“…Our children need picture books — all kinds of picture books. I can’t imagine a children’s book world without this glorious form. We’re demographically moving into a new baby boom. . . . We need real stories, and long stories, that can be read more than once…”
The picture book as memoir offers infinite possibilities. Reminiscences about family are an invaluable treasure trove of ideas.
Sharing stories can unplug a well-spring of long forgotten tales from family and friends that might not otherwise surface. Yes, you can collaborate with your family on a picture book story!
Here are a few examples:
I’ve been a long-time fan of Marisabina Russo‘s work, from her early beginnings as an artist for newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, to her current career as picture book author/illustrator.
Here is the trailer for her latest book, I Will Come Back for You: A Family in Hiding During World War II (Schwartz & Wade/Random House), about being separated from one’s father and fleeing into the mountains against the backdrop of the Holocaust. It’s a true story, as told to the author by her grandmother.
Her debut, The Line-Up Book (Greenwillow), was a well-worn out family favorite in my household. It recalls one special day in the life of a mother and son. Still in print (first published in 1986), it continues to strike a universal chord. Revisiting that story brought back a rush of remembrances of how inventive my little son was during his cozy ‘alone’ moments at home.
Encountering the above mentioned picture book memoir brings to mind Giselle Potter‘s The Year I Didn’t Go to School (Atheneum/Anne Schwartz). Of particular note is the clear voice of the narrator, who doesn’t find it unusual to take a year off from school to join her bohemian family with a circus troupe in Italy. I felt the concern of the grandparents through the illustration, as they watch Giselle’s family take off at the airport.
Ed Young shares vivid memories of his childhood in Shanghai during WWII in The House Baba Built(Little Brown). Cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the Best Children’s Nonfiction Picture Books of 2011, it is also a Junior Library Guild Selection. It also garnered wide critical acclaim plus starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, and Booklist.
The book is chock full of rich anecdotes, sumptuously illustrated with torn and cut paper, pencil, chalk, pastel, ink, paint, and photographs. A labor of love, it features eight (yes 8!) gatefolds.
As World War II was approaching Shanghai, Ed’s father worked on a plan to protect his family. From The House Baba Built :
“…The safest part of Shanghai was where the embassies were. . . . But the only land for sale there cost far more than my father could pay. So he offered to build a big brick house on it, with courtyards, gardens, a swimming pool, and let the landowner have it all. . . “
— provided that Ed’s family could live there for twenty years. The landowner agreed.
Ed’s father, a trained engineer, draws up the plans…
See Ed Young discuss children’s book illustration and his previous work on Shanghai Messenger, written by Andrea Cheng, published by Lee & Low (below).
THE HOUSE THAT BABA BUILT
Medium: Mixed media
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company/Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Art Director: Saho Fujii
Editor: Alvina Ling
Author: Ed Young
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Wait, wait, there’s more!
Publisher: Random House/Schwartz & Wade
Art Director: Lee Wade
Editor: Anne Schwartz
Authors: Anthony L. Manna and Soula Mitakidou