Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Picture Book as "Object?" Yes, THE STEAM of PBs by Kathy Halsey

We picture book writers have probably analyzed our genre in a gazillion ways. But, have you thought of the picture book as an "object?" If we examine a picture book in its totality via the STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) lens, we notice that the "book as object" is

  • engineered
  • produced
  • designed
  • and is a multimodal format.
My own educational process in mining the picture book as object began with Megan Dowd Lambert's groundbreaking professional title READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN, 2015, Charlesbridge. Megan, a mom of five, is a multitalented authors/educator with an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons and almost a decade at the Eric Carle Museum. She knows the picture book and created a new approach for storytime that educators, librarian, AND writers can adapt for their own purposes. In librarian parlance, this book is "E," for "everybody" connected to children's literature.

By studying the format via the "engineer-design" process, students of all ages will better see why we librarians have designated the picture book for "everybody," also. The book or "paratext" may become a more significant subject to older students and educators across the curriculum via this point of view. STEM and STEAM are currently educational buzz words that rightly belong to books, especially picture books with their specific format of 32 pages, illustrations, end papers, back/front matter, and typography. 
For Educators/Librarians (Visiting Authors, too)
  • Megan created/field-tested "The Whole Book Approach,"   during her Carle Museum tenure. (Peruse the SLJ article here.)  
  • Instead of using storytime for "artificial" themes such as zoo animals or holidays, invite children to look at picture books as museum pieces that tell a story. 
  • Ask questions such as: "What's going on in this picture?" and "What makes you say that?" Then wait for the response. (based on the Visual Thinking Strategies of Housen and Yenawine)
  • Take time to explore/examine a book's paratexts, the material beyond art & main text, before you read aloud. Children will be fascinated by what covers, jackets, endpapers, and front matter lend to the totality of story.
  • Expect these strategies may take time. However, interruption of the story proper can be a form of engagement by your audience as well as a great way to approach questions!
For Picture Book Writers
  • Dive into this book and use it for the craft of writing especially if you are a writer only, not an illustrator. After studying this for my craft, I realized I need to trust the design layout as well as the illustrator to say what my words may not.
  • Use the "Glossary of Book and Storytime Terminology" for design terms that may be unfamiliar. (Do you know the terms "knockout type," "recto," and "intraiconic?")  
  • Much of "show don't tell" for which we writers strive can happen with the physical elements of typography, use of the gutter and other physical book constructs.
  •  Here are two examples:
      • Notice the font size changes in BULLY by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. As a writer, she doesn't need to say the bull yelled or when the character changes his approach to the other animals. Typography does it for her.
      • Or examine Chris Raschka's YO YES for character change and development. Placement of characters on opposite sides of the gutter and then on the same side of the gutter show us visually the progression of friendship. No words are needed. 
Megan Dowd Lambert @ NESCBWI

I can honestly say that READING PICTURE BOOKS WITH CHILDREN has freed me as a writer to approach my manuscripts differently. I can let my words breathe better on the page knowing the "codex" (look in the glossary...) will also project my plot to readers. And, as an educator and speaker, I can draw readers and audiences into the picture book world in an engaging new way!


  1. Fantastic post, Kathy! I've wanted to learn more about the design process and "paratext," so I will definitely pick up Megan's book. Thanks!

    1. TY for reading, Randi. It is a fascinating subject!

  2. This makes pbs sound very complicated in a good way.

    1. Yes, makes them seem more "worthy" of study, Tina.

  3. Lambert's book is in my reading pile. It just moved to the top! Thanks for this!

  4. Thanks for the reminder about this book & the great post, Kathy--very informative!!

  5. You stumped me with the design glossary. I've got Lambert's book but haven't cracked it, yet. Gotta get on the stick! Thanks for the reminder.

    1. Jilanne, you will really enjoy it! Trust me.

  6. Wonderful post, Kathy! Makes me want to delve full-STEAM ahead into MDL's book!

  7. Haven't seen this book yet, Kathy. Looks interesting!

  8. Hello dear Kathy.
    Appreciations for introducing me to this valuable resource.
    And to Megan Dowd Lambert.
    The Eric Carle is on my list of New England to-go visit sites.

    So I'll take the bait. I can guess "knockout words."
    But if you have time, pls. share more about "recto" &"intraiconic."

  9. Thanks for this post, Kathy. There are some great insights and ideas here and now I have another book (or two or three) on my to-read list.

  10. Sounds like a great book, Kathy! Thanks for your post!

  11. Thank you for sharing this book with us Kathy-you rock with wisdom!!