by Joan Waites
Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? If applying this question to a picture book, which comes first, the words or the illustrations? In the world of traditional publishing, manuscripts are typically written by the author and then assigned to an illustrator by the publisher. If the illustrator is also the author, sometimes the pictures are imagined first, or the illustrations and text are imagined simultaneously.
In previous posts, I’ve talked about some classroom exercises I’ve used during a school visit where children collaboratively write a story and then come up with illustrations to complement the text. The flip side to this exercise is to have children draw a story in pictures only. This works especially well with younger children who haven’t fully mastered writing and spelling.
Make up a simple storyboard sheet with as many pages as you would like to have the children draw. Six to eight pages seems to be a number most can work with without getting overwhelmed. Children can draw a story of their choosing, or use a story prompt (as outlined in previous Pencil Tips posts) to jump start ideas. When the children have completed their drawings, have them either write the text to accompany the drawings, or give each a turn to orally tell their story. Another fun twist is to collect the storyboards, mix them up, and then redistribute them to the class. Have children write a story based on the pictures their classmates have drawn.
For children that are old enough and have access to a camera, this same exercise could be done using photographs. Ask children to tell a story using the camera. Have them take a series of pictures at an event. A soccer game, a party, a trip to the zoo or an outing with a pet can all tell a story. Spread out or mount the pictures in a series and have children write the story to accompany the photos.
It is interesting to see how each child interprets another’s drawings and photos. Mirroring real world of picture books, this exercise emphasizes the unique and magical collaboration that happens between art and the written word.