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AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR WHETS KIDS’ LEARNING APPETITES

SHARE AUTHOR/ILLUSTRATOR WHETS KIDS’ LEARNING APPETITES

"When I begin to write a book, I spend a lot of time researching the subject. I go to libraries, talk to many people who know about the subject," said author Gail Gibbons. (The dedication of her books is often made to those specialists in the fields of science and art that she has consulted.) "When I begin to write, I tend to overwrite at first because I have so much information. Then, I spend time rewriting and rewriting the book until it sounds just right. I try to make the text as simple as possible."

Gail Gibbons' specialty is informational books for young children just learning about holidays, butterflies or tools. A trademark of her work is the brightly colored pages with captions of a few sentences to summarize the subject. Gibbons' more than two dozen picture books cover a wide span of interests and topics. "The topics I choose to write about are topics I want to learn about for myself," she said. These are topics that children from 5 to 8 are also interested in such as spiders, prehistoric animals, tunnels and seeds.Gibbons stresses how difficult it is to "underwrite" something of great interest. Leaving out important details would not make a complete book nor would adding too much that would be difficult for the beginning reader and explorer.

Exploring and going further than her simple text is what this author/illustrator encourages the young readers to do after they have the basic facts. In "The Planets" (Holiday House, 1993) for example, the front pages give a two-page spread of the planets with subsequent pages showing children concentrating on key points such as the use of a telescope as the individual planets are explained in relationship to the Earth, sun and surrounding planets. "Saturn is the sixth farthest planet from the sun, about 887 million miles away. It is the second largest planet . . . " Gibbons writes. After the rings, temperature and moons are explained, the simple caption leaves room for further study, questions and critical discussion. All this from a simple informational book for first to third graders.

One of my favorite books by Gibbons is "Frogs" (Holiday House, 1993). This is the time of year that children find the ponds where quivering Jell-O-like eggs become a thing to explore and watch during the hatching. We used to do it as children, and I often had jars full in the classroom. What a wonderful addition "Frogs" would have been to that study. "Most of the time the large and slimy mass of eggs is too slippery and too big to be eaten. This is nature's way of protecting them," Gibbons writes. When they do hatch, Gibbons' illustrations show the embryo and tadpoles as they begin their work on the algae. Clearly illustrated are the bulges and loss of tail and the frog and finally climbing out of the pond. I marvel at her natural manner of introducing herpetologists (written phonetically) and the simple comparison of frogs and toads.

The final pages of nearly all of her books are illustrated lists of additional facts. In "Frogs" for example, she points out that frogs lived 120 million years ago and that there are different feet and toes on various species. All this happens on 32 pages.

Gibbons' work as a graphics artist for television is directly reflected in her picture book illustration. "In television, the artwork must be very simple and bold and colorful. The image must be read quickly because it will only be seen on television for a short period of time," she said. Her philosophy of picture books art is similar: "I feel that when I'm explaining something, it should be easily understood by looking at the pictures."

Two of her picture books have been selected as Junior Literary Guild selections: "Willie and His Wheel Wagon" (Prentice-Hall) and "The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree" (Harcourt Brace).

Gibbons lives in a small Vermont town "in the middle of 240 acres with lots of trees and hills around my house."