Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Let's Get Physical by Kath Jewitt


Our guest blogger this month is Kath Jewitt, who has a busy career in children's books as an editor, writer and project manager. She works particularly on books with add-ons such as flaps and moving parts.


I want to make something clear before I start. I am not a technophobe, or whatever the new-fangled word is for not getting on well with technology. I am most definitely an enthusiastic purchaser of e-books and apps for my kids (ok – so I bought Angry Birds for myself). It's just that when it comes to sharing bedtime stories, I get a little picky.

I want a book – and it's not just the content I am talking about here, though of course that is somewhat crucial. It's the 'physical object', the actual 'bookiness' of the book that I am referring to – the smooth paper or card, the black words on a white page, the gradations of colour and tone in different styles of artwork, the folds, the flaps, the die-cuts, the matt laminate (a personal favourite) ... I’m sure you get the point.

I don't know if it's something to do with the fact my husband I make pop-up books for a living that I have such an overeager appreciation of the physical properties of books (I do so love a well-executed fold), but I think it's more than that. There's something about the feel of a book in your hands, its simple physical presence that makes a book so much more intimate a companion than a file on an e-reader – particularly when it comes to snuggling up in bed or on the sofa with a small child.

The word 'interactive' (defined by the Oxford Dictionary online as ‘two people or things influencing each other’) seems to have been annexed by the digital world these days, but I can't think of a more interactive activity than a child and companion sharing a brilliant book together. Reading a book is not only about the story and the images, though they are obviously at the very heart of the experience. It's also about touching, and turning, and pointing, and laughing, and turning back, and flicking forward, maybe lifting a few flaps ... it's about developing key coordination skills, not to mention a relationship with the book and your reading companion.



‘Relationship’ may sound pretentious, I know, but I'm not sure how else to describe the rapport a child can develop with a favourite book. I've lost count of the number of times I've tried to throw out a tatty old copy I thought my children had grown out of, only for them to throw a wobbler, as if I am threatening to throw out their best friend. And I’m pretty sure it is not just me who feels this way. The feeling is embodied in a conversation I had with a friend not long ago. She was bemoaning the fact that she had loaned a favourite book to an acquaintance and that said person had ... horror of horrors ... offered to give her a brand new copy to replace the by now dog-eared original. "It just wouldn't be the same – it wouldn't be MY book!" she wailed. I just can't imagine feeling that way about a pdf ...



18 comments:

  1. Thanks for the blog, Kath! I think myself that there is room for both 'real' books and ebooks in kid's lives. The extreme "real books are dead, you know" view just isn't based on reality - the physicality of books can be very important. But ebooks have given creatives a chance to try a few things for themselves, and I think that eventually, once the market sorts itself out a bit, a vibrant crossover real book/ebook culture will survive.

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  2. Lovely post. I agree there is something special about 'real' books - the touch, the smell, the shininess. Having said that, my kids get a lot of fun from the interactive ebooks - the ones where you can touch the screen and make something happen. They love making a boat rock on waves or causing a hurricane!

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Abie. I agree, it's not a case of 'either, or'. My family loves all forms of interactivity too! I think the best ebooks are the ones where the artwork / concept has been specially created for digital display (see Nosy Crows' website), rather than ones that have been converted from existing titles. Some forms of artwork are always going to be best viewed on the printed page ... and I'm truly happy about that.

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  3. Lovely post, Kath. Nothing like snuggling up in bed with children and reading/looking at picture books together. I think that there are some good picture book apps out there now and there'll be lots more in the future but I do think that when it comes to the decline in real books, picture books will probably be the least affected for that very reason. It's such an interactive, intimate, physical experience. Good luck with your next pop-up book. I'll be looking out for it,
    Clare.

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  4. I still have children's books that I treasure from childhood. In the same way, my teens picked the picture books they wanted to keep.

    I wonder if books will divide into two categories: the more transient, interactive e-books; and the quality traditional books that will be shared, treasured and represent more than a mere story. Already my own book collection seems to be dividing into these two categories. I devour 'bestseller' novels on my e-reader, whilst keeping (hoarding?) books that mean more to me (such as a favourite author or signed copy); or the book is beautifully illustrated, with quality paper and bindings; or it’s a reference book that I can flick through.

