If you review picture books, graphic novels, or really any work of literature that utilizes art and design elements, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with some common vocabulary, an understanding of basic art styles, and how those elements combine successfully (or not) in books for children and teens. Here are some great resources, including books, websites, and blog posts.
For your bookshelf
From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children’s Books (revised edition) by Kathleen T.
Horning (Harper, 2010).
If you didn’t read this book in library school—or if you haven’t read it since—it’s worth checking it out again. For picture books in particular, read Chapter 5.
Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang (Chronicle, 2000).
The best explanation of how visual elements are used and combined to create meaning. Not only useful for understanding art in picture books, but a great primer on visual literacy.
Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children’s Book Illustration by Dilys Evans (Chronicle, 2008).
A visually stunning deep dive into contemporary children’s book illustration. Using examples of work by David Shannon, Hilary Knight, Brian Selznick, Doreen Rappaport, and others, Evans highlights how each illustrator employs visual elements.
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (William Morrow, 1994).
THE graphic novel that explains the history of comics and graphic novels and demystifies and breaks down this unique art form.
Online Resources, Blog Posts
A blog post by yours truly. Questions to ask yourself when critiquing a picture book’s text, art, and how the two work together.
Another blog post, this time a deeper dive into art vocabulary, including media, styles, and visual elements.
A fantastic breakdown of evaluation criteria for graphic novels (also includes additional info on graphic nonfiction.)
From No Flying, No Tights, a list of links to great resources on understanding and evaluating comics and graphic novels.
One of our favorite sites for explaining the visual elements and physical parts of a picture book. The Visualize section takes you through, bit by bit, each visual element and style. Always wondered what it means if a style is described as painterly? Not sure what the difference is between naive and folk art? This site will set you straight.