“Illustrator” is a fairly big word, but most kids can probably tell you that an illustrator is the person who draws the pictures in a book. That person may or may not have also done the writing, but in most cases the illustrator’s pictures simply interpret the words. The pictures are based on the text and while the story can stand alone, most of the time, the pictures cannot. They add interest to the book, but sometimes seem like an extra bonus to the storytelling.
One of the special things about WONDERSTRUCK is that Brian Selznick makes the illustrations an integral part of the story. Neither the words nor the illustrations can stand alone in this novel, making it all the more magical.
The idea of telling a story using pictures and words that share the story line instead of just reflecting each other is challenging. A few picture book examples of this include GIGGLE, GIGGLE, QUACK by Doreen Cronin and THE BERENSTAIN BEARS AND THE SPOOKY OLD TREE by Stan and Jan Berenstain.
In GIGGLE, GIGGLE, QUACK, a story about barnyard animals asking for extravagances on the sly, the story appears to stand on its own. But, it’s only when you add in the effect of the pictures that you understand that what makes the story funny is that the duck is writing the notes.
In the BERENSTAIN BEARS story, the words read like a poem and sound like a story. But without the picures, you miss the crazy things that are happening to the little bears as they make their way through the tree that make each of them get progressively more scared.
Here is part of a simple story starter with blank boxes for your kids to complete. Try filling in the remaining blanks with either pictures or words, but make sure to keep each panel separate. Go back and check to see that your pictures are not simply drawings of the words in the other panels, but are telling part of the story on their own. There is also a completely blank panel where you can tell your own story or retell a simple fairy tale alternating between pictures and words.
(Interesting fact: We were lucky to get to hear and meet Brian Selzinck at a book signing in Minneapolis for WONDERSTRUCK. One of the things he talked about and showed slides of was how he created the illustrations first as sketches in small boxes like comics, later making them into larger, more detailed drawings that he tacked up along the walls of his studio so that he could look at them in their continuity in order to get a feel for how they told the story. Imagine–walls FULL of these amazing pencil sketches, literally surrounding him in the story!)
Another simple idea for kids who might be drawing-reluctant–you can do the same activity with simple, free online comic creators such at this comic creator at Read, Write, Think. Google “comic creator” for more elaborate examples for your kids to try.
We would love to see what you come up with! If you want to scan in your creations and email them to us at email@example.com, we’ll post them to a gallery for others to see!
~Valerie and Michelle