By LOU WILIN
Just letting kids play with video games is a fashionable temptation for parents. But nothing matches the picture book for teaching, entertaining and enriching a child, award-winning makers of children’s books said Wednesday in Findlay.
“Stay strong,” urged children’s book illustrator Erin Stead at the University of Findlay Mazza Museum Summer Conference. The museum is the world’s largest collection of original artwork by children’s book illustrators. It strives to promote literacy and enrich lives through the art of picture books.
“I always try to remind people that books are technology and that they are the perfect technology for what they are intended to do,” author-illustrator Philip Stead, Erin’s husband, said. “Everything else we’re trying to do to make them better really isn’t making them better at all. It’s like a spoon. We don’t need an e-spoon. A spoon is (already) perfect for what it does.”
Picture books inform and teach. They expand a child’s vocabulary and awareness of self and others. They charm and entertain through the interplay of words and pictures. They do it all efficiently, Philip Stead said. Most children’s picture books tell their stories in 32 or fewer pages and relatively few words. That’s how it worked in the Steads’ “A Sick Day for Amos McGee,” which won the award for most distinguished American picture book of the year for children, the Caldecott Medal.
Picture books respect their young audience. They can focus on “the interior lives of children,” Philip Stead said.
They give parents and children another avenue to relate and a great excuse to cuddle as they sit beside each other behind the pages of pictures and text.
“It’s not about the adult standing up here telling the child something they ought to know,” he said. “It’s about you going to the child and telling them something about their world that they are experiencing.”
In true integrity, a picture book is a place where bad things can happen. That is a good thing. After all, hurts and hard knocks do happen in the real lives of children.
In “Hello, My Name is Ruby,” Stead has created a little bird, Ruby, an introvert for whom making friends takes effort.
“In the middle of the story, she meets this strange-looking bird. “‘She says, ‘Would you like to be my friend?'” Stead said.
“And the answer is ‘No, thank you.'”
Then comes a poignant, wordless illustration with Ruby standing alone in the rain, singing a sad song. The story ends on a happy note. But Ruby’s rejection in the middle matters, too.
“It was important to me that this (rejection) actually never get resolved,” Stead said. “I didn’t want it to be the kind of story where they learn how to be friends anyway because we all know that not everybody wants to be our friend. It doesn’t always work out. You just have to keep going sometimes.”
“The point of books, I think, is to respect what’s going on in the real lives of children,” he said. “And bad things happen in the real lives of children.”
Therein lies more opportunity for attentive parents and grandparents.
“We are a bridge when bad things happen,” Erin Stead said. “We are the people who make them feel better through those things.”
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