As a children's book illustrator, Denise has many things to say about the process, her struggles, and children's books on the market today.
My Early Years Reading
How do you encourage children to read? Especially these days when movies, TV and electronic games vie for all your children’s attention? Do you have ideas?
When I was very young I was totally unaware of my vision problem. I assumed everyone saw things the way I did. In the 5th grade, the teacher put us all in alphabetical order and I ended up in the back of the classroom. That was the first year I had any idea something might be off. My teacher put the homework assignments up on the blackboard. Since I couldn’t see any assignment message, I didn’t do the work. One day we had quite the argument about it. I told her there was no assignment on the board and she said there was. I insisted there wasn’t and she made me come to the front of the room. It was rather like magic that the handwriting began to appear as I approached the board. If I were the suspicious sort, I could have sworn she was playing a trick on me. Gratefully, she saw the problem and adjusted my seating to the front of the room and it didn’t come up again. You would think someone would have told my mother but apparently not.
My First Books
As the years went by more and more reading assignments and requirements surfaced. I found that to read I had to place the book mere inches from my face, which gave me severe headaches. I began avoiding reading as often as possible. It wasn’t easy but I was able to continue until I turned 13 without reading. By the time the problem was resolved, I was reading at a 4th-grade level and very slowly.
It was that year that my father purchased a book for me. You have to understand that for my father to buy me something was such a rare occurrence that I prized the book even though I didn’t want to read it. It was so long. But since he bought it for me, I read it and loved it. It was Call of the Wild by Jack London. I was hooked. I began devouring books after that. Next, I read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass. Yet I still read very slowly and had a terrible time catching up on all the reading required for high school.
My Reading List
I still love reading very much and even now I’m plowing through some of the books on my high school reading list. For instance, I just finished George Orwell’s 1984 a few weeks ago. Okay. I know I’m behind but people were talking about it and I thought it was about time I read the book. Other books on my reading list for this year are Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Desiderius Erasmus’ The Praise of Folly, Isaac Newton’s Principia: The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, and St. Augustine of Hippo’s The City of God, among many others. I really love this range of intellectualism that I have so long neglected.
As an artist and illustrator for children’s books, it is my great love and honored task to get children to develop a love of reading. The remarkable illustrations in the original of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that were so encouraging me to read on. That’s when I knew I wanted to illustrate books. The original illustrator was Sir John Tenniel. The books have inspired a good number of other illustrators since then, among them Arthur Rackham and even Salvador Dali. And why not? The story is so whimsical and unusual that it still inspired illustrators, myself included.
What I Did To Promote Reading
When my children were younger I read to them. We had a special reading time each day and as soon as we finished one book, I would begin another one. Even when the four of them were reading for themselves, I still continued the practice, choosing larger and longer books to interest them. I mostly read books to them that was a year or several above their reading/grade level to pique their interest in chapter books and later young adult books. When my son was in high school, he thought perhaps he was too old to be read to and so he opted out of our reading time. However, he kept his door open so he could still hear the book and before the chapter was over he had crept out and joined us in the back of the room. I found that there is something magical about the human voice and it draws you in. That was my method to get my children to fall in love with books.
This past year I began a series of fine art photography motifs. One series was children as fairies and pixies. Another series was of children riding or befriending dinosaurs like in Dinotopia by James Gurney. But my favorite of the series in photography has been the one to encourage reading. I figure if I’m going to create a fantasy with photography, why not one that encouraged children to read. I’m very proud of the ones I’ve done so far and intend to do many more this year. In all, I’ve created over 60 images in the three series mentioned so far.
My Favorite Image
The process is really easy. I take photographs of children, many of my own grandchildren, and cut them out in Photoshop. Then I create a background and add a book I took a photo of in my kitchen. I like to use a number of filters to make the photos look old and worn or to add atmosphere.
I think my favorite is of the boy fishing from the top of a book and he has hooked a flying galleon. This is one of the easiest to create but the most fun, by far. I added moss for the boy to sit on and waves crashing upon the book below.
That is exactly how I feel about books. They have the power to take you away to a place in your mind; a place filled with fantasy and imagination. A book can make you laugh, make you love, make you hate and make you cry. For a short time, you can be someone else, sail a ship to far lands, discover buried treasure, rule a kingdom, become a wizard, solve a mystery, or even fly a spaceship to distant worlds. Your book is your ticket to anywhere. What could be better? I can’t think of a better profession than the one where you encourage children to discover this great treasure.
How Would You Encourage Reading
After all these years, I never really learned how to skim read. I still read each and every word the author has written, which also makes me a fine proofreader. I hardly ever skip a word, even small words like “the” or “and.” Sure it takes me a long time to read a book even today, but I enjoy each word. Savor the spice and thought put into each and every one. Even if you only read a chapter or two of a book each evening, you can still finish a lot of books in a year. And you will remember them better for taking time with them as well.
I’d love to hear what you think of my series or if you may have any suggestions for future images. Maybe you have an idea for a future series too. I’m not only open to suggestions, I appreciate them.
How do you encourage children to read? Do you have a child who hates reading? What do you think would work for children who think reading is a waste of time?
© 2018 Denise McGill