about journey-taking in a broader sense, expressing her determination to one day venture everywhere and “know the entire world”—despite adults telling her that it’s impossible. Meanwhile, the finely detailed black-line drawings show the train passing through realistic city and country backdrops that give way to vistas of fantastical beasts and dwellings, before returning to the mundane at trip’s end.

Both the day-to-day and imaginary are rendered in the same artistic style, lending equal weight to both realms. The interplay between text and illustrations communicates the narrator’s determination to chart her own future and compellingly conveys a child’s boundless ability to dream big. Invite your students to write about and illustrate their own journeys, whether real or imagined.

In the aptly titled Flight 1-2-3 (Chronicle, 2013; K-Gr 2), Maria van Lieshout introduces the iconic airport signage used around the world. As a family arrives at the airport (“1 Airport”) and embarks on their trip, readers identify the symbols for and count “2 Luggage carts,” “3 Check-in desks,” etc., all the way to “10 Gates” (presented as a schematic diagram map) and beyond.

The book is deftly illustrated in the same graphic style as the well-known symbols, so the dynamic spreads are peopled by outline figures (some sport colorful clothing, but only the featured family members have pin-point eyes) and contain simple, easy-to-identify shapes. In addition to flexing counting and symbol-deciphering skills, this book can be used to launch discussion of universal signs and how they are used to wordlessly convey information.

Play with Words and Images
Treading lightheartedly into the realm of proper punctuation usage, Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld tell the tale of an Exclamation Mark (Scholastic, 2013; Gr 1-5) who feels like a misfit until he finally discovers his true purpose. The simple, tongue-in-cheek text and thick black-line images are neatly arrayed across backdrops of wide-ruled paper. Portrayed in a parade of periods—each depicted as a circle drawn with mouth and eyes—the protagonist’s long stem clearly makes him different, despite his efforts to conform. When he meets a question mark who peppers him with endless queries, he finally explodes with a loud “STOP!” that reveals his ability to put the POW into declarative sentences. Gradually gaining confidence, he shows off his skill to his appreciative fellows and then sets off “…to make his mark.”

A pun-filled narrative, just-right book design, and buoyantly expressive artwork tell a tale so charmingly clever that it’s impossible for readers not to smile. Art and functionality combine in a story that entertains while imparting a painless grammatical lesson and underscoring the importance of allowing one’s own essence to shine.

Rosenthal provides more witty wordplay in I Scream, Ice Cream! (Chronicle, 2013; K-Gr 5), a book of phrases that sound exactly the same but have different meanings. Serge Bloch’s zestful illustrations—a combination of comical cartoon characters, block printed images, and collage—drolly depict each scenario, and the layout allows readers a shot at guessing the second sentence before a page turn reveals the answer. “I see!” is accompanied by a full-page picture of a man balancing tippy-toed on a stool and peering into an antique telescope. The next spread shows a pirate ship sailing across an ice-floe-laden ocean; one buccaneer declares, “Icy!,” while a second agrees, “Aye, sea!”

The pairings range from straightforward to more complex, with some taking on a narrative context (and providing possible story starters for creative writing). Inventive and silly, this book of humorous homophones hones listening skills, illustrates how artwork expands a text, and provides a fresh approach to thinking about language and its usage.

Jesse Klausmeier and Suzy Lee invite readers to Open This Little Book (Chronicle, 2013; K-Gr 4) and dive into an enchanting celebration of reading. Inside, a series of die-cut pages reveal story beginning after story beginning (“Open this…Little Red Book/and read about Ladybug, who opens a…Little Green Book/and reads about Frog, who opens a …Little Orange Book,” etc.), the trim size growing ever smaller with each new start. When it’s Giant’s turn, she is unable to open her tiny tome because her hands are too large (as evidenced by a blue thumbnail engulfing the entire cover), but the other characters enthusiastically come to her aid. Afterward, each individual book is closed in succession, with its featured animal waving farewell. They are all reunited on the final page to read another tale.

The volume’s design is striking, as is the use of color and varied artistic styles (while the individual book covers have an old-fashioned look, with faded washes and crisp lines, the overall effect is bold-colored and contemporary). Children will enjoy manipulating and exploring the pages, and thinking about the idea of a story within a story. The offering’s delightfully delivered message about the wonders found in books and the joys of sharing them with friends can also spark discussion—and sharing—of students’ most-beloved tales.

