Modern children's picture books are works of art in their own right

843-255-6500November 17, 2013 

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  • For more information on the Beaufort County Public Library system, go to www.beaufortcountylibrary.org.

November is Picture Book Month, an international literacy celebration of the beauty and value of picture books, and the Beaufort County Library is the perfect place to explore the stunning artwork contained in today's picture books.

If it's been a while since you ventured into the world of children's books, you will be surprised by the quality and variety of the artwork that these treasures contain.

In its simplest form, a picture book is a story meant to be read and shared with a child. Like sharing a meal, reading and exploring stories and books can form lifelong bonds between children and the adults who read to them. The stories found within a picture book range from simple, predictable fare for babies and toddlers to heartfelt stories that deal with complex issues, intended for readers and listeners who are in upper elementary school and older.

The illustrations in today's picture books are as varied as the stories they accompany. Unlike the black and white and often-flat illustrations found in American picture books through the 1960s, children's illustrators have raised the bar, creating artwork that rivals that found in any large art museum. Many illustrators create full-sized paintings for each page of a picture book, and then it is reduced to the appropriate size for the book. If a visitor to the library randomly selects 10 picture books, they are likely to find graphic design-inspired illustrations, collages that used handmade papers and dyes, watercolor paintings, pen and ink sketches with pastel overlays, or bold bright folk art paintings that spill off the page. These quality illustrations have made the picture book much more than just a story. They have become the first means of exposing children to various styles of art and allow the youngest of children to begin forming their own opinions of art and design.

The work and creativity that goes into writing and illustrating picture books is truly amazing. The organizers of Picture Book Month celebrate these books and reveal stories behind many of the illustrations in the most popular books. Check out their website, www.picturebookmonth.com, to see posts from award-winning illustrators and learn about the creative processes used in picture book illustration. This website is a great place to get reacquainted with this art form.

Several award-winning illustrators have rich websites that provide a glimpse into how they create their art, share behind-the-scenes stories and biographical notes, and include interactive games or activities that kids can enjoy. Probably the most identifiable picture-book artwork is that of Eric Carle, who gave us the classic picturebook "The Very Hungry Caterpillar." Visitors to his website, www.eric-carle.com, will find all his characters, as well as information about his newest project.

Denise Fleming is another very accomplished illustrator who makes her own paper, dyes and paints for each picture book illustration. Kids of all ages will be fascinated by her website, www.denisefleming.com, which is filled with colorful images from her books. There, she explains the elaborate processes that she uses for each of her illustrations.

Jan Brett, author and illustrator of more than 60 books including "The Mitten" and "The Wild Christmas Reindeer," has always freely shared activities, games and crafts based on her artwork, which can be downloaded and printed for use at home or school. Her website is constantly updated with new content and contains many seasonal offerings. You can find her at www.janbrett.com.

Picture books make great holiday gifts for kids and adults of all ages. Check out the list of recommended titles at the Picture Book Month website, or pick up the latest copy of BookPage available at all Beaufort County libraries. The children's section of BookPage always contains information about newly released books that are sure to please. While you're in the library picking up BookPage, step into the children's department -- we'll be more than happy to share our love of picture books with you.

Julie Bascom is the children's manager at the Hilton Head Island library.

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