Zany, groovy, genius � get the picture (book)

Published: 18 November, 2012 08:47 IST | Team Sunday MiDDAY |

Whoever coined the idiom 'A picture is worth a thousand words', may just have pored over a smashing children's picture book, for all you know. November is Picture Books Month and we bring you the best there is in picture

Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is a picture book which still makes readers want to escape into the wilderness of their imagination 

‘A real picture book goes beyond simply placing pictures and text together’

Sayoni Basu
Co-founder, Duckbill Books

There is a limited number of Indian picture books. Many purporting to be picture books simply slap together stories and often beautiful illustrations without really looking at the interaction between the two. In a real picture book, a lot of the storytelling should happen through the story, rather than an illustrated book, where the text can be read independent of the illustrations which essentially work as embellishments. And, of course, in India there is a dire need for inexpensive books which can serve the reading requirements of a vast populace that doesn’t have access to books. Understandably the focus of many publishers is on the very noble mission of providing books to beginner readers who have no access to books, rather than focusing on the intrinsic merits and quality of the books. The vast number of picture books produced in the country are for this purpose, which means as a result, the picture book in itself is often not of fantastic quality.

Kutti and the Mouse, written by Shobha Vishwanathan, illustrated by Malavika PC 

Sayoni’s picks
Tiger on a Tree, by Anushka Ravishankar and Pulak Biswas
It is the completely delicious story of what happens when a tiger climbs a tree in a village. Bold two-colour illustrations by Pulak Biswas, fantastic design and typography by Rathna Ramnathan (an often neglected part of picture books in India) and of course Anushka Ravishkar’s terse and hilarious rhyming text makes for a book which adults and children enjoy equally.

Kutti and the Mouse, written by Shobha Vishwanathan, illustrated by Malavika PC
This is a book I fell completely in love with. I am still not quite sure why, but it is funny, silly and delightful: Amma makes seven sweet kozhakattais for her seven children, but then Kumar eats Kutti’s kozhakattai and then what happens in the darkness is something kids will enjoy. Malavika’s illustrations are at their wackiest.

Today is My Day, by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Piet Grobler. Typography by Rathna Ramnathan
It explores a situation many children will identify with — people are always telling Tala what to do. Just for one day, Tala imagines a day as she would like to live it. The story in verse is completely delightful, the art is lively and eccentric, and the world created is one that I would not mind inhabiting. And this book truly empowers children, and sees the world from their point of view, which all too few picture books do.

‘It’s all about the fine balance between words and illustrations’

Anushka Ravishankar
Co-founder of Duckbill Books and author of To Market! To Market and the Zain and Ana series

What makes a picture book special is the fine balance and tension between the words, the illustrations and the white spaces on the page. That’s why the designing of a picture book is as important as the text and illustrations. As a result, the picture book is a difficult thing to produce — it involves equal inputs from the writer and illustrator and often the designer — and all three elements need to come together perfectly, with just the right tension and balance.
In India, although there are many fabulous illustrators, there aren’t many writers who understand the writing of a picture book. Also the process involves such an intense and creative relationship between the writing and the illustrations, that the publisher/ creative director has to have a deep understanding of the form and of both, text and visuals, to put them together in the most effective way.

Anushka’s picks
Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak
It is a pathbreaking picture book that expresses the dangerous exhilaration of being bad in a way no other children’s book does. It changed the way people look at picture books.

Fox,by Margaret Wild
A beautiful, lyrical book about friendship and betrayal. It makes you feel breathless with fear and wonder and anticipation.

How to Catch a Star, The Incredible Book Eating Boy and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
They are beautifully illustrated books, with unusual stories. He’s one of the best modern picture book creators around.

‘A picture book a day keeps the blues away!’

Shobha Viswanath
Publishing director, Karadi Tales Company

I collect picture books. There is something so compelling about a 24 or 32 page fully illustrated, sparsely written story that conveys more than tomes of written text. It is like seeing the world in a grain of sand. My children have outgrown them but I, on the other hand, seek them out in libraries and bookstores and sometimes hunt them down online and at used bookstores.

I am amazed at their power, their ability within those few pages to invite even an adult to read them over and over again. While you like some because they make you laugh or smile or sigh or cry, there are others that hypnotise you with their pictures, make you want to delve into that vast expanse of panoramic landscape, or simply reach out and wipe the tear off the little boy’s face or pluck the dying dandelion and breathe life into it so that the little gerbil may smile.

