Sunday, May 27, 2012

Review: Show Me a Story

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Leonard Marcus has built his career on writing about children's books which must have seemed like a risky proposition when he first began pursuing this line of work. As he, and many of the illustrators he interviewed for Show Me a Story, observed, children's books have been treated as second class citizens in the publishing world, until recently.

In Show Me a Story, Marcus includes interviews with the most influential and distinctive children's book illustrators (in some cases, author/illustrators.) In some cases, like Maurice Sendak, Marcus includes his initial interview as well as follow-up interviews.

All of the interviews in Show Me a Story are wonderful and powerful. Most of the illustrators cite at least some encouragement from family and friends as they were growing up, but each of them faced different challenges in finding their style, and sizing up various projects.

Jerry Pinkney became one of the pioneers in multicultural picture books, and even though he couldn't deny that the push for more inclusivity in books provided him with an exciting opportunity, he didn't want to get pegged as an artist who only illustrates books for children of color. In Pinkney's interview, he explains various projects he fought for and their significance in his life. For example, he chose to work on The Little Match Girl and The Ugly Duckling because his mother read him Anderson's Fairy Tales when he was a child.

Maurice Sendak is a hero of children's picture books the way Judy Blume is to young adult, in that he didn't shy-away of showing children (and parents) at their worst. In his interview with Marcus, Sendak mentions that he grew up in the era of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and found that his parents' efforts to shelter him from that story just made it more frightening because that sort of censorship of what was discussed in the home left a terrifying incident unprocessed. They never consoled him because they were too preoccupied with expunging the incident from their lives. Consequently, Sendak created picture books where children got upset, and where parents weren't always as attentive and responsive as we would like them to be. He also emphasized the difference in time for a child--a minute to adults is enough time for a child to engage in a journey to the wild side and back.

This was an interesting read, and I'm sure the hardcover version will be lovely. I read this as a digital galley (from NetGalley) on my Kindle, but the print edition will include a color insert showcasing sample work of the illustrators who were interviewed.