    Kath, I totally share your view that a night-time picture book is a together time to be shared between a child and an adult. It's a quiet, reflective, loving time. Perhaps this helps to imbue reading and stories with a positive force that continues through life?

    Also, paper picture books don’t require electricity or an expensive interface. With libraries, they’re accessible to everyone, including those who can’t afford more advanced interfaces. Although little fingers can chew, rip, smudge and crayon, a picture book is not so expensive that it must be treated with reverence. They’re also not ‘all singing and dancing’, which I see as a ‘good thing’. Traditional picture books concentrate on words and pictures and require effort – they’re not effortless entertainment.

    Oops, I’m beginning to sound anti e-reader. I’m not. Truly! I have a close relationship with mine. However, the novels on my e-reader don’t mean as much to me. I don’t feel a sense of ownership and therefore I’m not prepared to pay much. So like you, Kath, I feel there is a place for both and the books I truly treasure are the physical books.

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    1. Oh heck, I got rather carried away with my comment. Sorry! It's something I feel very strongly about.

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    2. HI Paeony ... I know what exactly you mean! When I posted, I did worry I would come over as 'anti ebook', which is not my intention at all. I think Moira's comments sum it all up. There is plenty of room for both. Thanks for such a positive response to my post.

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  5. I agree with you, Kath. The physicality of a printed book and building up a relationship with it are important. Some books are like diaries e.g. a child wearing the corners of a board book down with hundreds of sucks and then leaving evidence of their first teeth through indentations).

    New things can be offered through new technology and I find it's best not to see it as a straight replacement for the old. Thanks for your personal and professional insights.

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  6. Love the story about your friend preferring the mangled copy to a new one. One of my favourite moments, as an author, was going to a friend's house three or four years after I'd given them a copy of one of my picture books. 'Malachy will read you a bedtime story. Which one do you want?' says Mum to child. And out comes the same book, only almost unreadable in its chewed-up, loved-up, threadbare state. Books can become some of a child's most treasured possessions. How wonderful to be a part of that.

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  7. I agree that ebooks and physical books provide a different experience, and that's why it's incorrect when someone says 'books will be dead soon, of course'. It's like those people who said 'theatre will soon be dead' when TV was invented. Also, I do love a good paper-engineered book. There's something magical about it - like a wondrous conjuring trick.

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  8. Oh yes, I treasure those loved-to-bits copies, too!

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  9. I love the feel and the smell of an old book. The care you have to take as you turn those hanging on in there pages. I did read somewhere the eBook reader manufacturers are trying to copy the smell of a book - but it may have been an April fools.

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  10. Hee heee! They could build in book weevils!

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  11. My grown-up (well, 18 year old) daughter made a discovery at the weekend that had her shouting with glee. We're moving house soon, away from the only home she's ever lived in, and Saturday was her last day here because she had to go back to university. BUT, clearing out all sorts of dross from her toy cupboard, she'd discovered the big book of princess stories retold by Annie Dalton and illustrated with applique pictures that was her most prized childhood book. It was the one we came back to, even when she was of secondary school age, if comfort was needed for any reason. And then it had mysteriously disappeared. But it's back now, and gave her just the right snuggle in bed with Mum for favourite story last evening in a beloved home. Such books are truly precious.

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  12. That's lovely, Pippa! I'm a happy bunny today because I've managed to source a vintage children's book I've been after - The Very Important Man by Joan Hickson. I love the retro artwork, and having the object is going to give me great joy - and I'm a bit older than 8 or 18....

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    1. Is that Joan Hickson as in the actress who played Miss Marple? I'm intrigued!

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    2. No, she is an artist who did a glorious retro style in the 60s, then went on to invent the looks of various BBC characters.It's her 60s style I love, because it a)very good and b) redolent of an era of design that I love. She might solve murders, too, though!

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  13. Rebecca Chapman27 April 2012 at 22:13

    I agree with you Kath, there's something really special about sitting down with a small child to share a picture book - I really look forward to it! Reading together teaches a toddler social skills and sharing, taking turns and all sorts of other things. E-books are great, but are not the same experience as a conventional book - they both have their place I think.

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