Jun 3, 2012

What Makes A Book A Book?

A special March/April issue of The Horn Book is entitled hBook: Books Remixed in the Digital Age. Each article merits reading and lends clarity and insight to the ever-accelerating evolution of the publishing of books and related materials for young readers.

Katie Bircher manages The Horn Book's Out of the Box blog, where you can find reviews of apps and e-books. Her contribution to this issue is titled: What Makes a Good Picture Book App? Eight traits are identified, many of which aptly describe the best picture books in print form: easy to navigate, puts users in charge, withstands repeated use, and others. Of all eight criteria the one that strikes me as most essential to a powerful picture book is this: Provides a surprising and joyful experience.

In his 2004 Caldecott acceptance speech for THE MAN WHO WALKED BETWEEN THE TOWERS Mordicai Gerstein said,

"Books take us to places we will never go, and let us be people and creatures we can never be..."

Criteria for children's consumption, whether applied to books, Apps, or eBooks, should point their creators toward that level of excellence. Gerstein went on to say:

"My intention in all my books is to give children just what I want to give everyone: something beautiful, magical, funny, and soulful: something that provokes good questions: questions about what an incomprehensible, beautiful and seemingly impossible thing it is to be a human being in this incomprehensible, beautiful and seemingly impossible world. What could be more difficult and more wonderful?"

Gerstein consistently achieves that level of excellence, but particularly so in A BOOK. In it perspective shifts to "the fourth wall", with the reader's-eye-view fully conveyed through the angles and shadows of the illustrations. Every aspect of this unique investigation of what goes on in A Book challenges the reader to engage, reflect, and participate in the question- all the while entertaining the heck out of us! Perhaps our questions about the current emergence of formats, platforms, and delivery systems are framed most succinctly inside the front flap of A BOOK. Even before her journey begins the pigtailed character asks: What's My Story?

For an inside look, as well as raves and reviews, explore the Macmillan site. Better yet, read A BOOK.

The answer to this question seems clear to Rabbit, the hero/heroine of NOT A BOX, by Antoinette Portis. When is a box NOT A BOX? When the user has the engagement, creativity, curiosity, joy, and imagination to see other possibilities.

With all due respect to Mr. Shakespeare and his rose, a book is not an App is not an eBook. And yet, perhaps they are one and the same, in some essential way. When creators of any and all versions of these strive for excellence, when they provide surprising and joyful experiences, when they overcome the difficult to achieve the wonderful, surely they share a common value in the lives of young readers/users.

In case you are one of the few people who haven't yet read Lane Smith's picture book addressing this existential question, check out the trailer for IT'S A BOOK.

And please chime in with your thoughts and opinions about these emerging delivery systems for children's literature.

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Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.