I am very careful and fussy about picture books. In my opinion, the illustrator is as equally if not a bit more responsible for the success of the story. Naturally, if you don’t have a good story, plotted out carefully to be both entertaining and age-appropriate, the book will fail. Add plot flow, subject matter, and humor and you have a fully developed picture book. Most times, an added bonus is a message or lesson the language of the PB teaches its little readers, such as manners, friendship, good behavior, compassion, etc.
I have to like the illustrator’s art style. This is usually where a picture book will fail for me. I suggest you read through my other reviews of pictures books to see what I mean. One of my favorite aspects to see when looking at the artwork is clarity.
The pages shouldn’t be so muddled with vibrant colors and people that you can’t follow along with the MC of the story. A great way around this is having a muted background array of color and sharpened colors of the MC keeping the MC the main focus but still captivating first readers and stimulating their interest with the use of color. The theme of the story makes a difference in how color is used. If the theme is friendship and fun, vibrancy in color adds to the effect of the story. If the theme is family, then I would want to see warm colors, and, if the theme is emotional, then the colors should match. For example, if the story is about being sad and then being happy, the colors chosen can greatly affect the effectiveness of the book’s message.
In my mind for a child, nothing beats holding a large, usually over-sized hardcover book in your lap and flipping through pages of large, colorful illustrations. A picture book in the 10 x 10 size is such a perfect book to hand a first reader.
Sometimes, having a book jacket is an added bonus if the front cover’s artwork is different from the book jacket. How many times have we readers lifted the book jacket and been excited to find a beautiful hardcover underneath?
For first readers, however, this isn’t always a great thing and often the reason for having the same artwork on both the cover and book jacket is for little readers to easily identify their favorite book when the book jacket is lost or destroyed. This is a costly process for publishers, but a necessary one for the success of the book with both readers and parents.
The cover art is critical. A pile of books laying on the floor, all the same size, many the same colors. So what makes little hands pick up a specific book over others? Cover art. If you can’t entice first readers visually, then you may as well toss your book out the window. Bold and usually funny pictures grab interest right away. What’s funnier than a nerdy chicken being chased, with the fear of God on his face, by a butterfly?
How about a book with little girls, with cool clothes and pretty hair surrounded by flowers on a cover? This would attract similar-minded first readers. They want to know more about other girls, maybe a tad bit older than them. Their curiosity makes them pick up that book. This brings me to the target readership of a book.
Questions like, is this book for girls? For boys? For both? Or, is it for those who love dogs, cats, firefighters? Who is meant to read the book the most? Should a specific reader be targeted in the PB genre? What’s to say a girl won’t pick up a book about boys? Or, maybe a boy likes something about the girls on the cover–or the flowers. The best thing I like about cover art because there are so many possibilities for readership is how interesting it is, what’s the main statement it is trying to convey. That one piece of art must tell me a singular story in itself. By looking at the picture, I get what the book is about. That is the most important thing I should see when picking up the book for the first time.
A scared chicken who’s afraid of everything, the cover must somehow show me this.
Finally, the book blurb. The blurb is more for adults to use to judge whether age, subject and the message will be a benefit for a target readership. They are the ones, after all, who will be buying the books. So, the author/publisher team must successfully provide a blurb that sells the story. I’ve seen books with a very little blurb. In my mind, this was distressing because now there were unanswered questions and doubts about the book. Rather than take a chance to purchase the book and hope that it contained all those things you want a child to read, adult buyers will put the book back and move on to others.
Over the years, I’ve heard many people say that writing/creating picture books was easy compared to “real writing.” This isn’t a fair statement and in fact, I think the very opposite. Because of word constraints, illustration demands and structure necessities, picture books are very challenging to create. They are also targeting a very influential mind in its early stages of development and messages must be clear, age-appropriate, and precise.
I love books. It’s very simple actually, my reading preferences. Picture books fall into both art and literacy for me, so even as an adult, I love looking/reading them. Then, I dissect them to ensure they are what they need to be. As a reviewer of picture books, I also have a service and responsibility to ensure the quality and standards are met by the authors of such a valid learning tool for our young and most impressionable minds.