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From The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Images courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Have you heard? Generations With Vision is hosting Nurture Little Hearts Book Contest!  It was announced in January; the deadline is July 1st.  Their desire for launching it is one I hear frequently, and you’ve probably thought yourself:

Christian families want more nurturing, helpful picture books for children. . . something besides Curious George, Dr. Seuss, Meatballs Raining from the Sky, Wild Kids Doing Wild Things Where the Wild Things Are, and Cookies for Ungrateful Mice. Christian parents tell us they have the hardest time finding nutritious, nurturing, fun books for their little tots and totettes. There are not enough solid, biblically-based, family-oriented picture books for children. That is why Generations with Vision is launching a Christian Children’s Picture Book Contest for 2014.

What a great opportunity for Christian aspiring authors and illustrators!  While it might be a bit late to get started on this year’s contest, it’s never too early to start learning, writing and re-writing, and experimenting with illustration and design.  I hope they do this again next year!

Excellence is a skill, and art is really a just craft that can be learned — of course you must love it to want to pursue it; but natural inclination requires hard work for it to grow.  Don’t be intimidated by the elites who make art look like you need a secret password to get into their world.  (Actually, you don’t want into that world.  The answer is to start rebuilding culture now — Christians have the answer: beauty and truth according to God’s standard.)

When you think about it, this is God’s world, and the art of storytelling began with Him.  He weaves stories and truth and beauty all throughout His divine and natural revelation (that is, in the Bible, and in the natural world).  The Bible is full of rich imagery that symbolize deeper truths; this is a tremendous key in Christian art that we can recover.

I’d love to introduce you to one of my favorite resources on how picture books work” Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz.  I recommend it to everyone interested in children’s books.  He presents an overview of picture books’ uniqueness from other book forms, their strengths and variety, and most of all how they work and communicate.

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 Images courtesy of Project Gutenberg

He starts off defining the picture book as different from a story book which “consists mostly of narrating what is seen and heard. . . . Take, for example, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit:”

Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees planting out young cabbages, but he jumped up and ran after Peter, waving a rake and calling out, “Stop thief!”

These words are accompanied by an illustration of Mr. McGregor planting cabbages.  Although Beatrix Potter’s images add a visual dimension to the story, The Tale of Peter Rabbit can be fully understood without them.  In addition to telling the story, the words themselves contain images.  The picture simply underlines the description: “Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees.” (p. 16)

He then goes on to distinguish between the story book and the picture book:

Picture books are “written” with pictures as much as they are written with words.  A picture book is read to the very young child who doesn’t know how to read yet . . . By telling a story visually, instead of through verbal description, a picture book becomes a dramatic experience: immediate, vivid, moving.  A picture book is closer to theater and film . . . . (p. 16)

Further elaborating on Mr. McGregor’s example and the relationship between pictures and words, he says on p. 53,

A picture book favors a direct approach.  A description such as “Mr. McGregor was on his hands and knees” would be either shown by a picture or avoided altogether.  When an image such as this is clearly described, with the visual details presented through words, to show it again through a picture would be redundant and possibly boring.  In a picture book there should be no such repetition; the visual representation takes precedence.  Repetition in a picture book only lengthens and complicates a form that is best kept simple, brief, and clear as possible.

It’s just fascinating, isn’t it?  This is a major element in children’s literature.  I’m far from getting the swing of it, but when you’re really able to wed words and pictures together like that, it’s a very rewarding experience.

There are many other books that are more technical and psychological about the creating process, but for those who are beginning a journey into the world of creating books for children, Writing with Pictures is a guide you’ll keep coming back to.

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Images courtesy of Project Gutenberg