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Picture This, How Pictures Work by Molly Bang

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cover art - Picture This by Molly Bang
While Molly Bang is most well-known as a three-time Caldecott Honor Book award winner, I believe one of her most important contributions to children's literature is her book Picture This, How Pictures Work. Picture This, Perception & Composition, was originally published in 1991 by Little, Brown and Company. The book was redesigned, revised, and republished as Picture This, How Pictures Work, and this review is based on the Chronicle Books 2000 edition.
While it is considered to be a children's book for 9-12 year olds, Picture This also appeals to older students and adults. I first heard about it from several librarians and educators who were delighted that the book had been republished. The book grew out of Molly Bang's desire to understand one question: "How does the structure of a picture affect our emotional response?" The book reads like a detective story as the author investigates this question through the process of developing cut paper, abstract illustrations for "Little Red Riding Hood." The artist uses scissors and four colors of construction paper: red, black, pale purple, and white, as she begins to build her pictures.

How the book is organized

The book itself is divided into three sections: "Building a Picture," "The Principles," and "Arranging Shapes on a Rectangle." In the first section, the artist uses colors, shapes, sizes, and placement to evoke specific emotions from the viewer. In the second section, Molly Bang discusses the viewer's visual perceptions and what they mean in relation to these elements and others. For example, one of her principles is that "Smooth, flat horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm." In the last section, Molly Bang discusses the benefits of using construction paper. She notes that it is inexpensive and easy to work with. It can be cut and recut, moved and moved again, all of which as she says, "encourages experimentation." The artist also provides an exercises to try and guidance in analyzing the results.

The value of the book

Have you ever noticed that children who happily drew pictures when they were young tend to become self-conscious about their abilities as they grow older? If they are not good at drawing, they assume they are not capable of creating anything artistic, and they refuse to even try. This book is a real eye-opener in that it awakens an awareness that can translate into both a better understanding of, and an ability to create, artwork that affects the viewer. In the Preface to the first edition, Molly Bang stated, "I'm convinced by all I've seen that every one of us is indeed an artist, if we only have the tools. Well, the principles in Picture This are tools, but like any tools, they can't be understood until they are used." After reading this book, I am ready to give it a try. I hope you and your children will be, too. (Chronicle Books, 2000. ISBN: 9781587170300)
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