I have started the new year with an authorial treat; the publication of a new picture book. It is called ‘Little Nelly’s Big Book’, and it is a story that absolutely had to be a picture book rather than any other kind of book. In fact the story concludes with –
‘Which just goes to show why books should always have pictures.’
Why are pictures so vital to this particular story?
Well, one of the glories of pictures is that even very young children can ‘read’ them, long before they can read text. Children study pictures in picture books and see for themselves what is happening, and they notice when what they see does or doesn’t tally with what the book’s words (read out loud by somebody) are telling them. There is wonderful potential excitement created when there is a deliberate gap, or even a contradiction, between words and pictures, because a child can, and will, fill that gap with their own deductions … that apparently nobody else has noticed!
The child audience can know more about what is really going on in the story than the words tell. They can know more than the adult reading those words seems to know, and certainly know more than the characters living the story know. That knowing and understanding leads to anticipating possibilities that make the child an essential co-creator of the overall story, along with the author and illustrator and designer; the story is their story too.
‘Little Nelly’s Big Book’ begins with a picture of a small elephant reading a Big Book Of Knowledge. The text reads –
‘Little Nelly looked in a book, and found out …
Turn the page
…that she was a mouse.’
We can see exactly why Little Nelly thinks that she is a mouse because we can read the book that tells her that mice can be grey, and that they have big ears and skinny tails. Nelly has ticked all those things. She’s been quite logical in working out that she is a mouse. The text tells Nelly’s point of view, but looking at the pictures we know that she’s got it terribly wrong because she isn’t a mouse at all, and an elephant is very different from a mouse! What in the world is going to happen to her now that she thinks she is a mouse? Read the book, and find out!