I’m just back from moderating the Foundation for Children’s Books celebration of “New England Voices.” This year’s session featured three talented and friendly authors with three very different types of books and types of presentations:
- Melissa Stewart showed classroom activities she uses to teach kids about the amphibia in her nonfiction picture book A Place for Frogs.
- Jef Czekaj presented his comics-style picture book Hip and Hop, Don’t Stop! with background beats.
- Kevin Markey read from his manuscript for the next volume in his Super Sluggers series of baseball novels for middle-graders.
Um, wasn’t it hot today?
Did you like dinner at Tartufo?
Where do you get your ideas?
But in fact there are some areas of overlap. First, the baseball team in Super Sluggers is haunted by ecological disasters: thunderclouds over their slumping hitter, unseasonable winter, plagues of locusts. A Place for Frogs talks about how changes in habitats affect animals. Kevin and Melissa were thus able to discuss the environmental awareness of today’s kids, how the idea of ecological trouble is now part of our world-view.
Second, the picture-book authors are using text in non-traditional ways, not just a single thread of third-person narration that an adult can read. A Place for Frogs has three levels of text: a simple main text, additional information about each species, and a more complex description of an effort to save that habitat. Hip and Hop is in comics style, with speech balloons in addition to the narration.
That opened the door to Jef talking about how comics techniques have become acceptable in picture books; he used to write his stories as comics, then convert them to traditional picture-book forms, but now he doesn’t have to. Melissa and audience members talked about how kids can process different levels of texts, particularly when reading together (PDF download).