Column: First Books
More Treasured Illustrators
by Kathie JohnsonIn my last column, I highlighted several illustrators of children's books whom I like. There are many more, so here are a few of them. But first, I'd like to mention a recent find—a delightful book by Eileen Christelow, who writes and illustrates children's books. She has done a book called What Do Illustrators Do? She tells the stories of two illustrators, both of whom are thinking about how to illustrate the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. They go in different directions, though both take inspiration from their pets and children. The book explains how illustrators make changes, work with the book designer and editor, make decisions, and so forth. This is a wonderful book to help kids appreciate the work that goes into a good picture book.
Now, on to the illustrators. First, I'd like to highlight Aliki. She did many books from the "Let's-Read-and-Find-Out" series of simple science books. One example is Digging Up Dinosaurs, which describes how scientists find dinosaur bones, how they preserve them, and how they mount them for museums. The illustrations are simple but detailed, with dialogue balloons that keep the text feeling active. A different sort of book of hers is Ah, Music!, which is full of color and motion. An amazing amount of information is in this deceptively simple-seeming book.
Aliki's book My Visit to the Aquarium is perfect to read in preparation for a trip to an aquarium or to use afterward to remember and understand what has been seen there. It follows the experiences of a boy as he goes through the exhibits and talks about them, and the colors and motion of the pictures are riveting.
Aliki has also done several biographies, one being The Story of William Penn. Here she uses basic, almost stick-like figures and simple text to tell the story. In contrast, A Medieval Feast is rich and detailed, with wonderful information about how the food was gathered, how it was prepared, all the work that had to be done before the king appeared, and then the feast itself and how people ate.
Aliki has written many other books, on a great variety of subjects. I have at least 40 of her books, all of which provide rich information at an easy-to-understand level.
Lois Ehlert does simple books for the very young, and you can often tell that a book is by her just by the bright, primary colors used. Growing Vegetable Soup shows the process of planting and caring for vegetables, which are then turned into delicious soup. Each page is brilliant with color and simple forms.
Fish Eyes imagines going into the water and traveling to the ocean to see many different brightly colored fish, which are then counted. In the counting part, the eyes are holes, with the colors of the fish on the next page showing through.
Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf tells the story of a tree from the standpoint of a child, from the time it begins growing, through its time in the nursery, to the time it is planted in the child's yard, and then as the child follows it through the seasons. This book is both beautiful and informative, with Ehlert's characteristic large print.
Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.
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