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Picture books | class #1, fall 2017

wwtwa_mirror

For our first class on September 6, we will be reading two picture books and three articles.

Where the Wild Things Are is a classic in the US now, but when it was first published in 1963, it was controversial. If you knew this book as a child, what did you notice this time that you might not have picked up before? Why might it have been problematic for adults, particularly in the early 60s?

Mirror is a wordless book constructed in a way I’ve never seen before (or since). Is there a right way to read wordless books? How might you share this one-on-one with a child? What would you do differently if you read it with an entire class? Is it even possible to read it with an entire class?

The great children’s literature specialist Rudine Sims Bishop has written about books for children needing to be both windows and mirrors. Mirror seems to me to be the epitome of that idea, calling for empathy with both story strands, as well as a sharp eye for similarities and differences. There is so much to notice in both of these books.

As you read all the books for this class, try to do so with both your child brain, or lens, and your adult one. Think about the choices made by the books’ creators. The three articles we are reading this week will help you understand the picture-book-making process:

To my students:  comment on any aspect of any of these books and articles in the comments below. You do not need to comment on more than one of the readings — and for this first class, you are not required to comment at all.

To blog readers who are NOT in this class: we particularly invite you to comment and help broaden our discussion.

Edited later to add that students will be posting comments about people and topics relevant to each week’s readings. Carli Spina has posted two here as exemplars for students. One is about Maurice Sendak and the other is about Jeannie Baker.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.

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  1. I enjoyed reading both these books but will go into more detail with regard to “Mirror”. I thought it was smart how the layout reflects the title of the book and the fact that it was purely a picture book makes it accessible to all age groups. Coming from the Arab world, I found it particularly joyous to see the Arabic description of the book and an Arab culture being portrayed alongside a western city. Although the book might not teach children vocabulary, through the beautiful and realistic illustrations, children from every way of life are able to experience another culture and life, appreciating both the differences and similarities. In order to fully take in this book, I feel it might be best enjoyed individually so that readers can enjoy the illustrations and take the time to form their own ideas and questions and then later have a class discussion about their thoughts.

  2. Here’s some information about Maurice Sendak.
    Maurice Sendak (1928- 2012) seems to be best known for writing Where The Wild Things Are, which was edited by famed children’s book editor Ursula Nordstrom (she also edited Goodnight Moon, the Little House books, and lots of other classics). Wild Things was published in 1963 and has been the subject of a number of adaptations over the years, including film projects and an opera. He was deeply influenced by several historical events, including the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and the Holocaust, in which many members of his extended family died, and these influences show up throughout his works. One of his other well-known books was In The Night Kitchen, which proved controversial and was frequently challenged in libraries. Throughout his career, he was committed to not portraying an idealized world for children, leading to the darker nature of many of his works.

    Here are some interesting links:
    http://www.hbook.com/2003/12/authors-illustrators/interviews/an-interview-with-maurice-sendak/#_

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/oct/02/maurice-sendak-interview

    https://www.brainpickings.org/2013/06/10/ursula-nordstrom-letter-maurice-sendak/

    Just for fun, a clip of the Where The Wild Things Are opera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyU9E6hbsf4#t=29

  3. Here’s what I found out about Jeannie Baker.
    Jeannie Baker is an English author and filmmaker who now lives in Australia. She has written and illustrated several children’s books using collage. Her collage projects typically take three to four years to complete and often after a book is published the artwork becomes part of a traveling exhibition or even a short animated film. She is frequently inspired by her surroundings, particularly including Australia’s scenery and environment. Her inspiration for Mirror came during her travels in Morocco in 2003. Later, she lived there for three months while working on the book and even stayed with a Moroccan family for several weeks.

    There’s more information at these site:
    http://www.jeanniebaker.com/

    http://www.walker.co.uk/contributors/Jeannie-Baker-3387.aspx

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/jeannie-baker-mirror/2981044

  4. Camila Garcia Enriquez says:

    I was taken aback by the editorial design of “Mirror” by Jeannie Baker. My first impression was of awe, as it is typically in comics and cinema where it is possible to show that two separate events occur at the same time by splitting the image or screen in two. Literature is also able to do this, but one event must always be described before the other. However, “Mirror” manages to bypass the order of appearance by inviting the viewer to flip both sides simultaneously. The book as a whole manages to visually describe simultaneity and sameness by showing similar events taking place under different circumstances and context, while also paying tribute to both writing systems (eft-to-right and right-to-left) equally.

