Monday, May 9, 2016

Interview with Lisa Brown: Sharing the power of picture books (with people all ages!)

Local artist and author Lisa Brown has a deep and abiding love for picture books. Her newest book The Airport Book comes out tomorrow and is one of the best books of 2015! Brown not only writes and illustrates books, she also teaches illustration at the California College of the Arts. Last year, we had the BEST author visit at our school with Lisa (read all about it here).
Lisa Brown at Emerson
I spent a lovely afternoon talking with Brown about the power of picture books and sharing stories with children. This interview was originally published at Parents Press in March 2016. My words are in italics, Lisa's follow.

I’m fascinated by the experience that reading a picture books leads to, especially between parent and child. What do you see as exciting and unique to this experience?

When I talk with people about picture books, I always say how there are two texts going on: the visuals and the words. A child on your lap is looking and reading the pictures while you are reading the text. There’s an interaction and an interactivity that happens because you can point things out to the child and the child can point things out as well.

Oh, that's so true! And it's one of the reasons why children have loved reading The Airport Book with me, lingering over each page. With young kids, I start by pointing things out -- but then they jump right in. Older kids start talking and pointing things out right away!
The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown
How do you encourage parents to bring picture books alive for young children when they read them aloud?

It’s funny--there are books I read today that I only hear my father’s voice or my grandmother’s voice reading aloud. I hear my father reading “The Monster at the End of This Book” by Jon Stone. He would read it literally--when Grover was covering the pages with bricks, my father would struggle lifting and turning the page and I loved the drama he brought to it.

Illustrators and authors create a moment to pause and linger with a page turn, a moment to anticipate what comes next. My father was reinforcing the art and the pictures as he read this story, and the whole story became real.

As you turn the page, do you just start reading with a child?

Yes, but… you stop often and ask questions. What do you see? What do you think the characters are doing? Why do they want to do that? Have a dialog with the pictures and with the child. In a good picture book, the text is not going to tell you everything. The pictures ideally carry half of the weight of the story. An adult should let the child read the pictures and talk about the story.

Do you think about the age of your audience as you create books?

Not really. Picture books are meant to be read with an adult and they work on many levels. I can create a story about Egyptology (which is sophisticated) and mummies (which are dead things!) and make it for children because they will have an adult reading it with them.

Yes, my students love Mummy Cat! And it also appeals to older children who want to figure out the puzzle on their own. So many older children I know still enjoy picture books. I hope parents encourage that with children and don’t push them to leave picture books aside as their reading develops.

I tell my art students that a picture book is a piece of mass produced fine art : in most cases it is the only exposure a child will have to fine art. But it’s exposure that’s frequent and intimate, as opposed to a museum.

Frequent and intimate, yes. It reminds me of the phrase, “Again, again!”

Repetition is important. I think it brings comfort. I think it brings mastery, noticing more details each time children interact.

Which book did your son ask for again and again?

He loved Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever so much when he was little that we had to hide it because it became so boring for us to read as parents. So we saved it to dole out in airports when we really needed him to be quiet and engrossed.

That’s so funny--The Airport Book reminds me so much of the wonderful detail in Richard Scarry’s books. It’s like this is coming full circle! 

Thank you so much, Lisa, for a lovely afternoon. I can't wait to share The Airport Book with everyone! Many thanks to the publisher, Roaring Brook / Macmillan for sharing the review copy and supporting our work here. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2016 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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