In 1976 Elaine Moss wrote two linked articles for the journal Signal which suggested a whole new way of looking at picture books. Them’s for the Infants, Miss described her experience with picture books at Fleet Primary School, London where she is a part-time librarian. The articles opened up the idea of using picture books with the over-nines. Indeed it’s Elaine Moss’s contention that many of the picture books produced in the last ten years are more appropriate for older children. Encouraged by Nancy Chambers, Editor of Signal, Elaine has produced an annotated booklist Picture Books for Young People 9-13 which she hopes will achieve for these books the audience they deserve and the audience that deserves them.
We are delighted to be able to reprint here a substantial extract from Elaine Moss’s introduction to this excellent booklist, one which no teacher of children in this age range will want to be without.
Picture books for the early years (Pat Hutchins’s Rosie’s Walk, Shirley Hughes’s Dogger) are recognized as vital to the young child’s development, are bought, used, treasured. Picture books for adults (Masquerade, The Book of Gnomes, the psychedelia of Aldridge and van Meeuwissen) float effortlessly on to the coffee tables for which they were designed. But there is a curious belief among many parents and teachers that in between, during the years of `serious education’, the relevant picture books (of which there are plenty) have no place. Children are seen climbing a ladder away from pictures into the `more demanding’ world of print.
The different way in which young people must come to terms with their world is largely conditioned by the mass media, principally television. Indeed, the world comes into the living room. But opportunities to explore the issues raised in those startlingly brief flashes of pictures accompanied by clipped commentary are essential if the adolescent viewer is to become a discerning adult.
Every medium that opens up such opportunities for discussion and deeper understanding is to-be welcomed. The new-style picture book for older readers, a development of the past two decades, is one such medium, but because it is partly visual and at the same time a book there is reluctance to welcome it into the top junior, middle school or lower comprehensive classroom.
The picture books chosen for this guide examine various aspects of life openly, controversially, often humorously. They are not a substitute for the novel or for the formal information book any more than a newspaper is a substitute for works of depth; but they should be part of the diet of the maturing young person of the 1980s. The pictures draw the eye, but often it is the tone of the texts that catches the reader’s imagination. Mostly these texts are the work of the artist, but no less than five of the picture books in this list spring from witty stories by Russell Hoban, that archanalyst of the human zoo.
For the teacher of young people in the nine-to-thirteen age group the key to using the books in this list successfully is to know them, to enjoy them and to have them in the classroom (or library) in sufficient quantity for the format to appear natural, the choice to be wide. Many teachers believe that their classes will reject books in large format that look `babyish’. That indeed may be the initial reaction if the occasional book is introduced out of the blue. But since the ever popular Tintin books are in this format, and so indeed are the proliferating Macdonald Education series, a tactful arrangement of class book corners in the junior and middle schools can make the size and shape of the picture book unexceptional.
In libraries, especially in primary schools where much younger children are seen poring over picture books, it is vital to create a separate location and identifying mark for picture books for the older child. A top shelf close to the novels is the best place, and in the school where I work I call this section `Gold Star Picture Books’. Each picture book in it has a gold star on its spine – and a gold star appears, too, in the top right hand corner of the relevant catalogue card. The books are used naturally, argued over fiercely, delighted in, by those eleven-year-olds who are already tackling Lord of the Rings as well as by those who still stumble through Frog and Toad are Friends. A great unifier in mixed ability classes, these picture books offer fruitful entertainment: a book about football (Football Crazy) may really be poking fun at over-enthusiastic enthusiasts; a book about moon shots (The Church Mice and the Moon) neatly satirizes the space programme; a travel book (Anno’s Italy) postulates theories about layers of culture and national character.
The new picture book is a demanding medium; it makes the reader think; it encourages discussion in groups. Because it is of high standard artistically it helps to develop a critical approach to the picture trivia with which children, adolescents and the rest of us, are pounded from morning to night, willy-nilly.
Picture Books for Young People 9-13
The Thimble Press,
0 903355 07 8, £1.65
The list contains detailed annotations of 84 books. It is divided into four sections, each with its starred artists whose contribution is examined in some detail alongside other recommendations.
Part 1. A Wry Look at Ourselves features in particular the work of Michael Foreman, Anthony Browne and Colin McNaughton.
Part 2. A Deep Look at Ourselves focusses on Maurice Sendak and Charles Keeping.
Part 3. Keep Moving: Ourselves in Picture Strip features Raymond Briggs.
Part 4. Cosmorama: A Relative Look at Ourselves in Time and Place `stars’ Mitsumasa Anno.
To get your copy, write to The Thimble Press, Lockwood, Station Road. South Woodchester, Stroud, Glos. GL5 5EQ. The price of £1.65 includes postage.
A National Book League touring exhibition based on the list is available for hire for £17.00 per fortnight (£13.00 NBL members) plus cost of onward transport (variable). For details, apply to the NBL. Book House, 45 East Hill, Wandsworth, London SW18 2QZ.