Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Daniel Powers on Picture Books: Part 1 cont.

In the West we read text left-to-right; so too with images. Consequently the directional movement of illustration is worth considering when it comes to narrative structure, which (especially in picture books) is linear by nature: left to right, beginning to end. Formal elements within an illustration need to help move the viewers’ eyes through the visual narrative, left to right, beginning to end. Characters walk, gesture, or glance, from left to right, into the narrative.

But what happens when they don’t? What happens when a character on the right side of a spread faces left, not right? What happens is that we don’t turn the page immediately. While the text may compel us to turn the page, when a character causes the reading direction to change from left-to-right, we pause on our visual wandering and look back into the page. We follow the character’s contrary movement back into the image, ignoring what the text is coaxing us to do, and spend more time pondering the narrative content of that particular image before moving on.
This sort of visual device is often used at pivotal points in a narrative.

Jerry Pinkney does this in The Lion and the Mouse. Beginning with the title page, a curious gray mouse leads us left-to-right, through the first three spreads, until an owl swoops toward him. Up to this point the visual movement, as well as the movement of the mouse through the setting, has been left to right. But on the following spread Pinkney changes the directionality to read right-to-left; suddenly the mouse is facing the left.

Why? What is this change of movement signaling? Pinkney is playing with scale relationships in this spread. Relative to the size of the little mouse, the lion is so enormous that we cannot see him. The lion so easy to miss that Pinkney slows us down here, causing us to pause, to catch our breath (along with the pursued mouse), and when we slow down, we wonder, “What is this dark brown texture among all of this grass? Is it fur?”

When we turn the page to find out what this is, the initial visual movement is a quick one, left-to-right; like the mouse, we try to escape from the lion as quickly as possible, but to prevent us from leaving this page too quickly, Pinkney raises the lion’s paw, creating a stark vertical visual that blocks us from moving farther to the right, preventing us (as well as the mouse) from escaping the page immediately. While The Lion and the Mouse is a wordless text (and our discussion is, after all, about the relationship of image and text), this title illustrates the importance of movement and countermovement, and how the two can be manipulated to move a narrative along or to slow it. Writers do the same thing with sounds, with sentence length, and with the words themselves.

Writers and illustrators both need to be keenly aware of the page-turn and how to use it to build suspense, add humor, or to catch the reader unaware. In cinematic terms, the black-and-white scene of Dorothy Gale crashing into Munchkin Land is akin to the effective use of a page-turn; do you remember what happens when Dorothy crosses the living room and opens the front door to step outside? Do you remember what is revealed to us as viewers? That opening-of-the-door is an effective page-turn. What follows it is entirely unexpected.

A wonderful example of this can be found in Kathryn Lasky’s Marven of the Great North Woods (Kevin Hawkes, illustrator), when young, nervous Marven meekly tries waking a grizzly, snoring lumberjack by yelling “Lève-toi, Jean-Louis! Lève-toi!” into his ear. What follows demonstrates an effective page-turn.

And finally, the gutter. It's the physical separation of two pages that comprise a spread, and this tangible feature can be used as a narrative element. In Maurice Sendak’s We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, the two protagonists remain on opposite sides of the gutter from the Gandhi-esque character after he is kidnapped by the rats; the gutter reinforces the disconnect of  Jack and Guy from the kidnapped character, visually adding to the sense of the narrative.

Thanks, Daniel! Tomorrow the physical relationship of image and text.

Daniel Powers on Picture Books: Part 1, the Physicality of the Picture Book

Since I'm teaching the picture book semester at Vermont College of Fine Arts right now, I decided to talk to my friend Daniel Powers, who is an artist, illustrator, and teacher of illustration at SCAD.

Picture book text and illustrations interact in a variety of ways, from traditional forms where images exactly duplicate selected portions of a larger text, to present-day humorous or even metafictional relationships. Can you speak about what makes the picture book such a magical form?

Daniel's answer, which is wonderfully detailed, embracing the nuances and ambiguities of the form itself, will post in several sections in this blog over the next few days.

Here's Part I, on the Physicality of the Picture book.

The physicality of a book is an important consideration when crafting picture books. While books are commonplace to adults, to young readers they are structures to be wondered about. They fit nicely onto little laps; they are moveable — covers open, pages turn, they can be rotated or made to flap like a bird (which is a little weird from an adult standpoint, but for a kid, why not?); in other words, they are forms that children explore. Kids find new worlds between the covers of books. Their formats are typically vertical, horizontal or square; their sizes vary; and their binding comprises the spine on the outside of the book and the gutter on the inside of the book.

Our industry’s nomenclature of a vertical or horizontal format isn’t very informative, but the British terminology of portrait or landscape format is.

Landscape formats are particularly good at accommodating a lot of descriptive imagery. We perceive the world around us based on the earth’s horizon, and everything we see and interact with has a physical relationship to this line, making the landscape format perfect for illustrations packed with detailed settings.

