Wednesday, October 26, 2016

THE ENTIRETY OF LITERATURE - A CHILD’S VIEW [Part 2 from the Intro to Boxed Set—7 Books With No Pictures by Sage Merriman]

Sage Merriman

Again, from the Introduction....

I have used the word, format.

Almost always children’s picturebooks are comprised of 32 pages with 27-30 of them used to convey content, displaying words—a few at a time. (Most picturebooks are under 300 words and anything over a 1,000 is considered too long.)

And the words are meant to do something more specific than advance the narrative. They are artfully chosen to create interest... in turning the page—that action specifically—to move reader and child through the book.

Irresistibly is the hope and intent.

Page turns don’t just happen in children’s picturebooks. They happen by design...

...14 to 15 times per book in what ideally becomes the rhythm of reading… and of pausing for effect… before revealing what happens next.

The children’s picturebook is a format in the way the haiku poem is a format with its requirements of 5-7-5 syllables-per-line.

Each requires a certain discipline of the author.

Using the picturebook format is useful—even without the pictures—precisely to the extent (and because) children are taught to rely on it.

That they are taught this reliance inadvertently makes the expectations children develop no less real.

They sense patterns in the books they are read and come to depend on them.

Realize that for most children who are read to, the picturebook isn’t just a literary form. It is the entirety of literature.

It is the only form they typically have any experience with through the age of four.

To move beyond the picturebook in the direction of reading, something has to give.

But what?


With “early reader” and chapter books (as commercially published for 4-8 year olds today), the frequent use of illustrations is maintained. That much is clear.

So the give comes elsewhere.

It comes in the text, where:

Vocabulary is greatly simplified (backing down from the breadth and range of choice found in picturebooks for older children) and, with that decision, some subtlety of meaning is lost.

The familiar discipline of 27-30 planned pages is gone.

And the drama of the page-turn is abandoned.

All of this, in order to keep the eye-candy of illustrations.

This may be a good commercial decision. But note that it’s made for commercial purposes. (It is the illustrations, evidenced first on book covers, that most clearly distinguish one book from the other in the context of the bookstore.)

There is another possibility that has considerable merit—particularly in the digital space—one that may make a better bridge toward the acquisition of early reading skills under the thoughtful tutelage of adults:

The Pictureless Picturebook.

# # # 

[This idea will be explored in Part 3, the final excerpt from the Introduction to Boxed Set.] 

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