Mother Daughter Book Reviews is pleased to welcome author Fiona Ingram as a guest contributor with us today. Ms. Ingram is here to discuss the importance of including pictures in middle grade books.
The Power of Pictures in Middle Grade Reads
by Fiona Ingram
Are Middle Grade readers ‘too old’ for images in books aimed at that market? That’s what I asked myself when putting together the story of Book One: The Secret of the Sacred Scarab in my MG adventure series, Chronicles of the Stone. I’d grown up with wonderful images in classic children’s books that had somehow survived being handed down for many generations in the family. A friend of mine encouraged me, saying he’d been a reluctant reader as a child, and images had helped him enormously to become an avid reader. I took the plunge and, three books later, have not regretted the decision. In fact, much of my pleasure in my books is in waiting with bated breath to find out what my artist, Lori Bentley, has made from my wobbly scrawls as a guideline.
Images and imagination go together. Sparking the imagination of a child who isn’t keen on reading might be just the trick to get them focused on the idea of books as fun. Images help reluctant readers by breaking up pages of writing and giving their minds something new to focus on, but something new related to the plot, and thereby drawing them back into the story. The image remains in the young readers’ minds and they carry that with them into the story, making the interactions of people and events on the page all that more interesting.
Images are especially useful when a story is located in an exotic setting, where the young heroes will be interacting with very different people – race, culture, etc. Describing how people look or what they are wearing might not be enough for a reader who needs help imagining the scene. In Book 3: The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper, Adam, Justin and Kim crash land in the Mexican jungle where they meet an uncontacted tribe. Have you any idea of what such people would look like, what clothing or decorations they would wear, or what weapons they would carry? I didn’t but after some research, I did. A young reader will be delighted to turn the page and immediately see what has been described, thus reinforcing the story.
Although my books take my heroes around the globe to very different locations, images work well in books set in everyday locations, and particularly well in fantasy settings. Are the characters involved in some activity or game? Is there a special artifact or object the heroes need to save the world? Is the story set on another planet, or are there unusual creatures popping in and out of the story?
Even seeing what the heroes look like is important. My adopted daughter, Mabel, was illiterate at age eleven when I fostered her. We worked our way through my childhood copies of the Narnia books when she was finally reading properly. One of the books had fallen apart after years of excellent service and I bought a new one, with a different cover. Mabel was not keen on that particular edition because, as she said, “You can’t see the children on the cover.” This particular cover did not have the characters on it like the other covers in the series. Coming from a young person who had never had the chance to develop reading skills naturally, that told me a lot.
Since colour printing is expensive, images will usually be black and white. But black and white is no longer ‘boring’ with the new craze for colouring in images. Now the child can colour in black and white images using details in the story. Are there particular colours used in the objects, scenery, characters’ clothing etc. mentioned in the text? They’ll have to read carefully to find out those details. Colouring in has enormous benefits and the fact that adults have now picked up on an activity previously thought only for children speaks volumes.
Colouring in is both calming and relaxing, and helps focus the brain. It stimulates creativity and is also useful for motor skills. It develops patience and an ‘eye’ for various colours and shades. It also helps develop perspective. Perhaps most important of all – it’s fun! Anything can be coloured in, and I include a beautiful coloured map of Egypt (from the website) as an example. Not only that, where possible a picture can be carefully cut out and framed once coloured in, and hung on a child’s bedroom wall as a reminder of the adventure they enjoyed between the pages of that book.
A picture is truly worth a thousand words! http://www.loribentleyart.com/
About the Guest Contributor: Fiona Ingram
Fiona Ingram is the author of the middle grade adventure series The Chronicles of the Stone, which includes the multi award winning The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, and soon to be published The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper.