“A picture is worth a thousand words” goes the old adage. And for those of us who write about art, we know that a picture can also inspire a thousand words. With Love by children’s author Casey Rislov, that same picture can take on deeper meanings in the context of new words.
Rislov is the author of the award-winning picture book, Love Is Forever, a gentle story of an extended family of owls designed to help small children understand concepts related to death and grief, providing them with reassuring messages about how our loved ones — and love itself — live on in so many ways after they are gone.
In Love, her newest book, Rislov has taken many of the illustrations from Love Is Forever (beautifully rendered in ink and watercolor by Rachael Balsaitis) and repurposed them to accompany the words of one of the most well-known Bible passages on the subject of love, 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. (Love is patient, love is gentle and kind, love is generous, and so forth.)
The effect is both a richly rewarding reading experience and a fascinating work from the perspective of semantics, or the study of meaning. By reusing pictures originally designed for another story and theme, Rislov has created a book that abounds with visual information that uniquely enhances the lines of Bible verse and makes us think more deeply and laterally about what those lines mean.
As in the previous book, Love is full of examples of the extended owl family engaging in together-time activities from fishing to flying kites, from gardening to telling stories. Yet in this new context, each illustration conveys an accompanying verse’s complexities. For example, “love is patient” is accompanied by an image of a momma owl and baby owl playing hide and seek. The baby owl is hiding his head under a mushroom cap while the momma owl looks around with a puzzled expression. There is so much to unpack in the use of this particular image with this line of the verse.
Patience isn’t just about waiting. It’s about taking time out from our busy lives to entertain the whims and delight in the worldview of our children, something that we so often don’t have the patience to do. Indeed, says Rislov, “I hope that my books … offer a way for little ones and the grownups who love them to connect, slow down in our fast-paced world, and just be together.” And so it is with momma owl engaging in her child’s creative play.
Patience is also about trusting that things will be put right in the end, that love we may worry is lost will be found again. The hide-and-seek imagery is just as relevant to this verse as it had been in the previous book on grief: when our loved ones can’t be seen, they are never far from us, if only we look for them with open eyes and hearts — a process that also, by the way, takes patience.
As a board book intended for babies and toddlers, such complexity may be well beyond their comprehension, but for us as parents, it is not. The book therefore works on multiple levels, including the most basic ones. As Rislov points out, “The words are universal and something everyone can relate to. Their simplicity and clarity … make them accessible for even the youngest children.”
Yet as our children get older, there’s much we can discuss about the concepts contained within this book and Bible passage, concepts that seem so simple on the surface but contain the depth and breadth of human experience. The images are a doorway into this conversation, even at the most early stages of childhood. And of course, as Rislov explains, “Looking at pictures in books, naming and talking about them, helps children build visual literacy skills, the pre-reading building blocks of literacy.”
Regardless of where you and your child are on the journey, may the thousand words you share together about this book be a meaningful and connected experience for you both.