Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book art is powerful!

Before my oldest son relocated to California, he gave me a box of his books. Some he collected as an adult, and others were from his college years. Three older paperbacks in the bottom of the box caught my eye. I remembered them from when he was in grade school, and asked him why he kept those particular books all this time.

His response?

The artwork was so cool and made such an impression on him that they became his favorite books. The books are not mainstream classics, but a collection of scary stories for kids: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and Scary Stories 3 from Scholastic.  The illustrations, by Stephen Gammell, are just black and white sketches, but they are so dark, bizarre and creepy-cool that they made the books awesome.  My son kept them on his keeper shelf for nearly 15 years, and then could only part with them because he was giving them to me.

We shared a good laugh and a nostalgic smile as I put the 3 books on my keeper shelf. I told him that I also remembered the books and had often wished that I had them still to read with his little brother, who is a 4th grader. My son told me that his wife had also owned the same books as a kid, and had remarked that she had loved them too.  We all agreed:  the stories were creepy, but what made the books great was the illustrations. Then we started naming off books we read as children where the illustrations or the cover art was fantastic.

I knew then that I just had to blog about book art!!

Great art, combined with a story, can be so magical. Just watch kids during story time. Sitting on the floor in a semi-circle, they listen as the teacher or librarian reads the words. But, just watch their eyes light up when the book is turned around for them to see the pictures. I love watching their facial expressions change! The art totally immerses those young minds in the story!

I'm 47 years old but I can still close my eyes and see the pictures in the books that were my favorites as a child. I remember the pictures of the Laughing Dragon who lit everything on fire because he blew flames out his nose when he laughed. I remember the picture of Toad planting a garden and then yelling at the seeds to grow because he was tired of waiting. And Gus the Friendly Ghost lecturing his mouse friend about making a mess in the house. I remember the stories because wonderful art brought the words to life. Those memories are still in my head 40 years later. And those children's books are still on my shelf.

I have to smile every time I'm at a school or the local library and see children's faces just light up when they get swept up in a story. It's beautiful and magical. Kids have such a strong imagination. If you can get their senses warmed up....they hear the story and they see the story.....they are IN the story. It's beautiful to watch. The entire world around them just stops, and they are hanging on every word. I love to see the magic of storytelling!

That's the power of art in books. It ignites the imagination and brings the story to life. It is the power to make us want to take that journey, to make children (and adults) want to dive into the world of the story. And it carries through into adult hood. We have all gone gaga over cover art that catches our eye, and basked in the new book smell and glossy, gorgeous cover art before reading a new release.  Ever bought a book just because the cover was gorgeous?? Admit it....we all have!! Art and storytelling go hand in hand, each one giving more power to the other.

So that's why 3 middle-grade scary story books are now on my keeper shelf. They were prized possessions of my oldest son....and he gave them back to me to share with his little brother.
Art gives life to the words of a story. Fantastic illustrations can make vivid memories that last for decades. It gives the words transcendence, pulling us into the tale and engaging the imagination.

Total magic.

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