Words & Pictures: Which Tells the Story?

Geek Culture

Chloe and the Lion, No BearsChloe and the Lion, No Bears

In a picture book, what tells the story: the pictures or the words? I mean, it’s called a picture book for a reason, right? What would a picture book be without the pictures? Imagine any of your childhood favorites without illustrations. On the other hand, what would Dr. Seuss’ whimsical tales be without the wacky rhymes and made-up words?

Ok, so obviously that’s a silly question. There are some picture books in which the text is dominant and could be paired with a number of different illustrations (think, for example, of Mother Goose rhymes). And there are those for which the illustrations are clearly the focus — even some in which there is no text at all. Text and image aren’t always entirely integrated, and in the case where authors and illustrators often have never met (and have no choice in the matter), it often becomes the illustrator’s prerogative to interpret the author’s text to their best ability.

Here are two upcoming picture books, each with an interesting take on the matter. Both of these books use the words and pictures in interesting and somewhat unexpected ways.

Chloe and the LionChloe and the Lion

Chloe and the Lion, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Adam Rex

Writer Mac Barnett and illustrator Adam Rex have teamed up to have a falling out. They’ve both worked on various projects together and separately (some of my favorites: the Brixton Brothers series, Oh No!, and The True Meaning of Smekday). In Chloe and the Lion, though, the author and the artist have a bit of a disagreement.

Which is more important, the writer or the illustrator?

Chloe is a little girl who likes collecting loose change and spending it on the merry-go-round at the park. But one day, she gets lost in the forest and a huge lion leaps out … except the illustration is a dragon. And then Mac and Adam, in the form of little figurines, have a big argument which ends with Mac firing Adam and finding a new illustrator for the job. But the problem, of course, is that Hank can’t draw lions quite the way Adam could.

Here’s a really funny video trailer for the book that will give you a good idea of the tone of the book:

It’s a really fun piece of meta-fiction, and the illustrations are superb. I mean, so is the writing. The writing is excellent. But without the drawings … ah, you get the idea. If you like picture books, Chloe and the Lion is a terrific one that could spark some fun conversations with your kids about which is more important, words or pictures. Chloe and the Lion will be released on April 3, but is available for pre-order now.

No Bears by Meg McKinlay and Leila RudgeNo Bears by Meg McKinlay and Leila Rudge

No Bears, written by Meg McKinlay and illustrated by Leila Rudge

Ella is creating her own story book: she’s got pictures and words, and no bears. She simply doesn’t understand why so many books need bears in them, and so her book will have none. No bears whatsoever. It’s about a princess in a castle with a king and a queen, and a fairy godmother, and a monster in the forest, and not a single bear anywhere.

Ella tells the story, and the illustrations show her spiral bound notebook full of fairy-tale things. Meanwhile, there’s a bear (outside of her book) who’s watching on with some interest, a little disheartened at being excluded. Ella really gets into her story — quite literally — and then things might not go exactly as she planned.

What’s very cute about No Bears is that, as far as the text of the story is concerned, there aren’t actually any bears at all. The bear that shows up in the illustrations is silent and is never referred to. Part of the fun of reading this book is seeing how well your kids are paying attention to the little things going on that Ella doesn’t notice herself and aren’t spoken aloud. The first time I read it to my five-year-old, I realized that there were little clues that she didn’t catch the first time through, and when we read it again, she was delighted to spot all the details.

No Bears will be released March 27 and is available for pre-order now.

Disclosure: I received an advance reader proof of Chloe and the Lion, and a review copy of No Bears.

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