Thursday, November 21, 2013

Why Picture Books Matter...

PiBoIdMo has been a good choice for me. If nothing else, it has heightened my awareness. I've been more intent in my interactions with my kids, nature and people, watching for those magical picture book ideas to pop up, and they did.

I've already exceeded the goal of 30 ideas for the month, that's not to say they're all good ideas, but they are ideas I didn't have a month ago. More importantly, I realized there was a lot I was missing out on.

Perhaps that's why I saw a different twist to the following video:

The violin player is Joshua Bell, a Grammy-award winning violinist, among other notable awards. The violin is a $3.5 million Stradivarius violin. The Washington Post set him up in a DC metro to see what would happen.

Here's an excerpt from the article: 

"A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that 1,100 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work."

The Post set this up as a social experiment to gauge the perceptions, taste, and priorities of the people walking by. Would they perceive the beauty, or even stop to recognize it, or would the place, a metro, dictate a different perception of value in the performer?

A cool experiment, but honestly, that's not what caught my attention. 

The article also said:

"The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on."

Now to be fair, I'm that parent. I'm usually on my way to somewhere I have to be and life isn't going to wait while I stop to smell the roses or listen to a master violinist play on a master's violin.

But it got me thinking, as picture book writers, we have an opportunity to hold the child in their years of wonder, to give them a taste of beauty, humor, even reality in a way that helps them preserve their innate adventurer, the mini-anarchist not concerned about stopwatches and deadlines. 

As they grow, they will need a reservoir to pull from when they do have to pass the moment of beauty on their way to a deadline. And maybe, when they are reading to their own kids, something you've written will reconnect them to the wonder they need but no longer have time for. 

P.S. After I wrote this I saw the following book trailer. The author, Kathy Stinson, saw what I did not see, that this makes for a brilliant picture book and oooooh, the illustrations! Just perfect...

“Youth is happy because it has the capacity to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” ―Franz Kafka


  1. The story of how J. Bell wound up with this violin, and the history of this instrument, is also a full-length movie. You can see it through this link-

    Thank you for your wonderful post, Johnell.

    1. Thanks Mirka. I can't wait to see it.

    2. Mirka...just finished the movie. It makes this experiment all the more poignant knowing the story of that violin and sad that so many people walked on by...than you.

  2. This is absolutely soulful! Thank you so much!

  3. I'm going to try my best to be the kind of mother who tries to see through their child's eyes. They do see so much beauty that we miss everyday.

  4. I have a grandbaby who is 18 months old. I plan on stopping for the violins as much as possible. Thank you for this post.

  5. Nice post, love this story!