A few days ago, The New York Times published the list of Best Illustrated Children’s Books Awards for 2013. Since 1952, the Book Review has convened an independent panel of judges to select picture books.
I would like to highlight two particular aspects:
- Picture books are selected on the basis of artistic merit.
- Writer and illustrator are the same person at 8 of 10 of selected books.
This time I’ll focus on selection criterion: ARTISTIC MERIT.
A lot of times, when we talk about illustrated books and picture books (it’s important to remark they are not the same), the adult –who buys, who recommends, who mediates- puts his attention on the story, what it tells, leaving aside the how it tells.
This topic –that I’ve already touched before– generates a persistent questioning when we talk about literature for children and young people. Good literature can tell a good story, of course, but the essential issue is how is that story told.
Let’s move this thought to the music and let’s think about The Beatles –to agree in good artists. We have a lyric, that is the what and we have the music, musical arrangements and voice, the how. Let’s think in their music, in their interpretation. Clearly, their songs will always sound better played and sung by them, than of any other singer. We will always choose the song interpreted by The Beatles.
It happens the same with literature. One story, with its beginning, its development, its conflict and its final, can be written in many different ways and they could be just a list of actions, far away from literacy.
For example: a boy doesn’t want to go to bed, runs all over his house and chases his dog until his mom loses her patience and sends the boy to his bed, without supper. The boy, starving and angry, imagines himself leaving his house and arriving to a world where he is the king, far away from his mom and the rules.
These facts have nothing to do with the literacy of Where the wild things are, by Maurice Sendak. Of course they have nothing to do because he is an artist who wrote and illustrated the story. Sendak made LITERATURE.
One more time, insistently, I come back over the same point: good literature is how you tell over what you tell. When we see and read a book for children and young people, let’s not seek for difficult words to teach vocabulary; let’s not seek for good behaviors to teach values; let’s not seek for oversimplifying stories to be “understood” by children. Let’s not dismiss a book because it has no words or few words; illustrations also count; they tell, too.
Let’s look for poetry; let’s look for art, let’s look for LITERATURE.
Best illustrated books selected by The New York Times are good literature and they are not only for children. Text and images combine masterful to create art, to move the reader, to produce that thing that only good literature generates and that I like to call transformation.