Many ask if the ideas and symbols revealed from my illustrations can be understood by children. Am I thinking and illustrating too much for a child's comprehension? Do kids really care about art and figurative meanings? In reality, symbolism and meanings doesn't matter. But by saying this, we have underestimated a child's imaginative potential. Besides, children are the toughest critics and the hardest to please.
[Update] Here's a wonderful glimpse of how kids process metaphors. Take note that a lot of studies mentioned in the article were done in the 60s. I believe children are much crazily smarter now :-)
Could we really know how children think or feel? As we mature and leave behind our innocence as a child, being an adult working for the young mind can be a challenge. How can you develop reading materials for children if you can't think and feel like a child anymore? Unless you are a child, or retrogress into childhood, we can never really perceive what goes on inside their mind. We can only observe, predict, and scientifically measure their capabilities and behaviors to know what's going on in their shoes. It is in this light that I believe there is no right or wrong way of writing, illustrating, or producing books for children. There are moral and social responsibilities, of course, but basically it runs a gamut of possibilities.
How should an illustrator know then if his illustration is effective and appealing to children? Moreover, do children about 3 to 6 year olds already have their own aesthetic sense in choosing the books they'd like to read? or at least consider the images to be beautiful? A student who interviewed me posed a similar question: do I ever make a study on my illustrations and its effect on the young mind's aesthetic sensibilities?
Finding answers to this mind boggling inquiry can only begin with a reminiscence of my childhood from when did I first become aware of my aesthetic sense. Though a vague indicator of my early ideals of beauty, I can only recall about the first bag that I had in school. Not even close to choosing for myself but I liked it: it was a very dark brown knapsack with two packets. I can't remember the label but I took good care of it and loved for a couple of years. Until it disintegrated and was time to let go. A six-year-old first grader, I wasn't really keen on design aspects, but perhaps more concerned on the functionality of the bag. During that period I guess my idea of beauty is something treasured and kept: I like to have, that's why I collect. The joy of having first possessions: I like something because I can play and keep it, more than the object's possession of perfect color, proportion, or shape.
The first book, as far as I can recall, that captured my amazement was a very thick coloring, story, and games book given as gift to my eldest brother. My interest got hyped when my aunt neatly colored one of the pages with crayons and then another page with watercolor! Then I remember this big activity/craft/storybook my aunt have in her shelf at Ilocos that she showed us whenever we spend summer there. The pencil and watercolor illustrations are so wonderful and engaging. The book kept me and my brothers and sisters creatively busy while enjoying our stay there.
I was very scared to explore different areas of our school because some of the teachers are uptight and discouraging. I was also hesitant to go to the library because our librarian was the stereotypical scary lady who always grow big eyes whenever she hears even just a bit of sound inside the library. She even raises her voice when the room gets crowded then lashes a stick on her desk.
I think it was when I'm a third grader that I became appreciative again of the illustrations from a book. My seatmate that time, who happens to be a bookworm and frequents the library, encouraged me to spend class breaks there too. I was very much interested in what he was reading: it was Herge's The Adventures of Tintin graphic novel series. The illustrations looked so good and the form of literature was different for me. I wasn't a fan of long reads unless there are, at least pictures whether beautiful or not, that complements it. I borrowed one Tintin book (I never thought I can borrow one that time, or it was due to borrower's age/grade limit) and read at home, until I realized there was no more title left of the series.
Gauging from those childhood experiences, I can safely assume, for now, that exceptional works truly standout no matter what. If a child can appreciate beautiful sceneries from nature, a face, or a toy, then most probably he is also aware that what he is reading is something attractive. Through this recollection of childhood memories, it also made me realize that the enthusiasm or joy I had in perceiving wonderful objects or images as a child hasn't changed much until now. Except that perhaps it has developed into a more sophisticated, different, or "adult" level, the same feelings of innocent wonderment is still there. A good art will always be good art.
If only children are given the license to write, illustrate, and publish their own children's book, that would be the perfect book for them. But in a not so perfect world, we can only guide and please them, and accomplishing that is always a challenge.