Katie: Both. It certainly can stand alone as its own unit of study - we've studied it in Lisa Cleaveland's classes for years as its own study. But what happens is, after that initial study, talking about the illustrator's decision making becomes just a natural part of how books are studied in writing workshop, and it becomes a part of every future study as well.
Franki: How did you get interested in illustration study?
Katie: These last few years, spending so much time conferring with kindergarten and first grade writers, I just realized how much thinking there is that goes into the composition of a picture - especially for some children. I would marvel at it, really. And then more and more I began to think about what it would mean to get behind that thinking, name it and support it, and help them engage in it even more deeply. The desire to do that led me to study illustrations much more carefully, much as I did when I was first learning about the written craft of language. The more I studied illustrations, the better able I was to help children imagine new possibilities in their composition work around pictures.
Franki: How do you see illustration study supporting all students as writers?
Katie: When teachers teach into the composition aspect of children's illustration work, children are gaining valuable experience with all the processes of composing - planning, drafting, revising, editing. To experience this kind of compositional thinking in a parallel context no doubt supports the same kind of thinking in a different context - with written text. Also, as I try to make the case in the second half of the book, children can be introduced to many key qualities of good writing in the context of illustration study.
Franki: What have you found about students that struggle with writing? How does illustration study support them?
Katie: For many of them, it gives them a way to more fully express their meaning (as it does with all writers), and this can be very liberating for them. There is this idea that language is something you can either get right or wrong, and most children and adults don't have this same idea about illustrating, so this is what is so freeing about it. Of course, some children don't feel very confident as illustrators either, and in this case, they have to be supported to celebrate and understand the role of approximation in learning both illustrating and writing.
Katie: I believe that if the teaching focus is on composing - making meaning with whatever tools you have at your disposal (written text being just one of those tools) - we do a much better job of preparing children to make meaning in a world where tools and means for communication will likely be changing throughout their lives, as they have throughout ours. It's all about composing, really, and illustration study is just another avenue for teaching into this valuable thinking process.
Franki: How do you think a study like this is different for young children (K/1) than it is for older children (2nd/3rd)?
Katie: I just think it would get more and more sophisticated as children move along in their development, much as a writing study grows and gets more sophisticated with children over time. For example, Kindergartners and 3rd graders might both be studying how to write engaging informational text, but the study of it and the products students produce will be more sophisticated the further along in their development children progress. I also believe that as children develop and move through school, illustration study can eventually move out of picture books and into other kinds of texts in the world that are a mix of the visual and the verbal - magazines, newspapers, websites, etc.
Franki: You include 40+ Techniques Worth Teaching in the book. Can you talk about these - why you think they are important, how you think teachers might use them, etc.?
Katie: They're important because in naming them, they will help people see so much more in illustrations than they might currently see, because once you start noticing, you can't help but notice more and more. And of course, every illustration decision you can name and articulate its use becomes a meaning-making possibility you might offer a child. In teaching, I'm a strong believer that knowledge is power, and this section was written to empower teachers. By naming all these techniques, I hope I created a valuable resource for teachers to grow their own knowledge base about the decisions illustrators make when they compose with pictures. I also tried to show how these decisions have very direct parallels to the decisions writers make when they compose.
Franki: I love the section on design and layout. Often we are quick about that piece of writing when working with kids. Why do you think that is an important part of the whole process - one worthy of time and intention?
Katie: Design is everything in the world of texts these days. We know that readers respond not just to the meaning of texts, but also to the look of them. Just think about how many have so totally designed what their email messages will look like - something as simple as that. Unfortunately I'm not one of those people (mine are kind of blah), but I love when I get a message that has nice color and a pleasant font, and a little meaningful symbol or saying tagged to it. Layout and design are just so critical.