Construction Paper Revelations

Before the first day of The Picturebook, Professor Megan Lambert sent us an email requesting that we bring the following items to class: a stack of construction paper, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick. If you're anything like me, these magical three are the things you bring to craft nights because you can't sew or embroider or knit or [insert equally awesome skill here]. They're the essentials. They're the things that make you feel like an artist even when people say you aren't. Therefore, you can imagine my delight when I realized that the activity planned for class was nothing other than starting the project that would be creating our very own picturebooks. In grad school. Awesome, right?

When I found out, I told everyone. As I rejoiced and Instagramed my process over the next few weeks, I realized that the people I was telling were making certain assumptions about the level of difficulty of my program. I can imagine why they would. Picturebooks, normally 32 pages, tend to have simple text and colorful illustrations. They tend to be reviewed in magazines as "charming" or "cute." When pitted against a 500-page novel, perhaps the literary merit of a picturebook goes to the wayside. But let me fill you in on a little secret: Making picturebooks is hard.

The assignment itself seemed so simple at first. We were to condense a fairy tale into five scenes and design artwork for each page (as well as front and back covers). The catch was that we could only use construction paper, three colors plus white, and our artwork was to be a bit more abstract. During our most recent class, we presented our picturebooks. Naturally, the results were as varied as the people in the program:


Mine is the sixth from the left side. And, now that I have turned it in and distanced myself from the assignment, I must say that I have gained a new respect for those who create picturebooks. This is not to say that I didn't have it before. As an aspiring minimalist, I have long admired the art form's conciseness and tight integration of the verbal and the visual. That said, I think the fact that I have now created a picturebook--that all students who study children's literature at Simmons will have created picturebooks before they leave--speaks to our ability to critique them. Sometimes it can be really easy to judge a book on the shelf. In fact, ridiculously easy. But I think that we forget sometimes that someone made that book. That someone maybe even cut out construction paper mock-ups once upon a time before it became that finished product you might be holding now.

My picturebook would probably never be published. It's not even technically a full book. But as I saw it up there, among the others from my class, it felt like I had made one. A real one. All the effort that went into it was plain as day: pencil markings, curled edges of pages, and the like. I'm certainly no Lane Smith, but it's okay because I don't have to be. It just means that not everyone can make a quality picturebook. The best ones, simple as though they might seem, are really works of art.


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