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Picture books | class #1, fall 2017


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

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught 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 blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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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.

Posted : Sep 10, 2017 03:59

Tracy Cheng

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.

Posted : Sep 06, 2017 11:10

Mahima Bhalla

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!

Posted : Sep 06, 2017 08:39

Missy M

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!!

Posted : Sep 06, 2017 04:55

Robyn B.

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.

Posted : Sep 06, 2017 01:33

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