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Review of Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter

Show Me A Story 212x300Show Me a Story!: Why Picture Books Matter:
Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators

compiled and edited 
by Leonard S. Marcus
Middle School, High School, Of Interest to Adults    Candlewick    310 pp.
4/12    978-0-7636-3506-0    $22.99

“For a story’s text to work, it needs to be incomprehensible. Otherwise you wouldn’t need the pictures,” avers Mo Willems, neatly explicating the title for these “Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators.” This subtitle may sound familiar: eleven of these interviews appeared in Marcus’s Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book (rev. 9/02). What’s added is grand to have, however: ten new interviews; a revised introduction; updates for such luminaries as Maurice Sendak and Eric Carle; and a succinct foreword by David Wiesner explaining why picture books really do matter. Along with the artists’ eloquent musings on their sources of inspiration, Marcus’s disarming queries elicit a fine array of revealing experiences, methods of working, and motivations for illustrating for children. The book teems with quotable insights: “If someone is asleep…you don’t necessarily want to see [the] bed, but you might want to look at the dreams” (Quentin Blake); “M. B. Goffstein’s Me and My Captain…conveys such a beautiful sense of longing” (Kevin Henkes); “My doodle habit became my art” (Yumi Heo); “A good ending is inevitable, but it’s also a surprise” (James Marshall, in a brilliant 1989 interview peppered with memorable lines). Marcus captures the artists as well as their art: Peter Sís, shaped by powerful memories of his father; Vera Williams, who even as a child “was irrepressible, extremely talkative, and quite cute…[and] also had quite a developed sense of the tragic.” A thirty-two–page color insert includes “dummy spreads, sketches, and other preliminaries,” an excellent decision given that the books themselves are so widely known. New entries here also include John Burningham, Lois Ehlert, and Lisbeth Zwerger. Bibliography of picture books cited; illustration credits; source notes; index. Adults may be the primary audience for this fine resource, but it will inspire, inform, and delight those of any age who are engaged in — or by — the arts.

From the May/June 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Joanna Rudge Long About Joanna Rudge Long

Joanna Rudge Long is former editor of Kirkus Reviews and a frequent lecturer on children’s books.

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