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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.

What's a picture worth?

February 15, 2013

What goes into creating an illustration, especially for informational picture books? How do illustrations work with text? And if it's a book of science or social studies — or any other topic, really — how do readers know that the illustrations accurately represent what they are supposed to?

Last night, I heard author Karen Leggett discuss Hands Around the Library: Protecting Egypt's Treasured Books (Dial), the book she created with illustrator Susan Roth. Roth's collage illustrations depict the people who surrounded the Alexandria Library to protect its treasures for all of Egypt in January 2011.

One participant commented that the illustrations — cut, textured, varied paper — more fully involved her in the story based on actual events. The illustrator's note in the book discusses the artist's process and the goals of the finished work, which were clearly achieved.

Artists often do as much research as writers, though their tools are different. It's increasingly important to help children critically look at images — after all, visuals constantly bombard us. An informational picture book is a fine place to start — particularly those that include an artist's note, however brief.

It suggests to young readers that image, like information, is based in something other than imagination. It allows them to follow up if interested. And to this adult, an author and/or illustrator note suggests that not only is the subject taken seriously, so is the potential audience for the book.

A picture is worth not only a thousand words, it's worth thinking about critically.

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