Yesterday, my publisher asked if I wanted more illustrations in my books, and my first reaction was to say YES, of course! He then sent me another email, refocusing and redimensioning my thoughts.
First, he pointed out the importance of photos. "I think that the photos add an interesting effect to the book," he said. "It adds artifacts and such to a beautifully illustrated books, and such artifacts are fascinating to many children. It makes it more than just beautiful by connecting it to reality; not just a story but our history." This is something I have always believed too, from the start.
Next, he emphasized the text. "Another thing I do not want to diminish is the text of the book. While we have tried to make an attractive picture book, it is the story that you tell that is the driving force behind it."
This was a very important reminder. I don't know if I am the only author to feel this way, but it's easy for me to focus on the imperfections of my writing. Besides, I have been getting many great comments about the artwork in my books that I have started to see it as the priority. In other words, I thought, "The text might be imperfect but the illustrations are great, so that's what's counts." It's funny how easily and even subtly priorities can shift in our minds if we don't continue to review our goals and refocus our intentions.
My publisher's words reminded me immediately of the dramatic shift provided by the historical
Reformation - a shift from sight to hearing, from images to words.
I have already written a rough manuscript for my next book, Lady Jane, and I can see now that the quotes from Jane's letters as well as the explanation of important concepts such as justification by faith and the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice are really the focus of the message, and these concepts cannot be put expressed visually, just as the Gospel cannot be understood in creation.
I want the children to understand why so many tumultuous events were happening in England at that time and what was the motivating force of the English Reformation. In fact, I want them to understand the Reformation in general, to see why it compelled people to do what they did, and then see Jane as one of its strong representatives (as she really was), rather than just an oblivious and naive girl as it is often portrayed.
So far, I have been trying to write in a very factual manner, describing only the emotions that are documented rather than assuming things, but illustrations (as novels) are by nature imaginative and require assumptions. There is definitely a place for them, as they complement the text and keep the children's attention alive. Still, they cannot take priority over the text.