There is a lot of controversy about the present state of the children’s books market. In fact, both, the optimistic and pessimistic views on the future of children’s literature offer an interesting perspective on the actual world’s zeitgeist, and our society’s idea of childhood.
The New York Times published an article, “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” by Julie Bosman (2010) that explores the reasons why picture books sales are dropping. It is astonishing to discover how parents’ ideas about picture books are in fact driven by a bigger fear of ruining children’s future.
Bosman quotes Dara La Porte, manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington: “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.” [NY Times]
But what is it that children are actually missing? They are missing the wonderful and irreplaceable world of childhood.
Picture books are the building blocks that build both a child’s character and a culture. As Ray Bradbury said in a 1993 interview: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” Bradbury’s phrase seems to suggest that the love for books represents, in fact, a broader and more all-embracing love: that is of humanity, its history and its culture.
We asked different authors and illustrators, what is the importance of picture’s books today? What is the significance of the relationship between words and images, and how do they work together to convey their message?
This is what we learned: these books are essential to develop children’s sensibility, critical thinking, reading habits, imagination and emotional connection with parents and the world. After all, picture books are, first of all, books.
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Interview with Isol Misenta
Toi: How do words and images work together in your books? What place do they have?
Isol: There are two languages, literary and graphic. In my books, together they make the story I want to tell. The main idea of the book comes from that dialogue. I really enjoy the process of finding a way to say what I want to say. I use very few words, [my style is] direct and straightforward, although they might allude to a message that is not so simple. I like to be synthetic. I work with drawings that are expressive and communicate emotions. Drawing lines are very expressive, that’s why they are usually in the foreground in my drawings. Sometimes drawings “mock” the text, sometimes they complete it. It is always an interesting dance.
Toi: What kind of stories do you prefer?
Isol: I do not have a favorite genre ... Yes, there are themes that are recurrent in my work, like how we see things that seem for certain, and the identity of things and people. I always approach a story from a strangeness perspective, a distant view of the everyday to re-think critically about cliches and common places.
Toi: Do you think that picture books are for kids only?
Isol: Not at all. I am passionate about these books. Of course there are some more interesting than others. I feel that some people have found in picture books a window to enjoying both art and stories, and it is a way to connect generations in an activity that started in prehistoric times. Drawings that evoke stories, desires, fears ...
Interview with Eleonora Arroyo
Toi: What is the importance of children’s books?
EA: I believe the importance of children’s books is the same as that of adult books. We read books that move us, that widen our horizons, that entertain us; [there are] some that mark us, that make us think, and that we treasure all our lives. Children (and adults) read and start understanding themselves. Reading is a moment of discoveries. The child starts building his or her own interpretations, their own meanings. They connect ideas in a more unprejudiced way than adults. In this way, children build their own imaginary and sensibility.
Toi: How do you see the relationship between words and images?
EA: The illustration begins a conversation with the word, providing a point of view through expressive arguments. Even though sometimes it is necessary to show with the image what the text says, the elements of an image can be totally expressive in their form, color and composition, producing a dialogue and not merely a repetition of the text.
Toi: What is the role of the picture book in kids' learning process?
EA: Sometimes we are lucky enough to recover a picture book that was much loved in our childhood. The reunion is very touching. In each page, in each illustration we revive sensations of discovery, of belonging, of the enormous pleasure that we felt when we were little readers. This kind of experience is just an example of the importance of the picture book during childhood.
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Interview with Roger Ycaza:
Toi: What kind of images and narratives interest you?
RY: I try to create images that have rhythm, that present a new reading, that contribute to making readers feel in a certain way, that reach them. Right now I’m working in a new book as an author and illustrator where I try to remember how children used to play, that joy of wanting to share the simplest things.
Toi: How do you see the future of children’s literature?
RY: I try to be positive always, and so I am confident that children’s literature is going to continue growing more and more, but without overproduction, with stories very well thought-out, very well analyzed; stories that contribute and not just repeat again and again the same themes. I believe that’s going to be the challenge in the future.
Toi: What kind of picture books do you prefer?
RY: Well, I like all kind, happy stories, nostalgic stories, sensible stories. As I said before, I look for books that move me, that affect me in a certain way, books that I can come back again and again. By the way, I think of children’s books as books for everybody, no matter what age.
Isol Misenta: Is an Argentine creator of children’s picture books and a pop singer. For her career contribution to "children's and young adult literature in the broadest sense" she won the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award from the Swedish Arts Council in 2013, the biggest prize in children's literature
Eleonora Arroyo: Her work has been shown in the Biennale of Bratislava and The Children's Books Argentine Illustrators Fair in Bologna, 2008. Eleonora has illustrated texts by renowned writers such as Juan Gelman, Anton Chekhov and Rubén Darío. In 2012 she was nominated for the IBBY Argentina, Honour List.
Roger Ycaza: Is an Ecuadorian Artist, he has illustrated more than seventy short stories, children's and youth novels for different publishers. He writes and illustrates his own stories, among which are “Los días raros" Fondo de Cultura Económica ,"Abril y Moncho" (Alfaguara ), "Vueltas por el universo" (Deidayvuelta ) and “Dreams", Alfaguara. His work has been published in Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Chile, Peru, Guatemala and the United States. He obtained the Fondo de Cultura Economica Award for “At the edge of the wind" in 2014. Roger’s work was selected for the international exhibition "I Colori del Sacro” in The Diocesan Museum di Padova, Italy in 2016. He also obtained the Honorable Mention by Latin America Illustrates, in 2014. He also obtained the Illustration Prize “Guevara Darío Mayorga "in 2014 and 2011.