A picture book is a complex art
form that interplays words and illustrations to tell a story. Although a picture book is often only 32 pages long, the experience of reading it can be a rich one – with stops along the way to discuss themes and reader reactions, explore details in the illustrations, and look at how text and illustrations work together. In today's image-oriented age, it's especially important to help children develop a certain level of visual literacy. Here
are some ideas for exploring the illustrations in
A Little Something.
Start by taking a general look at the illustrations. They were painted using watercolors and casein on a 100% rag, cold press surface illustration board. Watercolor is made up of powder color bound with gum arabic and glycerine. It is a transparent medium applied with water. Casein is a water-based paint that dries semi-waterproof. Painting emphasizes the use of color to convey meaning and emotion. What are the dominant colors in A Little Something? Why are they appropriate for the story? Do the illustrations look unrealistic and dreamlike, or the way things really look in the world? Why is this style appropriate for the story?
Next, explore composition. What are the dominant parts of each illustration? What's the first thing that catches your attention? Why? What are some of the surrounding, supporting details in each illustration? How are they important? What feeling or thought does each illustration evoke? From what perspective are illustrations drawn
(i.e. from the perspective of someone looking at the characters, or the perspective of the characters themselves)? Why is this important?
Now tie the illustrations together with the story text. What's included in the illustration on each page? Do illustrations complement, extend, or highlight the text? When does the text mention something that's not in the illustration (e.g. on the page where the grandmother gives the granddaughter the wooden doll, only the cedar chest is shown; the wooden doll actually appears on the title page, and then again in the illustration of the teenage granddaughter with the tablecloth)? Which illustrations include things that are not stated in the text?
Now do some really close observation. Explore the illustrations in detail and how they work together. Try to notice things you may not have noticed before, and make connections to the story's themes. Here are some "Find It" challenges:
Find the Photographs: Where do photographs appear in the story? How does a photograph play an important role in the story? What do the photos at the end of the story symbolize?
Find the Cedar Chest: Where does the cedar chest appear? How is the setting around the cedar chest at the beginning and the end of the story the same? Different? What does this mean in the context of the story?
Find the Tablecloth: Where does the tablecloth appear? Do you think the granddaughter's attitude toward the tablecloth changes? Why?
Find the Keepsakes: When the teenage granddaughter is looking at the tablecloth, what other keepsakes do you see in the illustration? Where else in the book do you see them? What keepsakes are mentioned in the story text, but not shown?
Find the Artwork: What did the granddaughter draw on the kitchen table, on the first page in the story? (Answer: The grandmother cooking soup at the stove.) Where else does the granddaughter's drawing appear? Why do you think the grandmother kept the drawing?
Find the Key Words: Where in the text and illustrations do the words "a little something to remember me by" appear? The words "best grandmother?" What do the words mean each time they appear?
After you've explored the illustrations in A Little Something, compare different mediums, styles, compositions, and illustration/text interplay using other picture books. For example, these books with intergenerational themes represent a wide variety of illustrations: Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman; The Magpie Song by Laurence Anholt; My Grandmother's Journey by John Cech; Something from Nothing by Phoebe Gilman; The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams by Jenny Koralek; All the Places to Love by Patricia MacLachlan; Prayer for the Twenty-First Century by John Marsden; Everything to Spend the Night from A to Z by Ann Whitford Paul; The Party by Barbara Reid; Happy Birthday Mr. Kang by Susan L. Roth; Selina and the Bear Paw Quilt by Barbara Smucker; Our Granny by Margaret Wild; A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams.