What is one children's book that you would instantly be able to identify if you just saw its pictures? Why?
Think of your favorite illustrated book. Do you think you would enjoy the story as much if it didn't have illustrations? Why or why not?
In what way, if any, do you think reading a children's book would be different if it contained photographs instead of illustrations?
In what ways do you think illustrating children's books is the same as it was late in the 19th century? How do you think the job is different?
- Prior to conducting this activity, collect a variety of illustrated children's books for students to view. Be sure to select some modern favorites as well as some classics.
- Display one example. Inform students that, in children's books, the illustrations are as much a part of the story as the words. Discuss how the illustrator's choice of color, line, shape and texture can affect the mood of a story. Then discuss how dominance, formality and overall composition impact the reader's understanding of the text.
- Point out that the artistic elements an illustrator selects are often dictated by the type of story an author is telling. Discuss how the illustrator's choices might differ if the story were a myth, cartoon, biography or even a magical tale.
- Share the books you collected, and have students select their favorite story. Encourage them to examine the book, paying particular attention to the illustrations. Then have students brainstorm ideas for how the illustrations could be different. Give them time to draw one or more examples.
CUSTOMIZE THE LESSON:
Visit this National Museum of American History exhibit to learn about the 1942 collaboration—and the enormous shift in thinking about how, where and what children should read—resulted in the Little Golden Books that we still love and cherish today.
This Smithsonian Libraries exhibition presents more than 50 examples of action-packed constructions and inspired works of art spanning 500 years. Encourage your students to explore the site to experience these rarely seen treasures as their creators intended—as remarkable works that calculate, educate, entertain and amaze.
In this Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum activity, elementary students will explore the relationship between the form of books and the content inside. Using a piece of creative writing as inspiration, students will design and produce a book that reflects a theme in writing.
Watch this video from the Smithsonian Latino Center to meet Ana Ramirez, an illustrator who also functioned as a visual development artist for “Coco.” Ramirez also had the opportunity to illustrate “Miguel and the Grand Harmony,” a book inspired by the award-winning film.
In this Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum lesson, high school students will read the Japanese folk tale “Momotaro: Boy of the Peach.” They will review elements of plot, analyze a short story, and prepare their own children’s version of the story including cover, binding and illustrations.
One of the greatest qualities of art is the way it “speaks” to each one of us. In this Smithsonian Education activity, students can express their unique responses to art by writing stories inspired by paintings in an art museum. The exercise will help them understand the value of careful observation as a precursor to descriptive and creative writing.
Read this Smithsonian magazine article to learn about the study, which judged texts’ complexity based on sentence length, average word length and vocabulary level, but did not look at reading comprehension.