Tuesday, March 31, 2015

pictures to words to images to...story

from The Right Word, Roget and his Thesaurus
words by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Ever since I had an opportunity to experience Winky Lewis and Susan Conley's project, Stop Here.  This is the Place, I have been thinking about the connection between words and images.  And the dialogue that occurs between them.  It is something that I have learned to better understand, and am still learning a great deal about, since I began writing blog posts.  And I think about the writing that I do and where it begins, from thoughts that emerge as words on the computer screen to those thoughts that actually come from making meaning of images from our family life.  The image-based versus text-based stories of our lives, the medium will shape the stories told and offers different places for ambiguity and openness for a reader to project themselves or distance themselves from a story.  But mostly, I am struck by the many different ways that a person can create their own stories and connections with the world, speaking in a language that is true to them.

As I look about the house here, it is obvious, by the books stacked beside each of our beds and the tipped over library book piles in the family room, that we are doing a good deal of reading here at home these days.  Julia and I both have just finished reading Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.
I watch a mind movie of her taking a stick and drawing a line in the dirt between us under a bright blue sky.  She's dressed as a sheriff and I'm wearing black-and-white prisoner stripes.  My mind does this all the time--shows me these movies that seem so real that they carry me away inside of them.  They are a relief from my real life.
from Fish in a Tree

There are some children, for example the main character, Ally, from Fish in a Tree, who see the world in pictures first. Or who transfer what they feel and see into images.  These images offer a fuller picture, sometimes a more comfortable or safer view, than just the words could for them. Elliott is one of these children as well.

the books Elliott is currently reading

Before Fish in a Tree, Julia read Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin.  She finished it late one night and carried it into my room and plunked it down on my nightstand.  You are going to want to read this one, she said, and went to bed.
My name is not a palindrome because if you spell it backwards it's E-S-O-R, not R-O-S-E.  But it does have a homonym."
My father said, "Don't get started on homonyms, Rose." 
So I said, "Did you have any favorite foster brothers or sisters?" 
"Yes," said my father after a moment. 
"How interesting, " I replied.  "Did any of their names have homonyms?" 
from Rain Reign, by Ann M. Martin

The next morning, at breakfast, Julia said between bites, You know, Ally from "Fish in a Tree" and Rose from "Rain Reign."  They remind me of each other.  Even though Ally sees everything in pictures and Rose likes to play with words, they seem like they could be friends.  And that the friends, who each of them eventually make in their books, could all be friends together.  Because they all like each other after they start to understand why Rose and Ally seem a little different from the people around them.  

After Julia headed off to school that morning, I went and got the book I had been reading the previous night when she had delivered me my next reading assignment: The Right Word, Roget and His Thesaurus.  Words to images, images to words.  The dialogue of the children's picture book, when done well.  When the two parts of the book coming together tell the story better and more fully than just one alone.

And children, and adults as well, are performing constant mental conversions or translations back and forth between how they view the world and the experience they are having or the book they are reading.  Image to text to image to words.  For all three of our children, and for most children, they are developing a fluency that allows them to move between words and images in ways that I am slow to keep up with sometimes.  It probably begins with their being read to and eventually their own reading of both the text and pictures in their picture books.  And, fortunately for all three of our children, the rise of the graphic novel has kept them completely hooked as they each become more sophisticated in their reading of both text and images.   I think this must support a more flexible interaction with the world, allowing them to experience and feel and see so much more than what is told.  Because sometimes, the most important part of a story is in what we see rather than the words that tell the story.  Many times, the visual seems a more direct link to what we can be made to experience and feel.

Elliott recently returned home from a rather epically bad day at school.  He sniffled while I passed him a snack in the kitchen.  A pencil and a scrap of paper lay beside him on the counter.  And I watched while blood sugar returned and he turned that tragic tale he had just told me into a comic strip, complete with humor and frustrated utterances and slapstick physical comedy.  He smiled to himself while he worked away on it and then looked into my eyes as he slid it toward me.   We laughed together for a few minutes, what had been so totally terrible now looking a bit more humorous and certainly now making for a very good story.  And then he skipped off to join Nicholas and Julia in the family room, leaving that terrible awful no good very bad day, and the scrap of paper, behind with me.

* * *

On Julia's bedroom bookshelf, sits a graphic novel that I bought for her a year ago, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas.

In the land of families with more than one child and parents who had boxes of children's books before we had children, who owns which book can be a tricky and sometimes contentious subject.  But this book, I purchased specifically for Julia.  It was and still is a perfect choice as well.  Julia is currently working on a research project on Jane Goodall and she keeps referencing this first book she read about Jane and two other women scientists.  And the stories she experienced in Primates in graphic novel form.  

Though I, unable to contain myself, have borrowed quite a few others from the library now to go along with it.

And I know, that in a few months, in a few years, when I think about Julia's research project on Jane Goodall, I will remember that she taught me more about Jane than I knew myself.  I will remember some of that information about her work and life.  But probably, hopefully, even moreso, I am going to remember the image of Julia standing in front of her class presenting her project.  And the sigh she lets out once she finishes, her breath held and tight in her chest. While her voice is louder and stronger this year, it still requires we be attentive and quiet to hear her.  Mixed in with these visual, auditory, and visceral memories, because yes, my heart will be in my throat too while she presents her project, will also be the visuals of our books at home, spilling out across the floor.  Of artwork and doodles begun, abandoned or crumpled, and eventually returned to at the dining room table, of primates and the jungle and a young woman who wrote her own story.  It's all imagery as well, part of their landscape of home.  Layered on the stories and books and experiences, excitements and hurts, of their everyday lives.

And, yes, I will also hold this image of the day Julia was home sick from school and doing a bit of online research.  When images, videos, and animals moved across the screen for her, connecting her with a person and a place and a creature that she has never met or experienced, but feeling as though this being was connecting with her, across the screen, out from a page, through an image.  This image I will remember well.

And that this connection, and wherever it may go, or even may not go (because that is possible, too), all began with a book, images and words, words and images.  Moving about her mind in whatever way she connects with them. 

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