A children’s book is not a dumbed down story with pictures. Its a genre or its own, a totally unique form of storytelling. The best children’s books use pictures and words, not for redundancy, but as a tag-team, each telling their own part of the story.
Take one of my current obsessions, Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. How the other characters feel about Mr. Tiger is essential to the story. Seeing the pictures enhances the story by letting the reader know that the neighbors are initially ruffled and eventually appalled by Mr. Tiger’s wild behavior. Peter Brown never has to tell us how Mr. Tiger gets wild. He shows us by having Mr. Tiger shed his Victorian outfit and take a dip in the fountain.
As an author, I’ve learned to rely more and more on the illustrator to tell parts of the story. Parts of my manuscripts do not make sense without corresponding images. I’m always looking for the most crisp way to communicate. Sometimes its pictures; sometimes its words. In addition, I look for opportunities to set up a joke in writing that will have a visual punchline.
The best illustrations do more than just tell their part of the story. I love working with illustrators who apply the comedic principal “if this, then what?” If these words are true, then what else is true about about this world. If all the animals do the hokey pokey, then the snake isn’t going to have much of anything to put in. Additions like these give What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo great re-read value. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo is 40,444 word story.
The combined use of words and images to tell stories has been largely limited to picture books and comics. Graphic novels are on the rise because of society’s renewed interest in this hybrid method of storytelling and art. I believe the quality of picture books is also on the rise, as the creators continue to improve the interplay between text and illustration.