Most modern picture books feature children as central characters or animals who retain the characteristics of children. This, however, is not always necessary to make a successful children’s book that may appeal to kids (and adults alike). The following are three recent picture books that I have enjoyed which do not feature children nor animals as the protagonists. All are beautifully illustrated and unique in their own way.
Eggers, Dave, and Tucker Nichols. This Bridge Will Not Be Gray. Mcsweeneys Publishing, 2015.
This is the story of how the Golden Gate Bridge became the most famous bridge in the world. Utilizing bold and simple cut outs, rather than photographs, was a great decision in adapting this true story to a concept that becomes easy to relate to. The focus here is in the fact that this bridge was designed differently than those which came before it. The decision to have the bridge be orange was at first an unpopular and peculiar view. With persistence from a number of creative people, the bridge became what it is today. Like the Golden Gate Bridge itself, this picture book utilizes many design ideas that are not common for this medium. The main character of this book is the bridge itself while the message is a celebration of innovation.
Ehlert, Lois. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. Beach Lane Books, 2014.
This is a condensed retrospective and autobiography of one of the most well-known children’s book illustrators of the last forty years. Ehlert’s books really stand out because of her combined usage of cut paper, photographs and real life objects. Because of these objects her books have a tactile feel as though they truly were built upon nature, rather than by a computer. In the “introduction” Ehlert warns her readers DON’T READ THIS BOOK (unless you love books and art). This book is of course a celebration of a life dedicated to art. What makes it interesting is that Ehlert gives us a peek through this scrapbook at her creative process. She shows evidence that she didn’t choose art but that art simply chose her. The narration walks us through the process Ehlert used to create such classic children’s books as Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. We see sketches of her work, rough drafts of entire books, and materials/tools collected from life that she used to create her style. If you’re fond of Ehlert’s previous books, this comes highly recommended. If you are unfamiliar with her work , it will also provide a great introduction to a playful artist who retains an enthusiastic childlike vision of the world (without actually drawing children).
Savage, Stephen. Sign Off. Beach Lane Books, 2019.
Sign Off is a book based on the concept of what would happen if the silhouetted graphics in road signs came to life. It is a wordless book that takes this clever idea and brings it to full fruition with subtlety and humor. The book begins with full page spreads of before and after scenes. For example, in one spread, a car is parked in a handicapped spot. In the following spread, the wheelchair leaps off the sign and does a wheelie over the parked car. Later in the book, the iconic images march off together leaving all their blank yellow signs behind. They then proceed to dismantle the yellow of a traffic sign which through manipulation becomes the sun, giving them new life. Even though it has no words, this story is as much about reading signs as it is about dismantling the codes behind their meaning. The visual story reads well and is as an intelligent primer as any on visual literacy.