This business about reviewers and illustration is still bothering me. I wonder if it goes back to MLIS programs: not all of them have courses in NF, or spend more than one class session in a Materials for Children (or YA) on NF. And even if they do have a class or session, I wonder how many such courses linger to talk about the interplay of art, text, and design in NF — especially middle grade and YA?
By contrast I am certain that 100% of those same classes (and SCBWI retreats, and kids and YA MFA programs, etc., etc.) linger on the marriage of art and text in a picture book. They all pause to consider the page turn, the way art carries on the narrative rather than merely repeating it. And, doubtless, those very same classes bow at some point to the cannonical point that young people today are more oriented to the visual, more saturated with the visual. But when they get to NF, the visuals and the design disappear — as if they magically appeared in a book next to the text, placed their by fairies or other magical creatures — as if the author had no role in finding the images, selecting them, placing them — using them to narrate.
So if future reviewers (editors, publishers, librarians, teachers) do not study how a NF book is made, they do not appreciate the double and tripple work we do. And you know having been reading many fantasy and dystopian novels in my own YA Materials class, it is clear how much modern fiction owes to the visual. When Harry first burst on the scene Roger Sutton remarked on how cinematic it was — as if the writer were a movie already. So the visual has reshaped fiction writing. But when the real visual is — through archival research and careful, persistent attention to design — used to narrate NF — somehow that disappears, it is not factored into the weighing of the value of the book. We here much praise for “world building” in fantasy. Well what is brilliant NF illustration but a kind of immersion of its own — world evocation through surrounding text with apt and revealing images. O ye reviewers — come here and tell me if I’m wrong.