Let the Wild Rumpus Begin: Picture Books and Illustrated Stories

     The classic definition of a picture book is that the illustrations participate in telling the story. Without the pictures, the story fails to make sense. In Maurice Sendak’s beloved Where The Wild Things Are, the wild rumpus is only indicated through illustration: a wordless double-page spread features distinctive beasts partying their monster hearts out. In David Wiesner’s modern classic Tuesday, after pages of levitating frogs, the reader is left to surmise what happens next Tuesday with the final illustration of flying pigs.

            Closely related, and often seen as synonymous by parents and laypersons, is the illustrated story. Here the pictures are nonessential; remove them and the story remains intact. Illustrations may be lavish, although artistic design is becoming increasingly less traditional. A good example is any piece of literature set into a typically 32-page color format, from illustrated versions of Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, Truman Capote’s The Thanksgiving Visitor, or Virginia Woolf’s Nurse Lugton’s Curtain. Of course the majority of illustrated storybooks feature texts initially intended for children, but keep in mind that to the purist, not all illustrated books are picture books.

            The popular Golden Books from my youth, my favorite The Poky Little Puppy, is a typical illustrated story. Illustrated folktales, like Paul Galdone’s The Three Billy Goats Gruff, are another subset.  Many publishers actively pursue fresh versions of non-European fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Don’t worry if you can’t draw. Although author-illustrators are increasingly being sought, most publishing houses have anArtDepartment, and they will select the artist who accompanies your words. Indeed, expect little input toward the final design. Vocabulary need not be basic. Consider Peter Rabbit’s “soporific” lettuce and the aforementioned rumpus. Publishers know parents and caregivers will be reading these books at story-times or bedtime: adults are the number one purchaser of children’s books.

Tomorrow: Easy Readers 


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