Portrait formats are particularly good at creating images laden with emotional content. Using portrait formats, we can create close-ups of our characters, carefully articulating their emotions. Viewers’ eyes don’t typically sweep through portrait formats the way they do through landscape formats. As a result, the reader spends more time poring over portrait-oriented illustrations than landscape formats.

The reason it’s important to consider form is that the form or shape of a book lends itself to particular sorts of content (which may also imply genre), and the form can speed or slow a reader through a book. Form has to be considered before deciding how image and text will relate to each other physically or conceptually on the page.

Next, the directional movement of illustration, page turns, and gutters.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Floods in Pakistan

Because children are always the worst affected in any time of crisis...

Phone donation campaign
and Pakistani groups accepting charitable contributions including  the Zindagi Trust a non-profit 501(c)3 philanthropic organization that aims to provide quality education to underprivileged children  in Pakistan.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Updates and Downloads: Disinviting Ellen, and tangled webs

Gretchen Kolderup blogs on Librarified about the recent kerfuffle with Ellen Hopkins being first invited to speak in Humble, Texas, then disinvited. More on the story here. Lots of hairplitting going on, but YA writers Pete Hautman and Melissa de la Cruz are pulling out in protest as well. Katie Davis talks to Pete Hautman, Todd Strasser, and Ellen herself.

Here's a site dedicated to the life and work of someone who scandalized plenty of people in his time, Sir Richard Francis Burton. known among other things for translating The Arabian Nights Entertainments and Vikram and the Vampire: Tales of Hindu Devilry, of which facsimiles are downloadable on the Burtoniana site. The site defines him as an "explorer, ethnographer, and man of letters. Pilgrim to Mecca and Harar; discoverer of Lake Tanganyika; translator of the Arabian Nights; controversialist and iconoclast." Controversialist--now there's a word. "Discoverer" and "pilgrim" seem a little less credible in these postcolonial times. After his death Burton's wife Isabel, a religious woman, destroyed all his papers. After all these years, we're left with an exhaustive collection of memoir, travelogue, and translated work, and with several biographies containing various degrees of scholarship and scandal.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Updates and Downloads: CSK author speech, first lines, writing reflections

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson's Coretta Scott King Author Award acceptance speech in The Horn Book.

Kimberley Griffiths Little writes about first lines on a new blog dedicated to writing for the middle grades, From the Mixed-Up Files…of Middle Grade Authors

Carolee Dean at the end of her blog tour for Take me There, makes a most interesting comment on the ancient nature of the verse novel.

The Story Sleuths interview Karen Cushman about her captivating historical novel set in pre-Shakespearian England, Alchemy and Meggy Swann.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rereading Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay

Some books just demand to be reread and revisited. Saffy's Angel, the first of Hilary McKay's five novels featuring the eccentric and lovable Casson children, is that sort of book. (The others in the series are Indigo's Star, Caddy Ever After, Permanent Rose, and Forever Rose.) McKay's writing is the kind that feels effortless enough on the page that you figure it probably wasn't. The color chart pinned up on the kitchen wall is a brilliant extended metaphor, a single image mined for meaning in many ways starting of course with the children being named for paint colors: Cadmium, Indigo, and Rose. The fact that Sarah's wheelchair is just part of her, and we need waste no time feeling sorry on its account. Oh, there is so much to love!

The humor delights me, every single time I return to this wonderful middle grade novel. The driving lesson scenes in Saffy's Angel remain among the finest in these books. They punctuate Saffron's own journey with moments of pure delight, and let the reader slyly in on jokes that fly right past the distraught Caddy. Nor do the successive books let up on this blend of funny and real, crazy and imaginative and lovingly drawn. It's tough to write humor and sustain it through an entire novel. And then through several companion books featuring the same characters, with the later variations in viewpoint and voice. All of which you'd think could dampen the funny factor but it doesn't.

Perhaps, speaking of rereading books, it's no coincidence that McKay notes a hefty list of childhood favorites among her own:
Q: Are there any that you still go back to as an adult?
A: I go back to them all.
Hear an excerpt (Chapter 1 of Saffy's Angel) on NPR.

Oh, and Rose now maintains a blog.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Next week in Delhi: Workshop for Writers and Illustrators

The Chitrakala workshop is sponsored by Katha, a "profit for all" organization working to fight social injustice and economic poverty in urban India. The three-day workshop aims at providing a common platform for word and image storytellers to engage in creative dialogue, explore new kinds of art in Indian children’s literature, find ways of seeing from a child’s eye, share best practices and learn from each others' experiences. For registration and related information, contact Mamta – 011-41416621, or email – media@katha.org, kathabooks@katha.org

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Interview with Kathi Appelt (a Post-OOTW Blog tour post)

It's Kathi Appelt and her videocam. What can I say? She's tireless, endlessly innovative, a cheerfully blazing fire of inspiration, and yes, I'll admit there were times when the exhausted VCFA faculty thought: It's Kathi again! Better get Out of the Way! Out of the Way!
But somewhere at the end of the residency, Kathi made time to talk to me about the book.
Thank you Kathi!