Characterized by an explosion of color and creativity, Hervé Tullet’s I Am Blop! (Phaidon, 2013; Gr 1-5) introduces a marvelously versatile shape—its outline similar to a four-leaf clover—and spins off a whirlwind of variations, possibilities, and interpretations. At first, images are paired with simple statements to show Blops of various sizes and colors, but the presentation soon bounds beyond the realm of basic concepts.

There is a “Blop Family,” Blops organized in classroom rows, museum-inspired Blops, Blop animals (with tiger stripes or painted to look like butterflies), and much, much more. Several multi-page sequences relate tales of different-colored Blops (e.g., yellow and blue) merging together to create a new Blop hue (green). Some examples broach more thoughtful territory, such as when “Blop Discovers” (the text is printed backwards on the recto page and read with the help of a reflective surface on the verso) or “Blop Has a Secret” (delicate dashes transform a sherbet-pink Blop into two joined hearts, one upside-up and one upside-down).

The book ends with questions (“What do Blops eat?” “Can a Blop get into mischief?” “Can Blops fly?”) that will ignite readers’ curiosity and inspire creative writing and illustration. Easy to cut out, draw, paint, decorate, and adapt, Blops are ready and waiting to go as far as a child’s imagination can take them.

Introduce Graphic Design Basics
Just what is it that makes these titles so incredibly eye-grabbing? In A Book about Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Good (2005; Gr 1-5), itself an eye-grabber, Mark Gonyea provides an accessible look at the principles of design. Chatty, humor-warmed text and clear graphic shapes presented on clean white backdrops illustrate how changes in size, shape, and color alter and manipulate the viewer’s perceptions. Ten brief chapters touch briefly upon topics such as the visual impact of straight vs. diagonal lines (one indicates “strength and structure,” while the conveys “speed and movement”), use of a 1:3:9 design ratio, the crash-bang affect of contrast, and the different impressions made by warm and cool colors. A smiley face that starts out minimalistic and ends up garishly over-adorned underscores the elegance of simplicity. The bold-colored artwork makes each concept crystal clear. The discussion continues in the author’s Another Book about Design (2007) and A Book about Color (2010, all Holt).

Utilizing a similarly playful tone and elucidating visual examples, Chip Kidd’s forthcoming Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design (Workman, Oct. 2013; Gr 4 Up) delves a bit more deeply into the subject matter. An introduction defines the term, points out why it’s important to know about graphic design (individuals are constantly exposed to and affected by images), and provides a history of iconic images. Next, well-organized chapters discuss various components: form (the elements that delineate what an image looks like—scale, image quality, symmetry/asymmetry, color, positive space/negative space, etc.), typography, content (matching form to function), and different methods for conveying concepts. A final chapter presents 10 design projects for kids. Addressing readers directly, the writing is clear and lively, and Kidd, a book designer, frequently and effectively uses covers that he and other professionals have created as examples for his points, along with an array of striking graphic images. Beginning with this book’s cover (the word “GO” emblazoned on a stop sign backdrop, a juxtaposition intended to grab viewers’ attention and encourage them to explore further), Kidd will have kids thinking about the images that surround them and the responses they inspire. Fun for readers, this offering will also be helpful for educators exploring these concepts in the classroom.

Have students compile a list of basic design precepts from these resources and see how they are utilized in the picture books mentioned above. Encourage youngsters to think about how visual elements affect the perception of subject matter. Expand the discussion by examining some of the images that are pervasive in our culture: What makes a road signs easy to understand? How do advertisements use color or contrast capture the viewer’s eye? Does a product’s packaging—color, design, style of typeface—affect consumers? The possibilities are endless.

The Common Core State Standards below are a sampling of those references in the above books and classroom activities:

RL. 2.7. Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a print…text to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot.
RL 5.7. Analyze how visual…elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text.
SL. 1.2. Ask and answer questions about key details in a text read aloud….
SL. 3.4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant descriptive details….
RI. 1.7. Use the illustrations and details in a text to describe its key ideas.
RI. 3.7. Use information gained from illustrations…and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.
W. K.3. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.
W. 3.3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events…

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Joy Fleishhacker About Joy Fleishhacker

Joy Fleishhacker is a librarian, former SLJ staffer, and freelance editor and writer who works at the Pikes Peak Library District in southern Colorado.