Over this Labor Day weekend, my family and I ventured out to the Brandywine River Museum of Art to see the exhibit Get the Picture! Contemporary Children’s Book Illustration. This exhibit featured the illustrative work of eight notable picture book illustrators: Sophie Blackall, Bryan Collier, Raúl Colón, Marla Frazee, Jon Klassen, Melissa Sweet, David Wiesner and Mo Willems. Seeing artwork from books I remember reading to my daughters and those I currently share with my students in an exhibit space, enabled me to appreciate the illustrations more fully. The collection of work curated by H. Nichols B. Clark, former director and chief curator of the Eric Carle Museum of the Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts, was a phenomenal representation of the high caliber artwork made accessible through so many of the picture books in our school library collections.
The exhibit materials were grouped by artist, which provided the perfect platform for drawing comparisons. The museum also utilized iPads for an interactive exploration of David Weisner’s illustrations. This dynamic use of technology created a hot spot for the youngest museum goers. Films made with each of the artists discussing an aspect of the creative process were streaming in the gallery, and are available through the Brandywine’s site about the exhibit. I would highly recommend using any one of these videos in conjunction with a read aloud of one of the illustrator’s books to show students how they choose various media and how artists accomplish research for specific illustrations. Check out Jon Klassen’s video which captures his process of using atypical materials to draw a dog!
The lasting lesson for me from this exhibit is to keep looking critically at the books we select. There are so many new styles and techniques emerging in the books we read to students, as well as a limitless crop of new talented artists rethinking the art of stories. Barbara Elleman provides a framework for picture book art evaluation where she stresses that we actually look at picture books with a multifaceted perspective: “with the lens of an artist, the needs of a librarian, and the appetite of a child.” After viewing the exhibit and reflecting on this helpful summary of how we engage with illustration, I plan to reinvigorate our class discussions about the illustrations in books we read together. My aim will be to have my students critically think about illustrations and how they add to a story, especially through recognition and analysis of artistic techniques utilized in picture books. I know that these questions will stimulate our discussions and provide students with an opportunity to showcase their visual observations and understanding.