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Picture books that speak volumes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 1:34pm

I always enjoy the challenge of finding the right book gift for my friends. This year, I think food aficionados will enjoy Melanie Dunea's My Last Supper, which comprises interviews with 50 great chefs about their choices for a last meal on earth.

For fashionista friends, there's Andrew Bolton's Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. The cover was created with lenticular printing, so that the image changes from a haunting headshot of the clothing designer to his signature skull motif when viewed from different angles.

I have a cache of staples for lovers of children's books, and I am always delighted to discover new works. Here is a selection of anthologies. Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book is a collection edited by former children's book publisher Anita Silvey and is subtitled Life Lessons from Notable People from All Walks of Life.

Each double page comprises the notable person's own written account of the book that deeply influenced their life, plus an image of the cover with a description of the book and its author, and a 500-word excerpt from that book. Contributors include actor Kirk Douglas and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Leonard Marcus, a professor of children's literature who has written extensively about children's books and their illustrations, compiled and edited Show Me a Story: Why Picture Books Matter. I picked up a copy as soon as I saw that my beloved Mo Willems provided the illustration for the cover.

In this book, Marcus presents a question-and-answer format for his extensive and in-depth interviews with "21 of the world's most celebrated illustrators". The conversations are entertaining because they delve into the childhoods, creative processes, and personalities of these artists.

The big bonus is the rare display of full-colour plates in the middle of the book that reproduce the illustrators' sketches and drafts. The plates show how much attention and effort goes into each drawing.

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art's Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art also features the perspective and sketches of children's book illustrators. There is some overlap between the artists featured here and those found in Marcus's Show Me A Story.

The difference is that, in Artist to Artist, the illustrators give advice to aspiring illustrators in the form of a letter to the reader. In addition to the letter, each artist also provides a photograph of himself as a child, as well as a photograph of his art studio. The most amusing contribution is each artist's self-portrait. Eric Carle, best known for The Hungry Caterpillar, conceived the idea for this anthology. It is a wonderful resource for aspiring artists.

One of the tips that I learned from read-aloud workshops is to read out the title and author of books. That helps children make the connection to other books by the same author.

When I became more diligent about reading aloud the names of authors and illustrators, I discovered how many of my children's favourite books, from Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes to Tiddler, are illustrated by Axel Scheffler. How could I have not noticed that the bulbous noses of Scheffler's characters are common to all these books?

The great joy of giving prominence to an author's name in a read-aloud session is to hear it repeated by toddlers.

My two-year-old generally only sings out the monosyllabic rhymes of a storybook. So it's endearing to hear her proclaim the words, "written by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko".

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy through reading aloud to them and providing easy access to the best children's books for underserved communities across Hong Kong. bringmeabook.org.hk

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Picture books that speak volumes

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