Thursday, November 8, 2012

National Picture Book Month!

Did you know November is National Picture Book Month?

Picture books are the first exposure kids get to poetry, literature and art.  While I have known this for a long time, I have to admit that it first struck me when I discovered the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA about 8 or 9 years ago.  We took my step daughter out to Amherst to look at schools on a "mini vacation" and I was looking for something to do with the boys while she and her dad interviewed with admission officers.

It was an eye opening experience for me to see the artwork on the walls and be able to enjoy them in a new way.  One memory that stands with me was the time we went to the opening of Chris Van Allsburg's exhibit.  Not only was his artwork from his books on the walls, but some of his sculptures and other pieces were as well.  The closest I have ever come to criminal thoughts was seeing the full sized version of this piece from his book "The Widow's Broom."

I fell in love with this piece.  It is a large drawing with incredible detail and I stood there for a good 15-20 minutes before one of the kids dragged me away.  It is such a beautiful drawing with incredible details.  It was far larger than I expected and it was one of those works that drew me in and I could feel myself being able to do that one thing they always tell you in art appreciation: put yourself in the picture.  I have read the book so many times over the years to a variety of audiences and it never grabbed me like the way I saw it that evening.

I want the original of this piece.  Some day I may be able to purchase it but I admit, for a fleeting moment, I actually thought, "I wonder if I could smuggle this out of here?"

That night, two things happened, my oldest son met two of his childhood idols: Eric Carle and Chris Van Allsburg.  He had a lovely conversation with Chris and became absolutely tongue tied when he met Eric.  On the way home, I asked him what happened and this teen merely said, "Mom, it was Eric Carle.  Eric Carle!"

I can't even begin to express how I love going out time after time to look at Eric Carle's work.  His illustrations as well as his "artart" (as he calls it).  When we were there for the dedication of a piece of William Steig's, I noticed my son's hair was the same shade of green as the green painting in the main hall of the museum that Carle thinks of as the museum's end papers and snapped this photo.

it's still one of my favorite photos of Pi and it made Eric Carle smile.  The museum is also a special place for us because it gave us access to artists and authors in an unexpected way.  It is how Pi met and came to know Tony DiTerlizzi, who has mentored my son in his art. Tony encouraged him to think in ways others couldn't and encouraged him.  Now at MassArt, my son hopes to one day become a SPED art teacher and children's illustrator.

All of these thing are the result of the picture books we spent hours upon hours upon hours pouring over.  We searched for the details in "Animalia" looking for various little secrets in the pictures, I still have many Sandra Boynton books memorized after 20+ years and so many others.

Picture books are truly the great introduction for children.  Art, language, literature and learning at a time when they are still little sponges soaking all of it up thirstily.  So take at least the month to celebrate picture books.  Buy one for a child, read them for yourself, visit the Carle (if you can) and spread the word.

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