By Leslie Grant, Graduate Assistant, McLure Education Library
Illustrations aren’t just for kid’s books anymore. A lack of pictures has often categorized reading material as more “mature,” but that isn’t always the case. There are many novels written on more advanced reading levels that include a strong visual component. Not to be confused with graphic novels, whose stories are told entirely through pictures, illustrated novels still contain plots that are told primarily through the writing. However, they also contain images that add to the story and are sometimes even pivotal to understanding it. These books are great for reluctant readers or anyone who enjoys artistic interpretations of the text. Here are a few examples available through the university’s libraries:
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Brian Selznick’s Caldecott winning book tells the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphan living in a railway station in 1930s Paris. At 500+ pages, this is no picture book. But don’t be intimidated by its size. It is a surprisingly quick read, as many sections of the story are told entirely through Selznick’s full-page, detailed black and white drawings. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is an enchanting piece of historical fiction, and the film adaptation, Hugo, won several Academy Awards. Fans of the book should also check out his latest novel, Wonderstruck, which uses a similar style.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
This highly acclaimed young adult novel by Sherman Alexie features a 14-year-old Native American protagonist who decides to leave the reservation in order to attend an all-white public high school. Arnold Spirit, Jr., aka Junior, is an aspiring cartoonist, and the book’s illustrations, drawn by Ellen Forney, depict his humorous drawings of the world around him. Alexie uses humor to balance the depressing events Junior experiences in his life on the reservation. While it contains a powerful story, some of the book’s more controversial elements have landed it on many banned book lists.
Science fiction writer Scott Westerfeld puts his own spin on history with this steampunk version of World War I. Leviathan introduces Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Deryn Sharp, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service, and what happens when their lives intersect. Westerfeld’s fantastic vision of alternate history, complete with complex, steam-powered machinery and genetically engineered animal-vessels, is punctuated by the awe-inspiring illustrations of Keith Thompson. His artwork masterfully combines elements of past and future and helps readers better picture the richly complex setting. The book is the first in a trilogy.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Although this is a novel aimed at adults, Jonathan Safran Foer’s nine-year-old narrator might make it also appeal to a slightly younger audience. In this book, Oskar Schell looks for clues that will unlock the meaning of a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died on 9/11. Foer’s narrative is supplemented by many visual elements, such as photographs and letters. These pictures often contain clues or hidden meanings that are revealed throughout the course of the story. Once again, this book serves as an example of how images can enrich a book’s text. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close deals with issues of grief and loss, especially in the wake of September 11th, and has also been made into a movie.
These are only a few examples of how fiction books incorporate illustrations. Graphics can enrich a text, provide supplementary information, and even communicate part of the plot. All of the books mentioned above are available at a library on campus. Let us know in the comments what other novels you think use images effectively to add to the story.