As Bob Dylan once said, “the times, they are a-changin’. ” This statement applies to almost all facets of our lives in the twenty-first century, including children’s literature. Many authors have led the transition of this genre. One such author is David Wiesner. He has helped change the face of children’s literature from the simple presentations of “Mother Goose” poems and fables to thought provoking works in which children immerse themselves. To understand the messages in David Wiesner’s writing, we must first understand David Wiesner.
Born February 5, 1956, in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Wiesner was the youngest of five children. As a child, his parents and siblings supported his artistic habits. Throughout school, Wiesner developed a reputation as “the kid that could draw. ” His teachers quickly recognized his gift and channeled his talents. After graduating high school in 1974, Wiesner enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design. In 1978, he received his Bachelor of Fine Art in Illustration. After graduation, he worked illustrating magazine covers before other writers recognized his talents in 1981.
David Wiesner brought Nancy Luenn’s words to life in her 1981 release The Ugly Princess. This led to other opportunities to illustrate other author’s works such as Dennis Haseley’s 1986 book Kite Flier. In 1987 Wiesner took his illustrations to the next level. Collaborating with his wife, Kim Kahng, he retold and illustrated his first book, The Loathsome Dragon. However, it was not until his second release that Wiesner moved to the forefront of children’s literature. (http://www-personal. ksu. edu) In 1988, David Wiesner released his second work, Free Fall.
This book garnished the honor of the 1989 Caldecott Medal. (http://www-personal. ksu. edu) Wiesner had become a leader in the field of children’s literature. Free Fall re-introduced a method into young reader’s books that had been prevalent for years. Wiesner told the entire story without using words. It was not like the average picture books however. Wiesner gave readers a chance to interpret the story in their own way. Pictures took the place of words. In the book Free Fall, a young boy falls asleep while reading a book about a castle and, in the process, “falls” into a wonderful imaginary world.
Inside the boy’s room, you see crescent rolls on a plate, a toy wizard’s hat, toy dinosaurs, small figurines and many other items. As the child goes thorough his dream world, he encounters each of these items in a new and different manner. The boy awakes to discover that he is no longer reading about a castle but visiting one. In a sequence similar to Gulliver’s Travels’ giant interactions, the child encounters “people” equal in stature to that of his figurines. An actual wizard now wears the wizard’s hat. A small dinosaur befriends the boy and serves as a method of transportation.
During his travels, our young character encounters mountains shaped like the crescent rolls that he snacked on earlier. Free Fall allows the readers to submerse themselves in the illustration and live the story. It was a break through in the field of children’s literature. At the time, Wiesner did not realize that he was not only developing his own trademark, writing with few or no words, but he was also developing a theme that would prove prevalent in his future works. The reader was taught that the world around us is not as others perceive it but as one’s self perceives it.
Also present was a storyline that would repeatedly resurface in future works: The central character was leaving his own world, attempting to discover a new world. In doing so, he was pictured flying around on some type of flying apparatus: A Sycamore leaf. (Wiesner, David. Free Fall. ) After working on illustrations for other authors and writing his second book, 1990’s Hurricane, David Wiesner released his third work of art, Tuesday. Immediately Wiesner was hailed as having revolutionized children’s literature once again with the 1991 release. This book received the 1992 Caldecott Medal. (http://www-personal. su. edu) Tuesday once again saw Wiesner implore a style using few words. Only four pages contained words. The first page of the book contained only four words:
“TUESDAY EVENING, AROUND EIGHT. ” The story begins with a lone turtle sitting on a log in the swamp looking around. As the moon rises over the swamp, so do lily pads. Each pad has a frog riding on it as if the frog has its own personal flying machine. The frogs dart off toward town, turning and twisting as they go. As the seconds of the pages containing text reflects “11:21 P. M. ,” our characters, the frogs, wreak havoc on the suburban town.
Animals are terrorized, laundry is torn from the clotheslines, and homes are invaded. All the while, the frogs are flying around on their lily pads. The third page of text indicates “4:38 A. M. ” as the town begins to awaken from the night. Quickly the frogs dart from town, heading back to the swamp. The frogs land in a drainage ditch and hop back to their homes in the swamp. The illustrations let the reader know that the frogs are not content in the swamp. Meanwhile, in town, people are left to sort through the mess left behind from the frogs’ adventure.
