I’m agog over how many elite names of kidlit creators point to their profiles done on the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast website as badges of honor. Likewise, I’m impressed at how Julie Danielson spotlights the right book or the most deserving book maker at the right time. Kirkus Reviews is lucky to have her insights.
Julie, what’s right right now with children’s literature?
I did a Q&A with Leonard S. Marcus recently, and he talked about the fact that many older illustrators or author/illustrators once set out to work in another field (say, editorial illustration) and then inadvertently landed in children’s book illustration. However, more and more today you meet younger illustrators who grew up telling themselves, I’m going to illustrate picture books when I grow up.
And I nodded when I read that. I blog about contemporary illustration and picture books. And it’s very exciting to see new authors and artists on the landscape, the energy, the passion for creating good, quality books for young children. In some ways it’s a topsy-turvy time in publishing (the current economy, the rise of e-books, etc.), but in many ways it’s a really exciting time—and I get psyched all over again about children’s lit when I see a really well-crafted picture book and all the talented new authors and artists who decide to make it their life’s work.
What could be done to make that “good” better?
Well, now I’m going to quote someone else again and risk looking like I don’t have original ideas in my own brain (but, needless to say, I read a lot about picture books) …
Back in February, Roger Sutton had a great discussion at his Horn Book blog about “weird” picture books, asking folks where the risk-taking is today. And author/illustrator Sergio Ruzzier wrote (in a comment), “Please, let us have a little bit of uncertainty, here and there, otherwise life can get pretty boring.” And I didn’t just nod when I read that; I also probably did some jazz hands and cheerleader spirit fingers. (Okay, not really. But I did probably give a little yawp.)
His point in that part of the conversation was that European picture books tend to leave more room for uncertainty, for leaving some things unexplained. I think many parents I meet have trouble with this when it pops up in children’s lit. They want answers, and they want tidy endings. I love to see picture books that leave space for the reader, that have ambiguity. A bit of mystification never hurt anyone. (Think: Shaun Tan.) And I’d love to see more of it.
Julie Danielson received her Master’s degree in Information Sciences at The University of Tennessee. She writes articles on children’s books and interviews their creators for Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a blog she co-founded that focuses primarily on illustration and picture books. She also writes a weekly column on children’s literature for Kirkus Reviews and is currently working on a book with Elizabeth Bird and the late Peter D. Sieruta. Tentatively titled Wild Things!: The True, Untold Stories Behind the Most Beloved Children’s Books and Their Creators, it will be published by Candlewick Press in 2013. In 2011, she served as a jury member for the Society of Illustrators’ Original Art award, and just this year she juried for the Bologna Children’s Book Fair Bologna Ragazzi Awards. Her website is sevenimpossiblethings.org.