Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Webs We Weave

Monday Myra posted about graphical literacy, using Sea Turtle Scientist as her example, yesterday Mary Ann weighed on on Horse Shoe Crabs -- I like the (entirely unplanned) way those two posts begin to build a week-long unit. I'll join in here -- not on sea shore and amphibious animals but, again, on the weave of art and text in nonfiction.
      We do not do enough to train our eyes for how text and image can and should work in nonfiction. Most professionals who work with younger readers receive some training in -- or at least have a decent amount of life experience with -- 32 page picture books. They understand that art, text, and page turn can an should add up to a lived experience where the child performs the magic of opening the door -- crossing the Cumberland Gap -- by turning a page and arriving at the next spread. [Martha Parravano has written wonderfully about this in A Family of Readers (Candlewick, 2010)]. But that attention to layout and design is not as widely shared in nonfiction.
      In my view, the best illustrated nonfiction is expressly not Art + Text, such that if I write "apple" in the text the reader may expect to see an image of an "apple" on the facing page. Rather, nonfiction can and should provide an immersive experience in which the selection and placement of visual elements brings the reader into the lived world the author is exploring. In Jim Murphy's multiple award winning American Plague, for example, the chapter openers do not "illustrate" anything in the running text. Rather they are artifacts that place you into the mental world of 1793 Philadelphia. In Tanya Stone's also multi-award-winning Almost Astronauts, the images change from black and white to color when women, finally, rocket into space as astronauts.
      Of course the CC standards ask students to read across media, to develop visual literacy, and, in turn, to write papers in various formats. One way to help students sharpen their eyes is to look carefully at any nonfiction book to examine how it uses text, image, and page turn to narrate. The question is not just whether there are nice captions or good sources. Rather it is one of design -- what choices has the author and/or the art director made to influence how you experience this book through the interplay of words and images? Perhaps in one of these blogs I'll at a spread or two with all of you showing the decisions I made -- or see -- in it. What book(s) would you like to discuss?

Marc Aronson


  1. What a great invitation. It's one I don't want to pass up. I'd like to see you discuss two-page spreads in SKULL IN THE ROCK and IIF STONES COULD SPEAK. What decisions were made?

  2. will do so -- either as my post next week or sooner