BETWEEN THE LINES
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LIFE

Between the lines: children's book critic Leonard Marcus to visit city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:39am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 May, 2014, 9:39am

Leonard Marcus is a living encyclopedia of children's literature who shares his knowledge through the many books that he has written, analysing the authors and artists who have created some of the genre's greatest works. He has reviewed children's books for The Washington Post and The New York Times, judged multiple book awards and curated exhibitions.

In honour of the 50th anniversary of The Phantom Tollbooth, Marcus created an annotated edition with insights from author Norton Juster as well as Marcus himself. In my recent conversation with Marcus, he described The Phantom Tollbooth as "the Alice in Wonderland of our time - a book of amazing verbal inventiveness and a work of the most playful kind of philosophical reflection". The Annotated Phantom Tollbooth, packed with so much commentary, greatly amplifies the experience of reading one of the greatest children's books of the past half a century, and one of my childhood favourites.

Marcus says "in a classic children's book, you will typically find a character at its centre with whom children can form a strong and immediate emotional connection. You will also find the art and storytelling are well matched to each other and to a child's comprehension."

He will explore some of those emotional connections developed in early childhood (between child and family, child and friends, child and self) in a talk, "Children's Books and the Ladder of Years", which he will present next month in Hong Kong. I will attend with plenty of paper and ink, as I expect to be busy scribbling recommended children's book titles, as well as gaining a fuller understanding of books that I've already read.

Another talk is titled "What Makes a Great Picture Book Great?" According to Marcus, famed children's book author Maurice Sendak built on his vast knowledge of the history of illustration to create the magical worlds of his books.

Marcus advises says it's important for budding picture book creators to immerse themselves in the best picture books of the past.

"They should concentrate on learning their craft and always ask themselves, 'What story do I want to tell?' Success usually follows from hard work that is rooted in a deeply personal vision."

Marcus believes that "an essential qualification for any children's book writer or illustrator is a vivid emotional memory of childhood, that is, the ability to recall what it felt like to be a child".

Magic results when picture book creators transform those early memories into stories and images to which readers can universally relate.

Annie Ho is board chairwoman of Bring Me a Book Hong Kong, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to improving children's literacy by reading aloud to them. Visit breingmeabook.org.hk

 

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