Reviews 2014

The Picture Book Maker: The Art of the Children’s Picture Book Writer and Illustrator

The Picture Book Maker: The Art of the Children’s Picture Book Writer and Illustrator. Karenanne Knight. London: Institute of Education Press, University of London, 2014. 134 pages. £24.99 (paperback).

The Picture Book Maker is intended to support authors and illustrators in creating picture books that appeal to children. Karenanne Knight is both an illustrator and author, as well as being a lecturer in illustration. It is no wonder then that this book seems to be written specifically with aspiring picture book creators in mind. Each chapter is concise and contains supporting exercises that the reader could work through to contextualise what they have read and apply them within their own field as an author or illustrator accordingly. Examples from well-known children’s literature serve to support the reader’s understanding of the picture book making process.

Knight begins with a clear overview of what constitutes a picture book, and she distinguishes between the picture book writer, the picture book illustrator and the picture book maker. The first chapter examines different kinds of picture book ranging from concept books to the more interactive ones available on the market and offers a holistic perspective on the picture book as a whole. Knight then unfolds the “how of picture book creation from idea to finished work, through characterization, location, plot, process, story and transfiguration, devices, techniques and editing” (8; emphasis added). Knight describes the intricate relationship between the image and text in terms of Baudrillard’s concept of the simulacrum, where the “image can be seen to be a material or mental representation of a person, place or thing” (Knight 9). In other words, Knight highlights the importance of being honest and realistic in portraying characters, emotions and places within the picture book. Knight’s description of characters and the practical tasks which complement the discussion bring to light some very important aspects of creating characters, such as giving them peculiar identities including a name that reflects their personality and ascribing a "handle" to them or other mannerisms specific to their personalities. In addition to her informative notes on characters and characterization, Knight also highlights the importance of ensuring that society is thoughtfully represented and that there is a sense of inclusiveness in depicting different sections of society or culture. The chapter on the plot and sub-plot of picture books was an eye-opener. Drawing on research into reader’s memories of picture books that appealed to them as children, Knight highlights essential aspects of memorable plot formation within picture books. She offers some sound practical advice on how a strong storyline could enhance the picture book through careful consideration of the structure of the plot. In addition to the "beginning, middle and end" guidance, Knight also highlights relevant aspects of building the plot such as a focus on balance, disharmony, an inciting incident and conflict resolution (37). Building on the plot and structure, Knight manages to put aside niggling doubts that most aspiring authors have with regard to the originality of their stories. She cites Moritz in saying that all books are usually based on themes drawn from one of the eight classic stories: Cinderella, Achilles, Faust, Circe, Candide, Tristan, Orpheus, and Romeo and Juliet.

After the introduction on the text, Knight moves on to unravel the illustration process. Knight draws from her research on children’s perspectives on what makes a picture book appealing to discuss components such as children’s preferences for types of paper, font styles and how the text is placed on the page, among others. The chapter then takes on a more technical tone where Knight highlights tools and techniques involved in the illustration of a picture book ranging from the type and quality of paper that could be used to creative ways of working with shades and tones of colours and page layouts. Although not all picture book makers are illustrators, I felt that this technical know-how would definitely help one in envisioning the picture book one wants to create. The section on storyboarding was one that particularly appealed to me within this chapter as I believe storyboards represent the marriage between the illustrator and the author in producing a good picture book. The detailed description of storyboards and the supporting exemplar would be particularly useful to the aspiring picture book makers.

Knight has left no stone unturned in her book and this was evident in the research-based data that she used to discuss relevant aspects such as high-frequency words used in the early years curriculum in England, and her thoughtful consideration of the value of dual-language books among others. In Chapter 8, Knight explores different genres commonly used in picture books, highlighting specific examples from the field of children’s literature. The chapter also examines transfiguration, a technique that involves casting a fresh eye over traditional or existing stories by rewriting them with different focus. As the book draws to an end, Knight concentrates on the value of fine-tuning the manuscript in preparation for publication. This she does through minute details of important points to be noted when submitting a manuscript and through very practical reminders about the importance of effective front and back covers, and honouring copyright rules and regulations.

To conclude, the book clearly serves to support students across illustration and creative writing courses. Knight’s use of clear and simple language as well as her use of examples to illustrate the points she has made contributes to the overall appeal of The Picture Book Maker.

Pearl D’Silva
New Zealand Tertiary College