1. How did Picture Book Month come about? In the fall of 2010, The New York Times published an article stating that picture book were “no longer a staple for children.” Many people in the kidlit community expressed outrage. As a picture book author myself, it spurred me into action. In September 2011, I reached out to several of my friends in the children’s book industry: Katie Davis, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Tara Lazar, Wendy Martin, and Joyce Wan. Joyce created the incredible logo while I funded the website, and performed the major marketing and PR. Elizabeth created the PBM calendar. Katie dedicated the entire month of November of her Brain Burps About Books podcast to Picture Book Month. Tara spread the word through her initiative, PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month). We all tooted horns for Picture Book Month on social media: Twitter, Facebook, etc.
2. You have quite a few published picture books. What is it about this format that appeals to you? I have 11 picture books published with my 12th picture book arriving in Spring 2014. My 2013 picture books are The Little “Read” Hen and The House That Santa Built. I love the picture book format! You can reveal so much with so little. A standard picture book runs 32 pages. That’s not a lot of space to tell a story. But the best picture book authors and illustrators use that liability as an asset. Words count. Pictures illuminate. In a good picture book, there is a seamless integration of words and art that elevate a story and transform it into a format young children really connect with. Each page turn is a breath, a pause between words and illustrations. Illustrated end papers can yield surprises the reader does not expect. Insides of dust jackets can even transform into posters! (Look at the 10th Anniversary Edition of Tony DiTerlizzi’s The Spider and The Fly.) Picture books are the building blocks for early literacy. They are worlds of wonder in the tiniest of hands.
3. Do you have any picture book author mentors, and if so who are they and what have you learned from them? I don’t have any personal mentors, per se, but I do adore several picture book authors and illustrators, whose work inspires me. I chose the following for how they inspire me.
The Wordsmith: I absolutely adore Tammi Sauer. I believe she is one of the best picture book writers of the 21st century. She truly understands the art and craft of the picture book and can break it down in terms a kindergartener would understand. She is a clever wordsmith and I love every one of her picture books.
The Connector: David Ezra Stein is a Caldecott Honor author/illustrator. His work is amazing. His work is consistently brilliant, even when the style of his art and writing changes. His books just connect with readers.
The Imagineer: Amy Krouse Rosenthal is an author I adore from afar. I don’t know her but I hope to have her as a Picture Book Month Champion some time in the future. I LOVE Wumbers and Spoons is so sweet. She is another clever wordsmith who just possesses a gift for imagination.
The Thinker: Peter Brown is amazing. His new book, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, just blew me away. Creepy Carrots (written by Aaron Reynolds) won a Caldecott Honor. He makes everything look so easy but each detail is well-thought through. His art is bold yet elegant. He inspires me to not just think outside the box, but to throw the box away.
The Comic: Jon Scieszka makes me laugh. He writes books full of outrageous humor. He really gets kids. And he is as charismatic in person as his writing is in his books.
The Creative: Peter Reynold’s The Dot is such a phenomenal book that I have a signed copy of it in my office. It’s one of my all time favorite picture books. I look at it every day to remind me to “make my mark.” Peter uses simplicity (look at his use of white space) and the art of storytelling to inspire creativity in his readers. Less is more in Peter’s world. And it makes me want more of Peter’s books.
4. How might you suggest teachers capitalize on the power of picture books in their classrooms? Picture Book Month now has a fantastic new Teacher’s Guide written by our education consultant, Marcie Colleen. The guide correlates picture books to the U.S. Common Core and learning standards. Our website also has links to picture book activities. I encourage everyone to read the essays about the importance of picture books by our Picture Book Month champions, which list ample reasons why we should all cherish picture books.
Still want more reasons to include picture books in the classroom? Check out this amazing post by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Debbie will be a 2014 Picture Book Month Champion.
November is Picture Book Month! Read * Share * Celebrate!
Thanks you Dianne for taking the time to provide us with your thoughtful and informative insights.
About Dianne de Las Casas
Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of 22 books and the 2013 recipient of the Ann Martin Book Mark award, her children’s titles includeThe Cajun Cornbread Boy, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, The Little “Read” Hen, and The House That Santa Built. Visit her website at diannedelascasas.com. Visit Picture Book Month at PictureBookMonth.com.