Children's Book Pro | Week One

Last week, I started an online, ten-week children's book illustration course called Children's Book Pro (https://courses.svslearn.com/courses/cbp). Our first homework assignment was to break down three children's books that we love. I thought I would share that analysis here! I had trouble choosing just three books, so I narrowed my choices down to three nonfiction picture book biographies (my jam) that I wish I made. I chose "She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein," written by Lynn Fulton and illustrated by Felicita Sala, "The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read," written by Rita L. Hubbard and illustrated by Oge Mora, and "Mary Wears What She Wants," written and illustrated by Keith Negley. Only after I finished this assignment did I realize that all three books are biographies of a person named Mary, and two are about a person named Mary Walker! Now it's a life goal of mine to join this legacy of amazing Mary-starring picture book biographies...


You can find my analyses of these books below, as well as some master studies we were asked to do of a character from each!



BOOK 1


Title: "She Made a Monster: How Mary Shelly Created Frankenstein"

Illustrator: Felicita Sala

Writer: Lynn Fulton

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

1. What was the main reason you liked this book (be specific)?

This book made me realize that nonfiction stories can be illustrated in just as magical and fantastical a way as fiction. It includes ghosts, vampires and other monsters, all masterfully rendered in Felicita Sala's hand. It also epitomizes the classic "dark and stormy night" story, with candle-lit illustrations that really place the reader in the mysterious interior environment. As an artist who prefers hard edges and geometric shapes to soft, atmospheric blending, I really admired how F.S. made the light of the candles so stark. It takes on the shape of perfect circles around the viewer or hard slants across a room, always breaking up the composition in an unexpected way. As a mega-fan of both historical nonfiction and all things spooky, this book is so perfectly-suited to my interests that I'm jealous I didn't make it.

2. Do other books by this illustrator and writer resonate with you in the same way?

I've not read any of Lynn Fulton's other books, but I love everything Felicita Sala makes. It's clear that she has absolutely mastered her craft. Everything she makes is pristine, which is especially impressive when you consider that all of her illustrations are painted on paper. And she's self-taught! I don't know how she does it.

3. How much does the text contribute to the success of the book (do they contribute equally, or is the illustration doing most of the work?

Although this book wouldn't exist without the story, I really think that Felicita Sala's illustrations are what give this book its tone, beauty, and intrigue.

4. What’s one thing you would change to make the book better? (could be a single page, or the ending, etc.)?

I know the story is about Mary Shelley, but I wish we got to see Frankenstein's monster more. We only see his face once in the book, and he's beautifully-designed.





BOOK 2


Title: "The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read"

Illustrator: Oge Mora

Writer: Rita Lorraine Hubbard

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

1. What was the main reason you liked this book (be specific)?

Oge Mora illustrates this story in a very cinematic way. From the opening spread on, it feels like we're watching Mary Walker's life scene by scene. I also LOVE the story, which is so crazy I can't believe it's real. Mary Walker, the book's subject, learned to read at 116 years old and lived to be 121! Her life story is fascinating and complex and I would not have known about her if not for this book. You definitely can teach an old dog new tricks.

2. Do other books by this illustrator and writer resonate with you in the same way?

I have not read anything else of Rita L. Hubbard's but I own and cherish several of Oge Mora's books. She makes picture book illustration look fun, and I refer to her work whenever I need to be reminded of that.

3. How much does the text contribute to the success of the book (do they contribute equally, or is the illustration doing most of the work?

I think the illustration is always going to dazzle me more than the writing, but I do think Rita L. Hubbard did an excellent job of condensing and organizing a complex story in a digestible and poetic way.

4. What’s one thing you would change to make the book better? (could be a single page, or the ending, etc.)?

I wouldn't change anything about this book.



BOOK 3


Title: "Mary Wears What She Wants"

Illustrator: Keith Negley

Writer: Keith Negley

Publisher: HarperCollins

1. What was the main reason you liked this book (be specific)?

This is an unconventional and sophisticated take on a nonfiction picture book biography. It's possible to read this book without realizing it's about a real person, which I like. The story is spare but clever, about a girl (Mary Edwards Walker) who wants to wear pants in a time period in which it is taboo for women. The reader is placed in the story without being bogged down by biographical or historical details. We fall in love with Mary as a character, and, if curious, are then able to read about her actual life in the author's note. The story and character evolution is the primary focus of the book. I also love Keith Negley's compositions, and the variety of all of the characters. They are rendered differently, but all fit into the same colorful world.

2. Do other books by this illustrator and writer resonate with you in the same way?

I have never read another Keith Negley book. This was the first of his that I had seen.

3. How much does the text contribute to the success of the book (do they contribute equally, or is the illustration doing most of the work?

The text and images contribute equally here. Because they were both made by the same person, they have the same tone and personality.

4. What’s one thing you would change to make the book better? (could be a single page, or the ending, etc.)?

Perhaps more environments? The compositions are mainly white space with characters interacting. But I'm not sure the text needed anything beyond that.