Here’s the Monday special interview with none other than the lady herself who founded the Picture Book Month in November 2011 – award-winning author and storyteller, Dianne de Las Casas! I’m both excited and honoured to have her here this morning!
1) A warm welcome to my website, Dianne. Most of us are familiar with the NYT article (read here) that acted as a trigger for you to initiate Picture Book Month. Which part of the argument did you react to the most?
Actually, the headline of the New York Times article really ruffled my feathers: “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.” I believe that picture books are the stepping stones in early childhood literacy but the article went on to say that picture books were languishing and dying a “sad little death.” The article blamed the demise of the picture books on parents pressing their kindergarten into “more text-heavy chapter books,” saying that their children no longer needed books with pictures. As a successful picture book author myself, I just knew that picture books needed a little boost, an elevation in perception so I decided to do something about it by starting a worldwide literacy initiative: Picture Book Month!
In her 2011 Picture Book Month essay, the great Jane Yolen, author of more than 300 books for children, said, “I have always believed that literature begins in the cradle — the poems we say to the babies, the stories we tell them — prepare them to become part of the great human storytelling community.” Picture books become part of a child’s early vocabulary, often introducing them to more complex concepts and helping them develop literacy skills such as critical thinking, sequencing, and predicting. Picture books also encourage the read-aloud, which helps a child develop important communication skills including both speaking and listening.
In a picture book, the illustrations are not just there to simply “illustrate” the story. The illustrations in a picture book illuminate a story, often providing complex meaning and subtext that are absent from the accompanying text. In a picture book, the words and the pictures come together to create a work of “heart,” encouraging the important bonding between a grown-up and a child that is present in the shared experience of reading a book together. In his 2012 Picture Book Month essay, Peter H. Reynolds said, author of the international best-selling book, The Dot, said, “Great children’s books are wisdom dipped in words and art. These bite-size bits of wisdom heal the reader, inspire the reader, and invite the reader to action.”
2) Who is the PBM primarily aimed at? And what kind of activities get planned for the PBM?
Picture Book Month is aimed at everyone who has an interest seeing a child succeed in reading and learning – educators, librarians, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, camp counselors, adult mentors… basically everyone.
During Picture Book Month, our website features essays from luminaries in the field of children’s literature called “Picture Book Month Champions,” on the importance of picture books. People can go to the website each day of November and read a new essay by authors and illustrators such as Chris Raschka (2012 Caldecott Winner), John Rocco (2012 Caldecott Honor Winner), Doreen Cronin, E.B. Lewis, Peter H. Reynolds, Karma Wilson, Uma Krishnaswami, and Paul O. Zelinsky, among many others. Our Picture Book Month Champions, representing authors and illustrators from the United States, Australia, Asia, and Canada, believe in the power of picture books to transform children’s lives and give us so many profound nuggets of wisdom in their essays. In his 2012 Picture Book Month essay, John Rocco, the 2012 Caldecott Honor winner, said, “I feel that picture books are the connective tissue between a parent and a child.”
People around the world celebrate in different ways. We have a downloadable calendar on our website http://picturebookmonth.com/calendar/ that lists each day’s Picture Book Month champion and features a theme each day. Kidlit bloggers are using the theme calendar to blog about their favorite picture books relating to the theme, each day in November. Teachers are using the calendar to select books to share in their classrooms and librarians are creating themed story times and displays. One librarian in Illinois, John Schumacher, wears a different Picture Book Month sticker each day featuring a picture book or picture book character from that day’s theme.
On our website, we have downloadable bookmarks, posters, standees, certificates, and much more. People can grab the Picture Book Month Ambassador badge from the website and put it on their websites and blogs. Publishers, literacy organizations, and companies can become Picture Book Month partners. Kidlit bloggers and picture book authors/illustrators can get listed on the site. People can also register their support and receive our newsletter.
3) Last year, how did you manage to take this initiative to different parts of the world in less than a month’s time?
