While working on my bachelor’s degree, I optimistically took an art class intended for elementary school teachers. It filled a requirement, and I thought it might help in future author/illustrator endeavors. It didn’t go as I had hoped. I received an A in the course, but sketches of wine bottles and cloth napkins aren’t practical in children’s lit.
I may have had more luck if I had invested my time watching online drawing tutorials, especially when illustrators like Mo Willems and Jan Brett facilitate the imitation of their famous characters.
The talent that both of those artists have amazes me. The expressions on Trixie’s face in the “Knuffle Bunny” series show such emotion but yet are so simplistic that it gives hope to aspiring child artists.
And the detail in Jan Brett’s illustrations leaves readers in awe. My students’ favorites are the “Gingerbread Baby” books. Even though the storyline automatically brings elementary school affection, Jan Brett still invested countless hours in the details of the illustrations. For those of us whose attempts at drawing a house involve a square with a triangle on top, Jan Brett shows us what a house really looks like. And her trees? They have individual branches and pine needles!
My favorite book of Jan Brett’s is “The Umbrella.” Most of us will never be in a position to visit a cloud forest, but we feel like we’ve experienced a glimpse of their beauty after seeing Jan Brett’s artwork.
This month I had the opportunity to visit the Water Lilies again – one of hundreds of Monet’s works of art depicting his beautiful pond. Seeing the variety of colors and the thick brushstrokes brings awe. More than a hundred years after his passing, his paintings continue inspire so many other people and works of art.
Mary Whyte captures water lily beauty using watercolor in “I Love you the Purplest.” With her elegant illustrations, readers pause, better understanding and feeling Barbara M Joose’s message. The language gracefully combines with the art to share the affinity of a mother’s love – how a mother can love each child so completely and so uniquely. And, it provides parents with an honest way to answer the question, “Who do you love best?”
I would love to see Mary Whyte’s paintings in person. And Jan Brett’s. And so many other works of art. I love the idea behind Eric Carle’s museum of Picture Book art. Children’s illustrations have power and importance. An author’s words aren’t read unless the reader is enticed to pick it up. Artwork provides that motivation.
Admiring art in books (and during occasional museum visits) feels like my destiny. And, I’m okay with that – I am better with words than I am with pictures. One of these days, I will make it to Massachusetts to see beloved picture book illustrations first hand. And I’ll keep my fingers crossed to someday win the contest to have Jan Brett visit our school. Someday there may be a great story about a wine bottle befriending a napkin, but until then, my illustrations will rely on the talent of others.