The Gifts of a Picture Book

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We all have favorite picture books. They bring back memories, they remind us a time in our lives, they enchant us.

There is one book that has impacted, affected, and influenced me more than any other. And it happens to be a Christmas book. It is The Night Before Christmas, written by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa ( a female illustrator who was praised for being one of the first to use multi-racial children in her work at a time that it was not pc to do so). This is not a contemporary book, it was published by Grosset and Dunlap in 1961. So I do hope you will indulge me in this little stroll down memory lane?

How much of the impact of this book is because it also embodied the excitement I felt as child wait, wait, waiting for the magic of Christmas morning to arrive? I’m sure that’s all wrapped up in there. But this book is why I wanted to illustrate children’s books. I saw things and noticed things in Gyo’s pictures that I had never seen before. Like the tiny mouse hidden in the letter “O” on the cover. The candy cane lines aren’t red, red, they are a faded, nostalgic hue. It all spoke to me.

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This is the first page. I thought it was beautiful. The whiteness, the inviting simplicity. And the mouse…

There are many mice peppered throughout the book. “Can you find the mouse on this page?” How I studied those illustrations! Was there a mouse? Was I certain there wasn’t one tucked away there?

I was one of those kids who was a little scared of Santa. But not Gyo’s. Her Santa is small, less scary to a child than a big fat man hidden by a beard. He looks happy and childlike.

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Sometimes. as picture book crafters, I think we get caught up in trends. As adults, we gravitate toward what we think is new, innovative and cool. This book serves as a reminder to me that the goal of a picture book is to connect the page to a child. Just like this one did for me so many years ago. In fact, Gyo Fujikawa said,

“In illustrating for children, what I relish most is trying to satisfy the constant question in the back of my mind–will this picture capture a child’s imagination? What can I do to enhance it further? Does it help to tell a story? I am far from being successful (whatever that means), but I am ever so grateful to small readers who find ‘something’ in any book of mine.”

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I’d love to hear about your most inspiring picture book?

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Images and text is from The Night Before Christmas, written by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa

Grosset and Dunlap, 1961

Jennifer Black Reinhardt

10 Comments:

  1. PLAY WITH ME, by Marie Hall Ets. The book spoke to me AS a quiet, watchful child who delighted in the natural world and, perhaps, was most comfortable there. As in your NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS there were so many small details to notice and follow TOO…

  2. Oh, thank you so much for sharing, Anna! Isn’t it lovely to look at these books now and still feel that same bit of discovery? Thanks!

  3. I loved this trip down memory lane, Jennifer. And thank you for pointing out the little mouse in the “O” — those sorts of details are so fun for kids to discover (adults too, even when they need to be pointed out . . .). Btw, I didn’t get the email alert. Ugh. :<

  4. The first book I can remember was a book of traditional tales. It was oversized, and each story was accompanied by one, gorgeously-colorful, full-page illustration. The only story I can remember right now (because the book lives at my older brother’s) is The Three Billy Goats Gruff, probably because it disturbed me and had me forever checking under any type of footbridge before crossing.

  5. The first picture book I can remember was a picture book version of The Five Little Peppers that was in our house. I can still remember the illustration of the burned birthday cake with flowers on it to this day. Thanks for writing this!

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