Following are suggestions of ways to discuss that question. Many of these ideas were developed by several teachers and librarians for the Vermont Red Clover Award program, Vermont's Children's Choice Picture Book Award.
If your favorite author has written several books, plan an 'Author Week', comparing and contrasting their different books.
Looking at a story - a few questions to consider:
—What is the story about?
—What is the most exciting part of the story?
—Read the first couple of pages. Do they make you want to continue reading the story? Why? or Why not?
—Do you like the characters? Would you choose any to be your friend? Why? or Why not?
—Does the author use a lot of words? Few words?
—What words does the author use to describe some of the characters? To describe action? To describe the setting?
—Do the illustrations help tell the story?
—Do the illustrations tell you anything the words do not?
—Read several of the author's stories. Are they all funny? . . . or sad? How are they different? How are they the same?
If your students have read What Do Authors Do? and What Do Illustrators Do?, they will have the tools for discussing these questions.
Start by reading and discussing What Do Illustrators Do?
Talk about students' favorite illustrators. Plan an 'Illustrator Week', perhaps working with the school art teacher. Compare and contrast the different books.
Looking at the illustrations-a few questions to consider:
—What media did the illustrator use to make these illustrations? If you aren't certain, you can often find this information buried in the Library of Congress information at the front of the book. Or perhaps the illustrator has a website.
—Does the illustrator draw the pictures with lines? Are the lines thick? Thin? Are they outlines? Are they broken lines? Does the illustrator make texture with lines? Shadows?
—What tool was used to draw the lines? Pencil? Pen? Brush? Some illustrators don't use lines. They might use just color. Find some examples.
—Find examples of the illustrator's work in different books she has illustrated. Does the illustrator always draw the illustrations the same way? Use the same technique?
—Find an illustrator who uses white space around their pictures. Does white space make the pictures easier to see?
—Do the illustrations have lots of detail? Very little detail? Show your students examples of both styles.
—Do skies always have to be blue? Is dirt always brown? Are trees always green? Take a look—you might find some surprises. Maybe the illustrator uses a combination of colors or colors you would not have thought of using.
—Find a quiet story. Are the illustrations done with soft, quiet colors?
—Find an energetic, fast moving story. What colors does the illustrator use? Are the illustrations energetic and active?
Looking at book design-a few questions to consider:
What shape is the book? Is it big? Is it small? If you are studying several books by the same author, are the books all the same shape? Different shapes? Does the shape and the size work with the illustrations?
Look at the fonts used in the book for the text and the title. Are the fonts different? How are they different? Are they silly, funny, playful, serious?
Does the cover of the book tell you something about the story? What does it tell you?
Look at the end papers. Sometimes they are illustrated. Sometimes they are colored paper. If the end papers are colored, why do you think they are that color? Do they pick up or complement another color in the book? If the end papers are illustrated, do they hint at what might happen in the book?
Many author/illustrators retell and illustrate favorite fairy tales. Find several examples of the same tale-for instance, there are at least six versions of Little Red Riding Hood. I found two or three versions of Jack and the Beanstalk when I was working on my book about illustrators. Read all of the versions and discuss the similarities and differences in both the text and illustrations, using some of the questions listed above.
In conjunction with this project, read What Do Authors Do? and What Do Illustrators Do? Both books look at different ways authors and illustrators might approach the same story. NOTE: As of 2013, these two books will be available in one volume: What Do Authors and Illustrators Do?