That was quite a feat and I still marvel that I was able to do it! Fortunately, I have a large network of connections in the children’s book industry. I engage heavily in social media, belong to SCBWI, and attend conferences. I know lots of people! First, I recruited a core group to help me develop the website and spread the word. The logo and branding were
created by Joyce Wan, an amazing board book author/illustrator. Katie Davis, an author/illustrator and host of the kidlit podcast, Brain Burps About Books, help spread the word through her podcast and social networks. Author/Illustrator Elizabeth O. Dulema designed our calendar and spread the word as well, as did Wendy Martin. My personal web designer, Heidi Hafner, of Hafner Designs, built the site. I secured all the Picture Book Month champions, received press coverage (Huffington Post, School Library Journal, Publisher’s Weekly, Oprah.com), and found partners such as SCBWI, Children’s Book Council, and Reading is Fundamental. In 2012, the American Association of School Librarians became a partner as did the American Booksellers Association. I also hope to bring on the International Board on Books for Young Children (IBBY) and the International Reading Association (IRA) as partners so that Picture Book Month can grow its international base.
4) What is your support system like?
Fortunately, people love Picture Book Month and have supported it on Twitter, Facebooks, kidlit blogs, and across the Internet. Bricks and mortar places like schools, libraries, and book stores have embraced the celebration. There was even a Picture Book Month Festival in California this month! And there are celebrations in such far away places like Budapest, Hungary where one school has pledged to read more than 5,000 picture books!
I have a lot of love and support from the Kidlitosphere and Picture Book Month is thriving. The daily operation of Picture Book Month falls on me – I do all of the posting, Tweeting, and social networking every day. There is no “staff,” so to speak. Everyone is a volunteer and I fund Picture Book Month out of my own pocket, save for a few donations from kind supporters.
5) How are this year’s celebrations bigger (and better)?
This year, we procured major partners like AASL an ABA, who really helped to spread the word. There are more bloggers, schools, and libraries participating. The movement is growing. Our Picture Book Month Champions have donated signed books to give away. If you want to be entered for a chance to win, all you have to do is go to the site http://www.picturebookmonth.com and comment on the Picture Book Month essays.
6 Last year, you had barely a month to put things together and rush headlong into the first PBM. For this year’s PBM, when did you start planning?
I began planning 2012 Picture Book Month during 2011 Picture Book Month! We have big name authors/illustrators who have contributed essays. They have busy, busy schedules so I have to send in my request as early as possible.
7) Any special moments from last year’s or this year’s celebrations that come to your mind?
Just a few days ago, one school posted a picture on our Facebook page showing empty picture book shelves in their school library. Nearly all of the picture books had been checked out. This just proves to me that picture books are alive and well, and that they will continue to inspire children and adults for generations to come.
“Picture books bring the world to children, one tiny piece at a time.” – Doreen Cronin, New York Times Best-Selling Author from her 2012 Picture Book Month Champion essay.
Thank you, Dianne, for making this interview possible at extremely short notice. You are a source of inspiration to picture book lovers around the world.
Dianne de Las Casas is an award-winning author, storyteller, and founder of Picture Book Month, who tours internationally presenting author visit/storytelling programs, educator/librarian training, and workshops. Her performances, dubbed “revved-up storytelling” are full of energetic audience participation. The author of twenty books, her children’s titles include The Cajun Cornbread Boy, Madame Poulet & Monsieur Roach, Mama’s Bayou, The Gigantic Sweet Potato, There’s a Dragon in the Library, The House That Witchy Built, Blue Frog: The Legend of Chocolate, Dinosaur Mardi Gras, Beware, Beware of the Big Bad Bear, and The Little “Read” Hen.
To connect with Dianne or to associate with the Picture Book Month, visit:
Dianne de Las Casas’ links at:
Twitter: Dianne de Las Casas
The Picture Book Month links at:
Facebook: Picture Book Month