Reading Pictures with Jaime Kim

Leslie Hawkins -- October 16th, 2017

Last weekend Spellbound had a special guest at story time: Jaime Kim, illustrator of one of the hottest (and, as it happens, best) picture books of the year. A nearly wordless picture book with story and concept by Kate DiCamillo, La, La, La: A Story of Hope is brought to life with Jaime’s breathtaking illustrations that draw on her own feelings of loneliness and connection from childhood.

The day before Jamie’s story time event, an elementary school librarian was telling me how excited she is to share La, La, La with students. “We always talk about reading the pictures,” she said. They talk about more than just action or plot points in the pictures—moving from black-and-white to color, use of color in general to indicate moods or time of day, reading facial expressions, and so on. At first it might seem daunting to share a wordless picture book with a group, but that is exactly what you do—you read the pictures instead of reading words. (Ideally, of course, we also do that when sharing picture books containing text. In a well-made picture book much of the story is told by the pictures as opposed to the pictures merely illustrating the words of the text.)

Jaime did such a lovely job of inviting the kids at story time to read the pictures with her, with questions such as what emotion do you see on the girl’s face, why do you think the colors change here, what do you think is about to happen….

A little girl sings, louder and louder, and waits for a response that doesn’t come. The scenes where the girl is trying unsuccessfully to get a response have very little color.

A flame colored leaf floats into the little girl’s colorless world and beckons her out into the bright and colorful world beyond what she’s known.

Beyond involving her audience in the reading and interpretation of the book itself, Jaime used the pictures to connect her own personal story to both the book and to the stories of her audience. She asked who had a sister, and a girl in the audience with a baby sister was delighted to learn that Jaime has a younger sister who inspired the relationship between the little girl and the moon in La, La, La. (In the book, the little girl finally gets a response to her song—from the moon!) Jaime shared that she was very shy as a child and therefore often lonely. When her baby sister was born, she felt a connection she had never felt before and knew she had a best friend for life. Jamie imagined herself as the little girl in the book and her younger sister as the moon.

Another girl in the audience told Jaime that she has an older sister who lives in Mexico. Jaime shared that her sister lives in Korea, and even though she doesn’t see her sister as often as she’d like, they still find ways to stay connected.

Jaime also grabbed some crayons and a paper plate to make an art project with kids, a little moon to hang in the window, perhaps to sing to. She came to story time with goodies to give away, postcards featuring a colorful scene from the book and buttons featuring the little girl who stars in the story. Before leaving, she made sure the kids had postcards for themselves and plenty more (with envelopes) to share with their siblings, wherever they are.

Stories really do connect us, as Kate DiCamillo likes to say.

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