reading: interactive communication ne plus ultra

by juno on May 2, 2012

It’s been too long, my darlings. Working like a fiend at my day job and finishing a draft of a novel in the wee hours filled my winter as the snow we didn’t have might have filled in the cracks and crevices in the landscape, quieting the noise of the world and making it difficult to leave the house. Now I’ve returned from across a wide ocean—mad the relative ease (though one might not use that word in yet another long airport queue) with which we can cover miles in the modern world. E. B. White had it right, all right. The world is brimmingly green, and I have much to attend to, in addition to day job and novel revision—war books I’ve been wanting to write about, a request for a post recommending food writers who are writers first, another request from a French friend for a list of English-language writers of unique voice, kids’ chapter books I’m getting to read aloud for maybe one last time.

And this: Three twenty-first-century children’s books that have been asking to share a post, because in the mysterious workings of my brain, at least, they believe they belong side by side. We have: The Dot, by Peter Reynolds (2004), It’s a Book, by Lane Smith (2010), and Press Here, by Hervé Tullet (2011), titled A Book in the original French.

There’s nothing inherently twenty-first century about The Dot—it’s the story of a good, smart art teacher who knows just what to do when faced with a student, a young girl, who believes she can’t draw. The teacher asks the student to make a mark, any mark, and when the girl, in frustration, draws a dot, the teacher takes it seriously. In a lovely example of art meets life, this little girl, Vashti, or a girl very like her, draws all the time now on the Draw On! website (and you can, too, in a choice of inks and implements). Peter Reynolds, Maurice Sendak and others, working with the Aldrich Museum in Ridgefield, CT, created Draw On!, an annual two-week celebration of drawing that is spreading across the Northeast year by year, showing that Reynolds preaches what he practices—that he shares the wealth.

Of these three books, It’s a Book is the most in-jokey. A jackass, laptop in hand, comes upon a monkey reading a book. “What do you have there?” he asks, and then, “How do you scroll down?” and then other questions that show he’s never encountered this particular form of interactive technology before. The series of drawings when the jackass finally stops talking and starts reading prove that not only doesn’t a book need a battery or wi-fi to communicate, it doesn’t even necessarily need words.

And so we come to Press Here, a book that comments on the digital age obliquely rather than directly, as It’s a Book does. As with It’s a Book, the joke and the pleasure come in part because we do know technology, the ways it does and doesn’t satisfy, but in Press Here the pleasure is deeper, more visceral—our sense of the magic of reading, of the way books speak to us, and change us, flares live in our body, not just in our mind. And how is this connected to The Dot? You’ll see—Tullet takes dots far, invests them with nearly limitless power, as long as the reader does his or her job, as long as the reader is willing to do what readers must do and participate in the interactive experience, walk back and forth through the door that opens both ways, greet the author with arms outstretched. Open your arms—it’s worth it.

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