Books that build in hard places.

Celia and Nonna. Children's Book Illustration by Kayleen West

Empowering others through imagination

Anyone can choose to encourage or build others in helpful ways but sometimes imagination is needed to harvest additional opportunities. Accompanying a servant’s heart is a mind that will seek to discover ideas that will influence positively often enhancing the life of others. Creative people have countless opportunities to invent in this area.

Have you ever opened a book and had one or more of these thoughts?

Wow, that’s life changing!
I learned something that will help me grow!
Now I understand ______ better and I’ll do __________ differently from now on!

I certainly have.

Valuable life lessons, no matter how minor they first appear, have potential for significant, positive transformation. Scattered between the pages of a good book we often find pearls of wisdom in unexpected places; dormant hope waiting for a reader to identify with, and embrace wholeheartedly.

When creating story in word or image I ask if and how someone will benefit from it. I prefer communally beneficial and emotionally uplifting assignments that give me creative freedoms to explore how I can contribute. I believe we live to serve one another. To inspire moments of happiness or ease the pain of another is the best way to use talents and time. Though romantic, I hold onto this conviction. I like to dream big!

How I translate this conviction in children’s books?

Illustration is a wonderful vehicle for transporting a child reader through the emotions of a story powerfully but safely. Invention surfaces when we can look past the obvious elements of a story and find potential macro stories within the original. We ask the question, how by invention, can this illustration enhance the reader’s transformational experience and entertain them?

Illustrating emotion in a particular way is the answer. Some strategies I have used are:

  • A touch of humour to lighten a particularly uncomfortable moment.
  • Controlling drama or excess tension by moderating the visual risk.
  • Illustrating humility to ensure character flaws are judged with compassion.
  • Capturing heroism through specific actions or appearance (empowering the character and reader)
  • Repeating images to emphasise important emotion.

 

In one of my most recent picture books my challenge was to guide the child reader through uncertainty, tackling a tough subject of change and adult challenges. I had to make the visual experience enjoyable, reassuring the reader through the story and end it with a sense of intimate peace.

Emotive imagery in Celia and Nonna

Celia and Nonna was the perfect canvas for emotive imagery. I needed to illustrate tension and emphasise particular emotions and actions to capture the story.

Celia and Nonna. Children's Book Illustration by Kayleen WestModerating tension: placement of characters, adding humour and humility

In the above illustration Nonna forgets she is cooking (adult error-imperfection). The spilling pot is the closest visual to the reader and creates immediate DANGER! Celia is placed near but far enough from the stove to be safe from burns. We still see her alarm as she signals the distracted adult. Should she look up, Nonna can still see the pot from where she sits making it less threatening.

Poor Nonna. I can relate to this myself. I have been known to do the same. Here’s one example! It was fish and vegetables before I killed it.11089039_10152901460174013_4050968061784294035_o

But I digress. Back to Celia and Nonna…

Near the spillage I placed teddy cakes they successfully baked on the previous page; a safe, comforting scene. One cake is broken/imperfect because Celia made an imperfect cake or perhaps has a naughty or impatient moment eating and extra ear or eye when Nonna wasn’t looking (child error-imperfection). This juxtaposed visual adds humility hopefully moderating uncertainty in Nonna’s perceived failings as a responsible (safe) adult. Hopefully children can consciously or subconsciously identify and bond with the elderly character through the comparisons

 

Repeating images to emphasise important emotion

 

Celia and Nonna. Alzheimer’s and dementia in picture book. Hospice.
On the first spread I emphasised the safest place for most children – the loving embrace of an important adult. Apart from abusive situations, this is a significant place of safety for children.

I repeated the symbol of the embrace between Nonna and Celia on this spread deliberately. Like the stove example, the foreground would be noticed by the reader. I place two birds in similar intimacy on the handrail. Inanimate objects were also used to mirror this; the two penguins on a cover of a picture book and Celia’s shoes positioned in a crossed fashion. The penguins are later mentioned and a perfect prop.

Celia is seen close contact with her grandmother in in the first few pages, concreting the sentiment from the beginning.

Body language speaks volumes

The embrace was deliberately introduced at the beginning and end for the child to safely enter and exit the story. Later illustrations show Celia busy drawing near her grandmother and Nonna’s new friends. Her comfort is also made evident by her body language. Celia is engaged and happily distracted.

Empowering a reader by capturing heroism, illustrating specific action or appearance

Celia embraces residential change by drawing pictures for Nonna; lovingly preserving Nonna’s favourite memories, nesting as they decorate the new walls and celebrating their relationship through particular images of the two together. Celia is empowered by contributing. During this she discovers their time together is what is most important. Don’t you love a good ending!?

Sensory experience

In the examples above I have demonstrated how illustrations can be an important sensory experience in children’s books. Illustrations can make or break a picture book. They stimulate emotion and are visually entertaining – arguably the most important part of a picture book story. And if an image is worth a thousand words, they need to be the right images. They can provide additional story, equally projecting the original imagined by the author.

I pray my illustrations speak to the heart, helps families and is a blessing to children and adults who contemplate them. It is my hope that stories like Celia and Nonna reach into homes and the hearts of children dealing with any form of change or helplessness. Victoria Lane’s story is not just a story about aged care or dementia; if you look further you will see our collaboration is so much more. I hope it softens any confronting challenge of growing old, apart, different, or any fear and sews a seed of empowerment and creative victory in every person who reads it – young or old.

World Dementia Month – September

A select group of Australian children’s authors and illustrators (myself included) have collaborated to showcase books about ageing and dementia for World Dementia Month. Each unique and beautifully illustrated story is based on personal experience and offers practical strategies to connect and share love with elderly grandparents even in difficult, changing, and confusing circumstances. You can read more HERE

World Dementia Month September - Books Encourage Children to Connect

Note to writers, Illustrators and All creative people…

Regardless of occupation I encourage you mine the hope and joy in your story or project. Look for the details that can translate that hope. It just might change the whole appearance of your next assignment!

Further reading: Explaining Dementia to Children

Carers Corner has an informative article on explaining dementia to children. This compliments what is written above adding more light on this subject.
You can read the article HERE

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