Monday 8 May 2023

The Joy of Visual Sub-Plots, by Pippa Goodhart


I’ve read many many picture books over the years, both for my own enjoyment and with the ‘professional’ excuse that this is essential research to keep me up to date with my industry. And I read and show my own picture books to children in schools when doing author visits. But it had been a long time since I'd done that slow, fully-engaged and fully-absorbed, kind of sharing of picture books with a particular child, as I had done in years gone by with my own children. Now, with a two-year-old grandson, I’m happily doing that again … and discovering things. 


Wonderful ‘Stuck In The Mud’, written by ex-Picture Book Denner Jane Clarke and illustrated by current picture book denner Garry Parsons, is a joyous rhyming story about mud and foolishness and farm animals, delivering a funny twist at the end. 

But, what is little Samuel’s favourite part of that book? Not that main story at all, but watching the top barn door for chicken appearances and disappearances! 



Garry, Samuel and I have imagined that chicken watching the farmyard drama, then hurrying downstairs in order to bring her best friend chicken to come up and join her with the best view of the drama down below. I wonder, how consciously did you add or remove chickens from that window when you were illustrating this book? 


An old favourite picture book from my children’s childhoods is ‘Goodnight Gorilla’ by Peggy Rathman. 

At first glance it’s a very simple story, but there are such riches to be found in the illustrations if you really look. Those colours of keys matching cages, the toys in each animal’s cage, the escaping pink balloon. But it’s the mouse with the banana that Samuel loves best of all, never mind the naughty gorilla main character. Here’s just some of the sub-plot of mouse and banana. 


I’ve just read Ed Vere’s wonderful brand new picture book, The Artist, reviewing it for ABBA, and I was noticing so many extra joys, beyond the depiction of the main story, to be found in the pictures. Aren’t these characters familiar ones if you’ve read Ed’s other books?


And just look at all the intense tiny stories going on in this crowd scene. 



So, a big Thank You to the illustrators who give us more than we might realise unless we slow down and really, really look! And Thank You, Samuel, for reminding me how to more fully appreciate the riches of picture books.

1 comment:

Caroline Pitcher said...

Thanks, Pippa - might have to get this for my 3 tiny grandsons!