Displaced Geek

Just a city geek and father coming to terms with being replanted in farm country

Wherein My Daughter is not Obtuse

Gabriella loves books. At two years old, she understandably enjoys the pictures more than the words – which is exactly why I’m ticked off. It seems to me, that the majority of children’s book illustrators out there think all kids are stupid. Now you might feel like saying, “C’mon Pete, that’s a little harsh, don’t you think?” To which I answer, “No!” Too long have we suffered with pretty pictures in children’s books that are completely at odds with the words. Don’t believe me?
Allow me to show you some examples.

Let’s start with one of my favorite recent books: 1 Zany Zoo written by Lori Degman and illustrated by Colin Jack.

Now I’m not exaggerating when I say that while this is one of my favorite kids books, it is one of the worst offenders. It has nearly all of the qualities I appreciate in a “read-aloud” type story

  • fun
  • fast paced, but not too short
  • hidden teaching (numbers, animals)
  • illustrations with “depth” (The Koala is my favorite)

However, apparently Mr Jack is not aware that the target audience for this book is very visual. Because before 4 pages have been turned, he begins taking liberties.

...on the box turtles' backs! (Or bellies, whatever, it's not like anyone looks at pictures in a kid's book, right?)

2 sporty zebras in goggles and flippers
were snipping the walrus’s whiskers with clippers.
One did the combing, the other the trimming.
They swept up the clippings, then all four went swimming.

Simple enough, right? Just draw one zebra combing, one zebra clipping, and everyone’s happy. Nope, not this children’s illustrator. He draws two zebras, both clipping walrus whiskers. Not a comb in sight.

“No big deal” you say? Maybe. Let’s continue.
A few more pages in is an example of plain old fashioned disregard.

[…]while monkeys kept time on the box turtles’ backs.

Seriously? I’m sure you thought you were clever, but even toddlers know the difference between backs and bellies. As a mattter of fact, some small children even go around naming body parts at random, to complete strangers! But that’s a topic for a different post.

I shouldn’t really heap all of this on Mr Jack, because that’s unfair. Apparently this is quite an old tradition, and includes some classics among its members.

...Lady was scared too! (Or was she?)

Yeah, she looks really scared, doesn’t she?

Look, I get that they’re just children’s books, but to toddlers, the pictures are the story. They don’t accept that the pictures and words can be in conflict, at least mine doesn’t. And don’t think that they don’t notice. While the “turtle belly issue” bugs me more than it does Gabriella, we cannot read Lady and the Tramp without her pointing out Lady’s smile every. single. time. And we read that book a lot.

In truth, I just don’t understand. It can’t be any harder to make the correct illustrations. Is a comb any harder to draw than scissors? Or a fearful face vs. a giant smile? I mean, there are plenty of other brilliant childrens authors whose books don’t suffer from these discrepancies.

Color me confused.


Written by Peter

January 27, 2012 at 2152

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Just face it, Gabriella’s a genius. 🙂 But yeah, Lady’s smile is kind of ridiculous.


    January 28, 2012 at 1131

    • I know, right? I swear those were the only two that I scanned, but her little library is full of this nonsense.

      And at the risk of sounding like one of “those parents”, Gabriella is pretty smart. (she gets is from Emma)


      January 29, 2012 at 1058

      • True DAT!


        January 29, 2012 at 1908

  2. Anna had read me this chapter of DG but seeing it is great! Yes, Gabriella is brilliant! Of course and sometimes i think illustrators TRY and get one over on the authors and editors! Hah! And one Zany Zoo looks like one zany book.

    Bernadette Rossi

    January 30, 2012 at 838

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: