Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Amanda Westby
Think Piece 2
English 226
December 2012

Introduction

When I set out to write this think piece, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do with it in my head. I wanted to conduct the same experiment as I did last spring but with a child who had grown developmentally over the six-month gap between the two studies. However I had to shift my focus because I realized that comparing Landon’s two books would be a better approach.

In the first piece I think that I struggled a bit with the analysis because there were essentially two elements missing. The first, was a look into the cognitive development of a four-year-old. In my first experiment, I looked into how Landon’s illustrations might provide insight into the workings of his mind, which helped me conduct my analysis. The second was Ryan’s insights (i.e. the perspective of an artist) because the first time around he noticed things that I didn’t. And so, adding new dimensions to my analysis became the focus of this revision. I did some research and sat down to have a talk with Ryan and new insights were opened up that I used to add depth to my think piece.

I feel that by adding those elements my think piece became more cohesive in that there were three different perspectives contributing to the analysis: four-year-old development, Ryan’s art-driven perspective, and my own. After a few revisions I feel happy with the final product and I will be adding it to my original think piece, Ryan & Landon As Picture Book Illustrators: The Experiment and continuing this study again in the future. 

Landon As a Picture Book Illustrator: A Progression in Abstract Thought

I knew when I completed Think Piece Two during my studies in English 225 that I wanted to repeat the experiment again. In my previous experiment I had my then three-year-old son Landon help me write and then illustrate his own picture book which he called Sid the Monster in the Mountain (Sid). Once Landon and I were done, I gave my fiancé Ryan a blank copy of the book and told him illustrate it using the same tools. Through both a Q&A session and analysis of the two books, I discovered that Landon was inhibited because of his inability to construct abstract thought, due to his age. I discovered that Landon had formulated an idea of the layout of books because of the similar layouts of Ryan and Landon’s versions. I discovered that this experiment provided me with a tool to explore Landon’s development in a completely fresh way. And so, for this piece, I decided to conduct the same experiment with a new book. While I may have set out with the same goal I had before, I quickly discovered that this experiment, like the last, would take me in an entirely new and unexpected direction.

Landon, now a 4-year-old preschool student, was ecstatic when I told him that I wanted him to write and illustrate a new book, and I could tell even just from the time required to choose a title that this was going to prove to be a much more complex process than before. He decided that the book should be called The Adventures of Eli, Miles, and Hotdog (…and Johnny and Grill too!) (Eli) and then he began the painstaking process of drawing each character on the cover. With each page, Landon quickly had a new idea and was very particular about getting the illustrations to look just the way that he wanted them. As I watched Landon put great effort into his final product, I began to think about the monumental differences apparent between this new book and his previous one. It was then that I realized that I no longer wanted to compare Ryan and Landon’s illustrations again; I wanted to compare Landon’s.

To aid the analysis of my paper, I asked Ryan to look through both books with me in order to gain the perspective of an artist/designer. In addition, I did some research on cognitive development in four-year-olds in order to get an idea of how the changes between Landon’s two books might be developmental.

Here is a screencast, in which I show you the two books: http://screencast.com/t/irVGw8VOU.

Analysis

Immediately I took notice of the names Landon chose to use in the books. In both cases, Landon used names from outside sources to create his characters. I find it safe to assume that the name Sid came from the television show Sid the Science Kid, which was his favorite show at the time that he wrote Sid. In Eli, Landon used the names of two of his friends at preschool: Eli and Miles, in his story. I find it no coincidence that Landon drew inspiration from real life and his personal experiences. School is a recent adjustment in Landon’s life and his use of names from school show how much it means to him. Daniel Dwase, an Early Years Professional from Child-Development-Guide says, “Four-year-olds often talk about things in the past and future.” This discussion of things that may have happened in Landon’s past extends throughout the book, not only in the characters but in the illustrations as well.

I find it impressive that Landon is not only drawing inspiration from his classmates and from his physical surroundings, but that he pictured those experiences as he wrote and illustrated the book. On the page where Landon drew the playground, he told me as he drew that he was drawing bricks with a long rope just like he plays on at school. I would also imagine that Eli feeling sad about having his favorite toy taken probably comes from or was inspired by a real experience at school. One can only imagine the difficulties nine four-year-olds might have sharing their toys. Dwase adds that four-year-olds often confuse fact with fiction. So, Landon may be telling a half-fantasy half-reality story because those lines are very blurred in his mind. This mixture of fantasy and reality extends again to the portion of the story in which the characters engage in snack time.

The page of the grapes intrigued me not only because it relates to Landon’s daily life, but also because it is much more abstract than anything Landon drew before. Landon made me count the grapes with him to be sure that there was the same amount of green grapes and purple grapes. The previous book showed neither of these qualities and I think they are a sign of Landon’s intellectual development and progress. I found in my research that, “the ability to focus on one attribute of an object and to classify is developing in four-year-olds.” (Dwase) I find this interesting because Landon separated the green and purple grapes onto two separate pages. It is also imperative to note that Landon returns to the idea of the grapes, which shows that his thought process involved linking the pages of his story together. This contributes to my notion that there was an overall increase in thought throughout Eli, which is further exhibited by the similarities and differences between the pages in which the characters play with cars.

In Sid, Landon drew the character with three circles to represent the cars. In Eli, Landon drew the character holding not only the “golden truck” he described in the text, but also another truck in the character’s hand. Then, Landon drew another character also holding two truck toys and all the other characters in the background. Landon cared much more about the entire scene rather than simply drawing the characters as he did before, from the park, to the grapes, to the elaborate truck drawing. He was also much more involved and particular about his illustrations. Ryan noticed that there was much more use of color in Landon’s illustrations from Eli than there was in Sid and he also remarked that Landon seems to have a better understanding of facial expressions and how to express them on paper.

This understanding is prevalent throughout the book, but I found it to be most pronounced on the last page where Landon drew all of the characters sleeping. The characters are gray with their eyes closed. This depiction seems as though it could very well be a four-year-olds interpretation of what happens to us when we sleep. In Landon’s daily experience, the “story” of the day ends with the characters sleeping because the day is over. I think that the idea of the story ending this way may have subconsciously been contributed to by that daily experience. In addition, I think that Landon used gray as an attempt to mute the colors, just as an illustrator does when drawing a sleeping character. This idea was further cemented through Ryan’s observations about color use. Through this experience, I learned much more about where Landon’s development has taken him than I expected.

Landon definitely stepped away from his “literal” style to offer the reader much more abstract illustrations and he seemed less limited by his development than he did before. I think that what I learned most this time around was how quickly children learn. Landon wrote Sid just six months ago yet he shows a lot of learning and development between Sid and Eli.  I definitely feel that Eli is a representation of Landon’s attempt to work through his day and perhaps solve problems he had in the past. Dwase says, “In general, four- and five-year-olds are beginning to problem solve, think about cause-and-effect relationships, and express these ideas to others.” I also think that the inability of a four-year-old to fully distinguish between fantasy and reality is apparent, hence the combination of non-fiction and fiction found in Eli. I am certain that if I continued the experiment again in another six months that my results would also leave me with a different perspective and I’d see an increase in Landon’s learning, and I have to say that I plan on continuing this experiment for years to come.

Works Cited

Dwase, Daniel. “Cognitive Development.” Child-Development-Guide, 2012. Web. 11 Nov 2012.

Lybeck, Ryan. Interview by Amanda Westby. 29 Nov 2012. Print.

 

Copyright 2012
Amanda Westby

 

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Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA
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