The difference between good and great

Last night, the children picked a couple story books before bedtime. Two of the books chosen last night struck me for two different reasons. I wouldn’t classify either of these books as “must have” literature… they were picked up probably at a garage sale or some such for a quarter a piece in my efforts to rely less on the library and more on our own shelves for read-alouds (these overdue fines are killing me!)

The difference in good and great text in a picture book is sometimes very subtle.  It’s an attention to quirky details or a particular knack for speaking in a child’s language.  We read Babar Visits Another Planet and in the story Babar loses a shoe on the sticky surface of the planet.  Read this next part:

The concept of an elephant being conscious of dignity in footware is wonderfully fresh and thoughtful for a reader to stumble upon.  This is partially why Laurent de Brunhoff has been successful in furthering the Babar series that his father—the famous Jean de Brunhoff— created in 1931.  I tend to love the originals by Jean best… this visit to another planet thing doesn’t amuse me as much as my boys but I really did appreciate this little line. 
The next book we read was the wonderful The Giant Jam Sandwich.  Fun rhyming, a superbly inventive concept… what’s not to love?!  But just try to imagine what this book would look like with illustrations like digital, bright, generic cartoon characters.  *shudder*  The magic would be gone.  John Vernon Lord hits a home run here because of his wonderfully detailed images:

Just look at this last one!  There is a photographer down the road, a morose looking man along the parapet, three children chasing each other on the horizon, and a bunch of women laying out the blanket in the field.  But the text is only about the horses pulling the bread to the site. This is how illustrations should be: not just showing a visual of what the words say… but filling in the idiosyncrasies of a tale and doing half the tale-telling themselves. This book illustrates (Ha! Punny.) that concept so well it is no wonder that Vernon Lord is a lecturer on the art of illustration!  Delicious!