The difference in good and great text in a picture book is sometimes very subtle. It's an attention to quirky details or a particular knack for speaking in a child's language. We read Babar Visits Another Planet and in the story Babar loses a shoe on the sticky surface of the planet. Read this next part:
The concept of an elephant being conscious of dignity in footware is wonderfully fresh and thoughtful for a reader to stumble upon. This is partially why Laurent de Brunhoff has been successful in furthering the Babar series that his father—the famous Jean de Brunhoff— created in 1931. I tend to love the originals by Jean best... this visit to another planet thing doesn't amuse me as much as my boys but I really did appreciate this little line.
The next book we read was the wonderful The Giant Jam Sandwich. Fun rhyming, a superbly inventive concept... what's not to love?! But just try to imagine what this book would look like with illustrations like digital, bright, generic cartoon characters. *shudder* The magic would be gone. John Vernon Lord hits a home run here because of his wonderfully detailed images:
Just look at this last one! There is a photographer down the road, a morose looking man along the parapet, three children chasing each other on the horizon, and a bunch of women laying out the blanket in the field. But the text is only about the horses pulling the bread to the site. This is how illustrations should be: not just showing a visual of what the words say... but filling in the idiosyncrasies of a tale and doing half the tale-telling themselves. This book illustrates (Ha! Punny.) that concept so well it is no wonder that Vernon Lord is a lecturer on the art of illustration! Delicious!