Reading picture books as an adult is fun for lots of reasons, but one reason I’ve found is that I appreciate the different styles of illustration much more than I did as a younger reader. These days I’m especially finding myself drawn to paper collage illustrations, and one artist who always catches my eye is Ashley Barron. Whenever I know I’m going to have a smaller storytime crowd at the library or a group who likes to sit and ponder, I like to pull out one of a trio of books illustrated by Barron and written by Darren Lebeuf. My Ocean is Blue, My Forest is Green, and My City Speaks each highlight a different environment, but they all celebrate the act of taking a pause and noticing things around you.
Let me start by highlighting the delightful vocabulary choices here. There are so many wonderful words to describe things we see and feel, but it seems like we often use the same tired old phrases. Not so with these books! Here the reader will find sidewalks, garbage, tide pools, tree bark, etc. described with the following excellent words: fluffy, dense, sparse, crispy, jagged, still, spiraled, rotten, silent, impatient, urgent. And those are just the adjectives! I love how Lebeuf introduces new words to readers, or helps them think about familiar words in a new way—like a city speaking with “reliable rumbles,” or a forest being “peekaboo purple.” All the senses are invoked in My Ocean is Blue, where the main character encounters an ocean that is and smelly and salty and wet and squawks loudly (and is, of course, blue). The use of comparison/contrast is also a lot of fun, and a great way to think about how something can be two seemingly different things at once, or two different things on different days.
I don’t know what it is about Ashley Barron’s collage illustrations, but some of them I could just stare at for hours. Especially when comparing/contrasting content, the different textures of the papers or other medium pairs so well with the text. I really like one spread in My Forest is Green that’s an overhead view of a child’s desk, showing him constructing his own collage to represent his forest. Maybe it’s that I’m not as familiar with the work involved in creating this type of illustration, and that’s why it catches my attention so much. One page in My City Speaks shows a neighborhood fruit stand with individual apples, pears, eggplants, and potatoes all cut out of paper and nestled in their individual paper bins. I’m impatient just thinking about all those minutes (hours??) of work!
Finally, I think these books are notable for an illustration feature that is not mandated by the text or material to the action, and might even go unnoticed in a quick glance through the pages—the inclusion of characters who are living with a disability. In My Ocean is Blue, the main character uses crutches throughout her day at the beach – sometimes leaving them on the sand as she splashes in the waves, or at other times leaning on them as she watches for whales from a boat. The little girl in My City Speaks is visually impaired and walks with a white cane through her day in the city with her dad. Neither the crutches nor the cane are commented on or featured prominently in the illustrations, and the kids are both participating in their day just like other people around them; playing at the playground, pointing at dolphins, relaxing on a park bench. I love seeing books with this kind of “everyday diversity” representation; a book doesn’t have to be “about” disabilities to make kids with a disability feel included and seen. I don’t know if Lebeuf and Barron have more new places and words up their sleeves to share, but until then I’m loving this partnership of text and image, and I’ll keep reaching for this great trio of books at storytime.
Featured image courtesy of illustrator’s website.
- Making the World More Beautiful (with Miss Rumphius) - May 17, 2023
- How Much is Enough? - February 8, 2023
- Picturing My Fluffy, Crispy, Silent, Impatient World - November 23, 2022
Leave a Reply