Classification

“…many twentieth-century children’s books teach the idea of list-making. What is Goodnight Moon but a catalogue of things: a list of properties both real and fanciful that mark the progress of evening and the passageway to sleep?”
━ Seth Lerer: Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter

Presentations of data that exhibit classification of some sort are common in children’s nonfiction picture books. It is usual to see these especially with animals and plants – based on scientific taxonomies, that are hierarchical.

Below a book spread introducing four different parasites and showing a couple of their possible hosts, and a book spread introducing a selection of Amazon’s animals and insects based on Percy Fawcett‘s journals.

A Day in the Life Bugs – What Do Bees, Ants, and Dragonflies Get Up To All Day? by Dr. Jessica L. Ware & Chaaya Prabhat (Illustrator), 2022
The Quest for Z: The True Story of Explorer Percy Fawcett and a Lost City in the Amazon by Greg Pizzoli (Author & Illustrator), 2017
Kaleidoscope of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life – Their Colors and Patterns Explained by Greer Stothers (Author & Illustrator), 2022

A tree of life. This is probably the first tree diagram I encounter in a children’s book, with a content well suited for the form.

Looking at structures

“Enumeration, or topical outline, represents the most frequently used organizational pattern for information books. In such works, writers describe their subjects by examining what they believe to be the relevant parts of that whole.”
━ Betty Carter: Reviewing Nonfiction Books for Children and Young Adults: Stance, Scholarship, and Structure

Classification can be a structural element of a picture book. A lot of nonfiction picture books on animals and plants, for example, (like I am the Shark by Joan Holub & Laurie Keller (Illustrator), 2021) follow a structure based on a scientific taxonomy or some other similar order created by the author.

Data scientist, Statistician and Professor Emeritus at Yale University Edward Tufte has prompted data to be ordered substantively or based on performance rather than alphabetically. Alphabetical order should be saved for look-up lists, such as glossaries. I often contemplate this when I encounter children’s picture books based on alphabetical order. They do have to learn it, yes. In some cases perhaps some other structures could be considered, too? There are a lot of them, after all.

An ABC of Democracy by Nancy E.K. Shapiro & Paulina Morgan (Illustrator), 2022

A for Activism, B for Ballots, C for country… In An ABC of Democracy the content fits the form well. It is a list of information on democracy that doesn’t have a predefined order, otherwise; it is the author’s view on what democracy consists of.

In most cases the structural order of the book tells more about what the book is trying to communicate than the title. For example Only in America: The Weird and Wonderful 50 States by Heather Alexander & Allan Berry Rhys (Illustrator) might sound at first like a geographical book. But the content, 50 states, is structured alphabetically. If a book on geographical content is structured alphabetically, it’s not geographical info it’s trying to convey. This one focuses on introducing weird laws, quirks, unusual records etc. state-by-state.

With the first category: Illustrated Maps I mention Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, 2013. The book is structured based on continents, and (hierarchically) countries in them. The countries are ordered from north to south. North-to-south or corresponding structure suits well maps and geographical info. When countries are in an alphabetical order, neighbouring countries might end up far from each other.

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page, 2003

The nonfiction picture books by Steve Jenkins (and Steve Jenkins and Robin Page) have come up often during my project, and I have gotten familiar with several of them. I like the combination of the skilled collage illustration style and the illustrations’ information/data-heavy function. This book is focused on different parts of animals: Tails, eyes, mouths, etc. On the first spread they are presented with a question and on the second spread you find the answers.

Water Land – Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale (Author & Illustrator), 2018

Water-Land is a unique picture book with its cutouts of either form of water/land. The illustration follows the cutouts along cleverly! As a back matter there’s a map fold-out, with lists of most known forms of water/land around the world. The picture book shows a few different forms, starting from the most obvious and easiest: Lake/island.

Classification is the fourth category I have come up with in my Fulbright project during spring 2022 exploring presentations of data in children’s nonfiction picture books published in the United States (and originated; with a few exceptions), especially in the years 2021-22. For more information on the project and on the books I have explored read here.

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Downsizing big and bold

Two years ago I arranged an exhibition big and bold. 16 illustrations, height 2,3 meters, width 6 meters. Altogether the exhibition was nearly 100 meters wide, it was outside, and it was my first exhibition ever.

No one knows how many people saw it during those 2,5 weeks, but I know several who went and saw it on a motorcycle. I had wished for that, since the illustrations were from a book that told about a motorcycle road racing legend, Jarno Saarinen. The exhibition was following a road that used to be a race circuit, next to the Helsinki Olympic Stadium.

After the exhibition was over, I took the pieces down, rolled them up and carried to my storage, washed them (both sides) and rolled them up again. It was a lot of work, they were huge and heavy, and when I closed the storage door there was nothing I wanted more than to forget they existed.

Don’t get me wrong. I love them! Among those 16 were the illustrations that got highly commended in the World Illustration Awards children’s book category 2019. The printing turned out superb, they’re truly impressive with their size. People wanted to buy, I wanted to sell. Until the buyers realized it was actually 6 meters wide we’re talking about.

They were just TOO BIG.

When the lockdown started in March 2020, I knew what my corona project would be: downsizing the big and bold exhibition posters. They had started their siren songs from the depths of the storage (two stories up from my apartment) and I knew I couldn’t hide anymore.

But how? Where should I cut? I started it on screen.

I had to create something new. I couldn’t look at them the same way I had when creating illustrations for the book, to tell the story. And I had to pay attention to the size.

The motorcycles were the most interesting to cut. I had loved illustrating all the small technical parts and to learn how a motorcycle works – even only shallowly. Now all that small technical got to be highlighted better than before.

Photographer Tuomas Kaisti

I don’t think I ever will arrange an exhibition that big again. But if someone asked for my advice in arranging one – if they should do it or not, I would say in a heartbeat: “Go for it.”

Photographer Tuomas Kaisti

And then I would add: “You can always downsize them later.”

The Baron: Work in progress 1

Pirita-Tolvanen-The-Baron-Tires-Colours

I’m working on a book on motorcycles (and drivers, especially one!) and it’s turned out to be a specifically delicious theme for me to work on. So I’ve ended up doing different kinds of work-in-progress stuff just for the fun of it!

Cogwheels Pirita Tolvanen The Baron