April 30, 2012

Picture This...

Picture This...
By Alison Jay; illus. by author
1-4 Preschool Dutton 40 pp.
0525463801 Hardcover $15.99
Non Fiction (that draws on Fiction)

On the face of it, Picture This... is a simple word book with each page featuring a sight word and its illustration, but a second glance shows a surprising amount of depth, with each picture making a visual reference to the seasons, nursery rhymes, fables and / or the pages that either precede or follow it.

Picture This... begins with a "clock", but the clock Jay illustrates is no simple timepiece. Pictured on its face are panels depicting each of the four seasons while a mouse peers over the top in a clear reference to "Hickory Dickory Dock." The next page features the word "dog" with an illustration of a dog jumping after the ball in a spring meadow. The careful reader will notice that this illustration mirrors the spring panel on the clock, and that the mouse is now watching the dog from the stem of a daffodil in the meadow.  And so on it goes, with the well that is pictured in the background of "dog" taking center stage on the next page for "hill" and a couple, presumably Jack and Jill, going up the hill with a bucket while a dog runs up ahead of them. The thoroughness with which Jay weaves this collective tapestry from the details in each image is truly impressive. Just as impressive is the manner in which she takes the reader through the seasons shown on the clock without making the progression feel forced or even particularly central to the book's purpose, (to present a word and an associated image).

Picture This... is a festival of detail, but what makes it work for its intended audience is its subtlety. Toddlers can look at the word "cat" and associate it with the very clear picture of the cat without having to worry about the little red airplane that will show up in the next illustration, but for preschoolers, the details make the book an interactive puzzle. With its inventive storytelling hidden within the guise of a traditional concept book, Picture This... rewards multiple readings over several developmental stages, making it a lovely, long-term addition to any collection.

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