Wednesday, October 31

The Crow


(A Not-So-Scary Story)
written and illustrated by
Alison Paul
Houghton Mifflin 2007

I am of two distinct minds about this picture book.

1. Interesting idea, flawed execution.
2. Not every recent illustration graduate from art school deserves to have their final project published.

No, I don't have evidence of this last statement being true in this case, or in the many others I have seen lately. I have noticed a greater deal of picture books by first time authors who have recently graduated and am wondering if this is a trend of laziness on the part of publishers and editors. Thirty years ago, I'm sad to say, illustration for picture books was not seen as the highest aspiration for illustration majors in art school; advertising and editorial art was the brass ring. But as computers have radically changed the thinking and approach of illustration -- in addition to advancing the ability to publish rich, full-color illustration -- so has the idea that a picture book is somehow lower or more rarefied a place for the illustrator.

I also can't help but think that illustrators might be falling into the same trap many amateur writers fall into, believing that writing a picture book requires little to no study of the form. After all, it's only for children, right? Get the illustrations down, tack on a story, done.

This is a heavy rap to be laying down on this book, but the gut feels what it feels. And as I read The Crow I couldn't help but wonder if this was Paul's senior thesis project snatched up by a young editor looking to build a stable, hoping this would pan out.

It's a take on E.A. Poe's "The Raven" wherein a child wakes up to find a crow sitting on a branch outside their window. As the narrative unfolds the child imagines the crow as a king on his throne, a thief in the night, a powerful wizard, each with its own wordless spread that re-pictures the scene with the imagined one. In the right hands this would be clever but here it exists only as a clever idea.

There are places where the illustrated collage work appears sloppy, the layered effect not achieving a suggested depth, the whole looking like a hastily produced dummy of a book promising greater execution in the future. Children might not be able to see the differences between the good and the mediocre but that doesn't give adults the permission to ignore quality.
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