Introduction to Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter

Introduction to Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter: Conversations with 21 of the World’s Most Celebrated Illustrators, edited by Leonard Marcus

Why do picture books matter? Of course because they’re books, but the heart of the matter is right there in the name: it’s the pictures. Before they read words, children are reading pictures. In picture books, the pictures work in concert with the text in a way that is unique among art forms.

Picture books tell stories in a visual language that is rich and multi-leveled, sophisticated in its workings despite its often deceptively simple appearance. It is through the book’s images that a child understands the world of the story – where it is set, when it takes place, whether it’s familiar or new. They read the characters’ emotions and interactions in facial expressions and body language. There may be secondary pictorial storylines happening alongside the main action, like a secret for the child to notice and follow. And nowhere is visual humor explored more fully than in the picture book. Possibly only Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton could equally run the gamut from gentle kidding to sophisticated wit to pie-in-the-face slapstick to anarchic postmodernism.

This visual reading is as important to a child’s development as reading written language. Take away the pictures and you deprive kids of a wealth of understanding – not to mention a lot of fun.

The first art that children see is in picture books. That’s a big responsibility for the illustrator. Leonard Marcus showcases a group of artists who recognize that responsibility and respond with work that challenges and inspires kids’ burgeoning visual literacy. In 21 captivating and intimate interviews, Show Me A Story offers an in-depth look at the passion and vision that these amazing artists bring to their work. No two are alike, except in their remarkable levels of creativity. Their books leave kids amazed and moved. They leave their imaginations energized. And quite often they leave the kids giggling maniacally on the floor.

That is why picture books matter.