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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

An award for the world of children's books

May 16, 2011

Three of my very favorite illustrators have been nominated for a very prestigious award, the Hans Christian Andersen.

Every other year, the names of an author and an illustrator are put forward for consideration for this international honor, selected by the National Sections of the International Board on Books for Young People (better known as IBBY). The award is given for their lasting contribution to the field of children's literature.

The illustrator nominated by USBBY (the United States chapter of IBBY) is Caldecott Medalist, Chris Raschka. American readers are very familiar with at least two other illustrators: John Burningham, the British nominee, and Peter Sís, nominated by the Czech Republic.

I find it interesting how illustration seems to translate more readily than text even though each culture seems to have its own unique way of presenting things visually. Take a look at some of the picture books in the International Children's Digital Library and let me know if you agree. (It's also interesting to note that the award for illustration was established ten years later than the author award.)

Like letters in print, images need to be decoded but it's assumed that illustration is easier to understand. Perhaps it is — if the viewer has the context in which to make meaning. (I'll never forget the city-bound child who made the logical assumption that the four-legged creature with two ears and a tail was a dog; it was a picture of a cow.)

It's a marvel to observe a young child pour over illustrations in a book; talk to them about what's going on, and maybe start a conversation about it. Ask about color (what do those colors make you think of?), line smooth or jagged, bold or thin (how do they make you feel?), composition (why do you think the character is over here rather than in the middle?). The illustrations of Raschka, Buningham, and Sis are unique to each artist and perfect for starting this kind of discussion.

Each is a winner — even though the HCA awards won't be announced for almost a year. It will give the nominees time to bask in their country's recognition of their contributions to children's literature.

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"Children are made readers on the laps of their parents." — Emilie Buchwald