Tell Me a Story: World Cultures and Folktales
June 17 - August 12, 2011
Children's book illustrations by Maine artists
Sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank
Grateful appreciation to:
Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, Boston
Agren Appliance and Television
Tilbury House Publishers
Forward | Artists in Exhibit | Taiwan Sublime | Gallery Images
Tell Me a Story: Folktales and World Cultures is presented in partnership with:
Auburn Public Library
333-6640, ext. 3
Lewiston Public Library
Over 1000 books of folktales!
The theme for this summer's reading program is One World, Many Stories.
Foward by Audrey Maynard
Tell me a story? Yes, of course, I'd love to! But where should we start? With words? Or pictures? Or maybe with both?
For the past twenty-five years it's been my good luck to watch the unfolding of a new era in the world of children's literature. My specialty has been the genre known as the multicultural picture book. I've spent a decade editing these stories. But in some ways, it was my work before my publishing job that mattered more. It was as a mother and educator that I first saw the magic of these books at workreassuring, delighting, and sometimes provoking people of all ages, and backgrounds. The illustrations displayed here are by thirteen artists, all of whom call Maine home. Although the artwork is clearly diverse, visitors will find that there is a unity to it. Taken together, these pictures, all created especially for children (but savored by adults), confirm the truth of the Italian proverb Tutto il mondo è paese: "all the world is hometown."
The latin root of the word illustrate is illustrare, meaning "light up, embellish, distinguish." Although in all picture books the words and pictures must work effectively as a team, the illustrator's job in a multicultural story is uniquely challenging. These artists go an extra mile to create pictures that are culturally authentic and universally appealing. This is a complex taskperhaps especially so if the artist is working outside his or her own cultural milieu. The art displayed in this gallery vibrantly confirms this process. From the careful renditions of the birchbark artistry of Passamaquoddy baskets, to the use of Romanian folkloric patterns, to the replication of Iranian rug designs, these illustrators worked with diligence to produce beautiful art that is culturally sensitive, accurate, and non-stereotypic. In the best multicultural books, it is often the illustrations that will light the way for the reader to embark on a unique journey of discovery.
Sometimes people ask about the circumstances that have led to the growth of the genre, and they wonder if multiculturalism is here to stay. A brief review of the history of books published for children is revealing. What appears most consistent is that adults have always used books to provide children with a moral compass. The earliest printed books enjoyed by children were fables and fairy tales. These stories often had a moral that could be summed up with a maxim. By the 1860s, during the Victorian era, more people had time on their hands and money in their pockets, and they began to look differently at their youth. Historians credit Victorians with the invention of "childhood" as a distinct phase of life, separate from "adulthood." Publishers also saw a new market and began to produce lavishly illustrated picture books. In the twentieth century, Beatrix Potter, Maurice Sendak, and Dr Seuss redefined the possibilities of the picture book. Their beloved works confirmed that the illustrations were as important as the words of a story. Following the baby boom of the1950s there were large increases in picture-book production, especially those deemed to have a "universal appeal." However, by the 1960s and '70s the "one size fits all" approach was being debated. It was observed that too often the world depicted in the children's picture books did not resemble the world where real children lived. It was too white and too middle class. Many questioned the wisdom of failing to show the diverse society that America was becoming. They asked how picture books could continue to provide a moral compass if they failed to accurately calibrate the world children inhabited. This is the logic behind the growth of multicultural picture books.
Some say the pace of change in children's literature has been too slow, yet my view is that it has been steady, and the tipping point is not far off. It's notable that today many more people of color have written and illustrated children's books. The stories themselves are more diverse and inclusive. Also, our population numbers tell publishers a story that can't be ignored. The U.S. Census estimates that by 2025 minorities will constitute 40 percent of the U.S. population!
But that is only one piece of the picture. The real story lies in the vision of the books themselves. These are powerful stories that have been written to encourage young children to value the beauty and diversity of our world and to protect its handmade and distinctive qualities. In the end, the biggest challenge ahead is for us to take these distinct and artful books off the shelves and read them aloud to children everywhere. The ideas and the discussions that follow will enrich us one and all!
Children's Book Editor
Tilbury House Publishers
Artists in the Exhibition
Anne Sibley O'Brien
Mary Beth Owens