I have been wondering about picture books lately. I have been wondering what it is that attracts me to this very particular art form. What was the impulse that led to the founding of Barefoot Books — to twenty years of shaping and sharing stories with words and pictures? The child in me has one way of exploring this question, the adult another.

The child spies an alluring image and up-and-down lines and curves that she has been told by grown-ups are letters. Aha! She is curious; she is charmed. She is lucky enough to be part of a family where she knows that if she picks the book up and catches the attention of one of these grown-ups, she has a good chance of being read to. And if the grown-ups are too busy, that is all right too. While she waits for someone to share the words, she can settle down somewhere and enjoy the pictures. She can make up her own stories about the characters and the places she finds on the pages. So this is what she does. The picture books that come from friends and relatives into her home, and the picture books that come from libraries into and out of her home, all become many-layered narratives. Although she is not aware of this, the picture books nurture her young imagination and shape her sense of beauty. They become her first experience of theatre — her friends, her soul food.

And what about the adult? The adult, now a mother to three children, remembers. She remembers how much she loved her favourite picture books as a child, how many of them she kept; how, as she grew older, she used to enjoy sharing them with her younger sister and brothers. She looks around in bookshops and libraries for picture books to share with her children. She wants stories that will transport her and her family to other places. She wants fairy tales. She wants journeys, quests, transformations. She finds some of this, but not much . . . so she has an idea. She will make the picture books she seeks.

Along the way, the adult makes lots of mistakes. She makes more mistakes; she makes books; she laughs a lot with the ever-widening network of like-minded people who discover Barefoot Books; she listens; she looks; she learns. Over the years, she becomes more and more enchanted by the art and craft of the picture book: the way the pictures and the words become dancing partners; the way the emotion of the story can be changed by shifts in pace, scale, palette; the perfect economy of form and content that is the picture book at its best. She trusts that the pictures and the words will cast a spell over the children who find them.

Perhaps, the responses of the adult and the child are not so far apart after all.

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