The next page reads “NEXT TUESDAY, 7:58 P. M. This leads to foreshadowing contained in the final two pages of the story: A barn on a farm and pigs flying through the air. After reading the book Tuesday, it is evident that David Wiesner has continued the theme first introduced in Free Fall. Young readers are shown that the world around them is not what they think it is. Children are encouraged to take note of their surroundings. By doing so, they discover that their world is what they make of it. Wiesner’s now re-occurring storyline of his central character leaving their own world and discovering a new world unfolded in Tuesday just as it had in Free Fall.
Along with these two redundant facts, third, now-redundant storyline was unfolding as well. In Tuesday, Wiesner’s central characters, the frogs, were shown flying around town on their personalized flying machines: mini lily pads. (Wiesner, David. Tuesday. ) In 1992, Wiesner’s aforementioned foreshadowing in Tuesday surfaced when he released June 29, 1999 as his fourth book. Ironically, June 29, 1999, was a Tuesday. Except for collaborating on a book in 1994, David Wiesner’s pen lay dormant after 1991’s June 29, 1999 until 1999, when he authored Sector 7.
His new release was named a Caldecott Honor Book. http://www. houghtonmifflinbooks. com) Again with limited text, Wiesner introduces us to his central character, a boy who likes to draw, attending a class field trip to the Empire State Building. While there, the boy meets a small, mischievous cloud. The cloud convinces the boy to jump on and use him as a flying machine. Immediately the boy is flown away to a new world: The world of clouds. The clouds are discontent with their boring appearance. They implore the boy to draw them in new, exquisite shapes and designs. He does so, and a new, visualistic adventure begins.
Again, just as in Free Fall and Tuesday, Sector 7 encourages children to use their imaginations to develop their own interpretations of the plot. Two redundant storylines are visited. First, the central character leaves his own world and is introduced to a new world that needs discovering. Second, Wiesner draws his central character flying on some type of apparatus. In this case, it is a cloud. Again, the reader is shown that the world around us is not as it seem.
Children are encouraged to make the world what they will and not to succumb to the public’s perception. Wiesner, David. Sector 7. ) The foreshadowing in David Wiesner’s Tuesday came full circle with his 2001 release The Three Pigs. Tuesday had its last page plastered with images of flying pigs. (http://www. houghtonmifflinbooks. com) The Three Pigs retold the age-old story of three little pigs and the big, bad wolf. The Three Pigs told the story with a new slant. Just as in his previous releases, Wiesner used minimal text in The Three Pigs. The text is limited to conversation between the three main characters. Other text does appear but as illustrations rather than words.
Wiesner uses the original “Three Little Pigs” as a setting for his new story. The Three Pigs introduces us to three characters, the three pigs, as they are trying to leave their pre-conceived world and discover a new world. Just as in his previous books, Wiesner uses this re-occurring theme. Wiesner is more obvious with the message in this book as he centers his story on it. The three pigs are attempting to get out of the original story. In this case, the traditional story is used to illustrate the pre-conceived world around Wiesner’s characters.
The pigs take the story apart, one panel at a time. In the process, they use the panels to aid in their escape. The three pigs take the panels from the original story and fold them into paper airplanes. They then use the airplanes to fly from the pages of the original story and into a new world and a new adventure. Flying on the paper airplanes not only continue the trend of Wiesner’s characters flying around on objects, but also reflect upon the idea first introduced in Tuesday of pigs flying. Again, Wiesner has shown young readers that the world is there for their discovery.
He encourages children to make their life better than what it is by refusing to be bound by what society perceives as their life’s intentions. (Wiesner, David. The Three Pigs. ) Wiesner’s work in The Three Pigs was recognized in 2002 with the Caldecott Medal. Wiesner’s work has transcended children’s literature. He has offered children an opportunity to realize that they can make a better life for themselves. As society is faced with ever changing social problems, such as single parent homes, high poverty rates and communities laced with crime, Wiesner shows children that they do not have to be limited by these societal factors.
Children can escape the world that they live in by working to improve it. This is a message that Wiesner has conveyed to today’s youth with each of his works. He does so with his trademark use of limited text and wonderful illustrations. He ties each of books together by using foreshadowing techniques and common themes and storylines. David Wiesner has established himself as one of the premier children’s book writers and illustrator in the field today. With his ability to communicate with children through his works, David Wiesner will remain a leader in the industry.