    Lastly, as I advanced in the ‘story’ I became excited to see what would happen on either side of the book/world and I could imagine a similar excitement in kids. I looked intently at the images in order to compare textures, colours, settings and characters, an exercise of exploration and discovery that almost every child will enjoy. Overall, “Mirror” made me think of the many ways in which it would be possible to explore/introduce concepts such as identity, simultaneity, location and even empathy to elementary school children.

  5. Mirror’s innovative design was spectacular. I really enjoyed how it took so much space and hand-coordination to get the pictures in the right spot. Additionally, I found the left to right of English and the right to left of Arabic to be particularly clever. If I were reading this to a class, I think it would be interesting for two kids to come up and describe what they saw on their side of the book then have them switch sides after they turned the page. The final page of the book, where the author lays out why she wrote this book, was also thought provoking: she mentions how her country (Australia) was not welcoming to strangers, but that when she visited Morocco, she was welcomed. I think the story could have then ended with the Australian family welcoming in the Moroccan family and vice versa on the other side of the book; instead, the ending seemed a little off with the white Australian family on a ‘magic carpet’ (perhaps verging on appropriation?) and the Moroccan family looking at a computer of the world (great to be connected, but could they be Skyping each other to learn more about the other?).

    Briefly, in regards to ‘Where the Wild Things Are’, I have a lot of nostalgic feelings around this book. In response to how it could be seen as ‘counter-culture’ in the 60’s, one thing in particular stood out to me in this reading: Max, despite deliberately acting out against authority (his mom) and his mom saying that he will not be getting dinner, he still receives dinner (and it was still hot.). By 1963, those in control (white, hetero, cisgendered males) probably didn’t like that Max was still rewarded for disobeying authority (or his parental figure).

  6. When I was a child, one of my favourite books was Jeannie Baker’s “Where the Rainforest Meets the Sea”. I loved seeing another example of her collages in “Mirror”. Both books address very important issues in Australia (the first, environmental sustainability and change; the second, intercultural understanding).

    The unique physical structure of “Mirror” cleverly emphasises the similarities between the two families. However, the need for children to see the minute details in the pictures and to fully experience the ‘mirror images’ may make it quite difficult to use the book with a whole class in the absence of multiple copies or some sort of projector. Hypothetically, if this book had accompanying activities, it would be interesting to see children ‘create’ the equivalent stories themselves through a matching/puzzle activity (emphasising the similarities between the two stories). For older children, it could be interesting to discuss the different ways of life represented in the two stories, and what this might mean (eg in terms of differences in economic power or environmental sustainability).

    I found it particularly interesting how this book used the carpet to illustrate a direct connection between the two families (even though they themselves could not have known of the connection). On Andy’s point, I assumed that the “Magic Carpet” reference was an example of the oversimplification of cultures for the consumer.

    (PS – Thanks for the links, Carli.)

  7. Marion Cunningham says:

    I enjoyed Where the Wild Things Are more reading it for this class than I did reading it to my children. I was always a little put off by the notion of a parent calling a child “wild” and while childhood can be scary, I saw the monster smiles more in this reading than I did in my initial reading of the story. The monsters, while exaggerated, still seemed a little scary to me.

    I was intrigued by Mirrors. The images and lack of text make the book more targeted to younger people, but the nature of the activities seemed to require the understanding of older children. In that sense the content versus style of delivery seemed incongruent. As Andy commented, at the end of the book the author talks about why she wrote the book. Not knowing much about Australia’s immigration policy, I Googled it and got the following headline dated April 28, 2017, “What’s Behind Australia’s New Immigration Rules?” It appears no much has changed since 2010! Finally, the place that was Baker’s inspiration was the Valley of the Roses in Morocco. It would have been nice to include some pictures of the roses that make the valley so well known.

  8. Gabrielle Abramow says:

    I found the article, “The Words” by Charlotte Zolotow to be so fascinating. I never thought that an author who writes children’s literature would create stories based off of real life adult experiences. I thought that her belief in telling the truth about how EVERYONE feels in certain situations is so important for readers to understand. After reading this article, I now understand how adults have this “protective coating” and hide their true feelings in many situations. However, children do not cover up their emotions. Choosing realistic topics that encounter feelings that all humans go through is so significant in teaching children that he or she is not alone and that it is ok to have these feelings. These types of stories guide children in growing and learning through real life situations.

  9. One of my favourite children’s books is Window, also by Jeannie Baker… it was a treat to revisit her style and ‘read’ Mirror – she really takes collage to another level. I’m from Sydney, so I particularly enjoyed recognising landmarks; part way through I consciously decided to start reading the Moroccan pages first, rather than always starting with Sydney. When I did this, I noticed that the Sydney pages seemed more chaotic and less linked with the natural world – especially the pages showing the children travelling to and from their destinations. I wonder if Baker has a message here about the environment, like Belinda mentioned. Linked to this, Marion’s comments on the roses made me think about the roses in the Sydney pictures, ie on the ground in the carpark (fallen from the woman’s bunch) and every page thereafter. Perhaps the roses came from Morocco and they are grown for export? (I have just now looked closely at the crops and I think I see some pink… could they be roses? I didn’t notice this before.) And could this be more environmental commentary from Baker?

