I met a picture book last night.
I read it.
It was good. Now I’m done reading it.
Obviously there’s a backstory to this. I went to an author event at RJ Julia Booksellers last night, where I got to hear and meet Chris Grabenstein. It dawned on me just before he began his talk that I was the only adult there without at least one child. The room was full of young readers in grades 3-5. Those readers were the ones to question the author about where he got his ideas for the books, the characters, the places. So when it was time to head upstairs for the book signing, I let the children go first. They had bedtimes, I justified. As a result, I just so happened to be in a line that snaked through the children’s and young adult sections of the store…for a while. (Oh no, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into that briar patch!)
And I met a picture book by the name of Violet and Victor Write the Most Fabulous Fairy Tale. I’d just heard an author talking about the act of writing. I was browsing with my young writers in mind. Ooh, I thought, this looks like it could be a mentor text for writing. These siblings write their own story right here inside this story. I flipped through a few pages. Oh my, the illustrations are lovely. Then the line started to move. That book became the beginning of a growing pile.
Fast forward. Snow delay! I sat this morning with my bag of new books over breakfast. How indulgent is that? (The books or the breakfast before school!) I pulled out my newly acquainted picture book and another, meatier book from last night’s acquisitions, planning to skim the one before settling in with the other.
I read the words, admired the illustrations and closed the book, setting it aside. Yup. It was a cute little book. We can each tell our own kind of stories. French toast. Delicious.
Wait, was that endpaper supposed to look like an old fashioned library book pocket? And was it written in Spanish? Huh. Was the book originally written in Spanish? I better check the blurb about the author. No. Oh wait, There’s actually an artist’s note on the endpaper. I wonder what that says. (It explained the styles used for the art.) That’s interesting, I thought, there were two styles of art like each child had a unique way of telling their story. Oh, dots? I don’t think I noticed dots. I better go back and look again.
And that, dear Readers, was how I was accidentally invited back into a story that I truly believed I had finished. That is also when the image of a particular student popped into my head. You know which one. The one who spends about three and a half minutes reading a 500 page book and declaring, “Oh yeah, I’ve read that already. I just finished it. I totally understand everything there is to know about it.” Right. Except when I saw that student’s face this morning, it was superimposed over my own! (Gasp!) That’s not the kind of reader I am. I immerse myself in novels. I have conversations with the characters in my head days after I’ve finished reading. I’m nothing like those shallow, surface-y readers…except, OK…sometimes with picture books. Those are just baby books, though. I know how to read much harder things.
I hope this is the point where I can invite you back in for a closer look at what may have seemed cutesy and surface-y at first glance.
I know that picture books can be deceptively rich and this book was a prime example of that. I know that picture books can be quite openly deep and magnificent. But sometimes I approach them with the attitude that they’re baby stuff. What I realized today is that some of our readers approach many books like that with a rakish, devil-may-care attitude and a self-certainty that isn’t quite justified. So they set themselves up to glance, to skim, and to be done without ever scratching the surface to reveal the gem inside. Hadn’t I done just that?
So what I’m left wondering is how do we welcomingly invite readers back into a book to give it a closer look? Because I’m convinced that they’ll have to get a second glimpse into a book before they’ll be able to approach new books with a more open and reverent stance. You can be sure I’ll be less dismissive of the next picture book I meet now that I’ve read both the words and images of this one so closely.
But if I hadn’t been snagged by the endpaper…it was nice meeting you, whoever you are.
P.S. Give this little picture book gem a try…it’s like a geode inside.
P.P.S. If you haven’t been to RJ Julia Booksellers, plan a daytrip!