Shobha’s picks
Knots on a Counting Rope, by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault
My copy of this book is so worn out that even the ink in the pages has begun to fade. It was a book offered as suggested reading by a teacher and I remember crying my eyes out while reading it. It was a long time before I could read the story to my children without weeping each time, and perhaps the ink has faded with all the copious tears that have wet the pages.

In this poignant story, the counting rope is a metaphor for the passage of time and for a boy’s emerging confidence facing his greatest challenge — blindness. Recounted as a conversation between a Navaho Indian boy and his grandfather who tells him about the tale of his birth, this beautiful, sensitive story unfolds gently to weave a rich tale of intergenerational love and respect that is bittersweet and unsentimental.

Gathered near a campfire under a canopy of stars, a Navaho Indian boy hears the tale of his birth from his grandfather. Named Boy-Strength-of-Blue-Horses, the child later reaches out into that well of strength to deal with the fact that he is blind. Rand’s atmospheric, vivid paintings evoke the tale’s sensibility as they move it along. A book that resonates long after the last page is read.

The Rumour, by Anushka Ravishankar, illustrated by Kanyika Kini
Do you know the game that we played as children? Chinese Whispers?
Set in Badbadpur, where people have nothing else to do except gossip, strange whispers begin to float around when Pandurang, the village Grouch, spits out a feather one balmy day. The feather travels, turning into a bird, to a flock of birds, to a forest and then to a jungle — all in the space of Pandurang’s afternoon siesta time! Written beautifully in rhyme and prose by Anushka Ravishankar and illustrated with brilliant vividness by Kanyika Kini, this hilarious picture book is a treat for both the eye and the ear! Grouch Pandurang is hilarious, and Kini has wonderfully captured the stances and postures of the villagers of Maharashtra.

Tuesday, written and illustrated by David Wiesner
In the picture book, Tuesday, David Weisner captures the imagination of his audience with his breathtaking illustrations with the story of a frog invasion that happens during the twilight hours on a Tuesday evening. Children’s imaginations will be tugged in this inventive possibility of what happens in the outside world while they are tucked away into bed — frogs soar from their pond on hovering Lily pads past a late-night snacker’s kitchen window, tangle through the hanging laundry, and most charmingly, stop to watch television with an unknowing old woman snoozing under her afghan. By the end of the story, readers will believe that anything can happen after the sun goes down — that even pigs can fly.

‘Picture books are all about the ‘we’s of reading’

Richa Jha
Writer and ambassador for the 2012 International Picture Book Month and founder of Snuggle With Picture Books (.com)

We are a ‘picture-bookly’-wired family. You'll find picture books by the dozens everywhere — in door-nooks, next to the cookies jar, under the dining table, behind the curtains, in the car seat pocket; any place which is large enough for us to curl up with one. We fuss and fret and fight over them, forget our meals when engrossed reading them, and have this delicious habit of leaving them abundantly visible all over the place — you see, we derive some sort of crazy sustenance from it!

Picture books deserve this indulgence; it is the only genre of books that deviates from the I-am norm of a reading experience to the supremely enjoyable we-are-reading-together one. This visually rich medium encourages hours (and layers) of conversation between the adult who is reading out aloud and the child who is following (and interpreting) the images. A good picture book is timeless, and delineates a child's world, her way. Children come face to face with their familiar joys, delights, fears, anxieties or doubts, and work out ways to deal with them. In most cases, it is their first point of exposure to words, language, art and infinite possibilities in the realms of the whimsical and the fantastic.

But the yummiest bit? They make for a perfect recipe for parent-child bonding while snuggling with one.

Richa’s picks
Mes Petits Demons (French), written and illustrated by Claudine Desmarteau
Come, fight your own demons. The entire lot of those nasties!

Pirate Girl, written by Cornelia Funke (translated from German by Chantal Wright)and illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
Bloody Mary! Here’s the funniest, shortest, most potent toast to feminism!

It's A Book, written and illustrated by Lane Smith
The crispest (172 words) celebration of the simple pleasures of reading a printed book in this digital age.

Do Not Open This Book!, written by Michaela Muntean and illustrated by Pascal Lemairtre
The zaniest rib-tickler about creating a book out of nothing at all. 

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