  10. Hi Lolly,

    I’m pumped for your class. I loved the Design Matters piece by Jon Scieszka. As a hobby illustrator, typography enthusiast, graffiti poser, and amateur design junkie, I couldn’t agree with Jon more when he writes, “Design is an essential part of any picture book.” He is also witty, and seems like a right brainer which was cool. Presentation/aesthetics can be the difference between a good or great book. The Ugly ducking book look was too much for my taste. I prefer the more subtle look of quentin blake illustrations, or Arnold Lobels drawings. It’s interesting how older fonts are making a nostalgic comeback. Anywho, see you Wednesday!

    Regards,

  11. I am amazed by how these two books use powerful visuals to tell good stories.

    For “Where the Wild Things Are”, it has a very simple story line, but it is fun to see how the visuals enlarge along with the protagonist’s imagination, especially when the visuals started spreading to the other page. Reading along was fun and it felt like I was traveling with Max. I believe many children have such fantasy and they can easily relate to Max.

    As for the “Mirror”, it is a brilliant way to layout a book. At first, I wonder if I can skip the arabic part (the left side of the book) as it might be a direct translation. However, I was impressed when I saw the instruction in the book. I enjoy looking at the collage artworks and finding the similarities and differences. Since the book contains mostly pictures, it makes me wonder what parents might say to their children when they do story-reading. For me, it allows a lot of room for imagination because I can read from the perspective of different family members in the illustration. It will be fun for children to read this books in different stages of their lives and see how they change – they might start from identifying various objects in the book to making comparisons. Also, I was inspired by how the book used different materials to make the visuals. I would encourage children to create their family stories through art and craft just like this book.

  12. Arienne L. Calingo says:

    As a poet, I found the construction of “Mirror” by Jeannie Baker intriguing and similar to two voice poetry. Two voice poems are written in two columns, placed side by side. If the poet wants the two voices to converge, the poet writes the same line in each column. Two voice poetry offers a creative way to convey and display two distinct perspectives that hold some similarities. Like two voice poetry, I admire the juxtaposition in “Mirror” that allows readers to compare and contrast two settings/narratives that come together as one complete story. As Dima stated, I believe that it would be best for readers to read and enjoy the book at their own pace and on their own time, so they may have the opportunity to observe the various details of the illustrations and to reflect upon the meaning of the story.

    Along with the construction of “Mirror,” I love how the author played with texture. She experimented with texture in two ways: the use of a mixture of natural and artificial materials, and the illusion of depth that she created through using different materials. In a way, the spatial depth of the people, animals, and objects in the story represents textures in the real world. I found that the illusion of depth and the vibrant colors used in the story symbolize that life is not static, but dynamic. People are whole individuals, as opposed to one-dimensional abstractions. From the illusion of depth, I believe the author seeks to teach readers that individuals are more than skin deep, and it is not possible to understand people or cultures from the surface. It is amazing how seemingly minor details carry special importance!

    I have more to say about “Mirror” as well as “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, but I will save these thoughts for now and will share them in class tomorrow!

  13. First of all, like many others on this thread, a quick note just to say that “Mirror” blew my mind. I love wordless picture books and the endless reading possibilities they open, especially for non- and emerging readers. David Wiesner’s “Flotsam” is my all-time favorite picture book for this reason, and “Mirror” added yet another dimension to this dynamic world. There are layers of depth to this work that can be explored and appreciated by readers of any age, and I plan to keep a copy in my classroom regardless of what grade level I teach. Amazing.

    The great thing about rereading a book is that each time you read it — whether it has been years since you last opened it or a couple days — it’s like you’re engaging with it for the first time, because you, the reader, have changed in that time and therefore interact with the content in a new way. This was certainly the case for me when I read “The Giving Tree” as an adult and was overcome with heartache, when I only remembered enjoying the story when I was a child. I experienced a similar, though somewhat diluted, feeling when I read “Where the Wild Things Are” for class this week, reading it with the “lens” of a child, then teacher, then critic. It was interesting to monitor my own interpretation of the book through these different lenses, especially since my reactions as each were quite different. As a teacher and child, I reveled in the imaginative component and the possibilities for play and for learning that it offered. When I looked at it critically, I noticed perhaps for the first time that it does potentially send a message (even if only adults, or adults from the 1960s, are bothered by it) that misbehaving does not have consequences. I don’t think I “got” the controversy until I read it through that lens.

    I’m excited for the discussion of these books in class tomorrow and curious how it will change how I “read” these books after hearing others’ interpretations and reactions.

  14. Regarding “Where the Wild Things Are,” I can see how the “psychological realism” and portrayal of anger might have been controversial in the 60s, especially during a cultural reliance on psychoanalytic theory and Freudianism. As a child I did find it scary – probably due tp the design of the characters and muted palette. I loved the movie adaptation when I saw it in theaters 7-ish years ago, and so I went into this new reading with a somewhat false nostalgia. It feels like a quintessentially “Jewish” book to me – the monsters were later named Tzippy, Moishe, Aaron, Emile, and Bernard and are based on Sendak’s Polish Jewish immigrant aunts and uncles from his childhood. And apparently “Wild Thing” is based on a Yiddish idiom. It feels comforting to me, as a (secular) Jewish person. I love the thread darkness throughout – Max walks in his anger and then retreats. One thing I found beautiful was that the illustrations expand the deeper Max goes into his psyche – and then become smaller when his mood returns to baseline. The symbolism is beautiful here.

    “Mirror” was also an intriguing experience, not just from the gorgeous, textured sculptures/collages, but also the unique structure of the book. Other commenters here captured my observations/thoughts/feelings, so I don’t need to reiterate them here, but I will mention one point of criticism. Because it’s solely a visual experience, it’s virtually inaccessible to blind/low vision readers. I suppose that is the case with many illustration-only books, but there’s no guidance for how to read this or translate it to a version hat would be accessible to those who have impaired vision. Which is ironic, because there’s an image of a blind commuter on one of the pages. I would love to discuss this in class – how pictures books are made accessible to blind/low vision children.

  15. I absolutely loved reading Mirror and thinking about the many ways it could be used in the classroom. It made me so excited to use this book in the classroom as a way to teach comparative writing. I also feel like students could use this book to research the different lifestyles to learn about different cultures. I was especially impressed because the book could be adapted for many different ages.
    Reading the ‘Design’ Horn Book article really made me think about how much thought went into the design of Mirror. I noticed that even the color of the outfits of the family matched so that you could see the characters clearly in both illustrations. These little clues are so fun to find as a child and an adult reader! The lack of words really allows this book to be really adaptable to different ages and curricula. When thinking about design in Where the Wild Things Are, I particularly think about the careful choice of making full page illustrations for when Max meets the monsters. This detail allows us to be transported into the scene and take in the setting entirely.

    I am very excited to read more children’s books as the semester continues!!

  16. Mahima Bhalla says:

    I really enjoyed reading both the books as well the three articles. I was particularly fascinated with the whole concept and design of ‘Mirror’, it was first of its kinds for me. The illustrations were beautiful and I felt really impressed by the manner in which these were created..with so much thought and detail in each of them. It would be quite interesting to discuss such a book with students across grades. Concepts of diversity, cultural differences, similarities across contexts could be discussed, with varied nuances being covered across age groups. It would be interesting to see how young children interpret this book! One may be able to read it with a small group of children (say at circle/story-telling time).
    I also agree with Robyn, and would be interested in knowing how picture books could be made more accessible to students with visual impairment.

    I especially enjoyed the article ‘The Words’! It was interesting to read how the author got ideas and inspiration from her own life experiences as a child. I loved the point that the author makes about children’s emotional maturity and how adults have defences that children don’t. I believe an essential aspect of writing for children is to understand children and their psychology well.

    Looking forward to the course!

  17. Tracy Cheng says:

    A detail I want to point out from Where the Wild Things Are is that when Max sailed away, it took a whole year, but it only took a day for him to sail back – I interpreted it as you can travel far from home, but home is always within reach and there when you need it.

  18. Hi Lolly,
    Both these two books give me a deep impression on their design. Mirror, in particular, strikes me with its symmetrical design of the two stories, without which I my not eve notice the connections between these two stories or their similarities and differences. It is the design that pushes me to connect these two stories and discover the universal similarities of families around world. But I also wonder, at the same time, can children realize the what does “Mirror” mean in this book? By saying this, I mean that would they search the whole book to find a mirror picture or the word “mirror” itself? Because we read the book as an adult.
    Where the Wild Things Are is so amazing in its design on the black space and the picture on one page. I did not connect the blank space with Max’ anger until the class discussed it last Wednesday. It is a book worth reading for several times. I am also interested in one of the classmate’s opinion that this book reminds her of colonization. Though children’s books target at children, we could gain much more since we interpret them from various perspectives. And that’s what drives me into this classroom.

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