Friday, August 10, 2012

No Gimmicks

Every flap, pull tab or yellow cube that pops up serves a purpose in explaining the pair of opposites on each spread of The Happy Little Yellow Box: A Pop-Up Book of Opposites by David A. Carter. It is a model of simplicity.

“Near and far” stands out in particular, illustrating how the same size object farther down the road appears to be smaller. It’s an abstract concept, but Carter makes it understandable through his use of objects—homes, where the Happy Little Yellow Box appears in the windows—with which children are familiar. They can look up the street at the windows of their neighbors’ houses and test the concept for themselves.

Carter explores the capabilities of the pages— with sturdy cardboard, a limited palette, and double-sided pages with room for die-cuts and shifting panels both inside (such as the “near and far” example) and attached to them (as with the elevator that moves “up and down” with a red ribbon loop). He confines the colors he uses to yellow (most frequently, of course), red and blue—the primary colors—plus black and white.

It’s a book that may be used far beyond the teaching of opposites. In art classes, it’s instructive for teaching the use of color, composition and sculpture. For bookmaking projects, it’s an example of how one can use the page, the shifting parts, flaps that reveal the concept Carter’s teaching (“in and out”; “large and small”). The pages are made for investigation, for peering through the openings, for observing how the helicopter lifts off (“high and low”), for collapsing the final yellow cube and opening that spread over and over to see how Carter constructed the cube to lie flat when the page is closed and take form when the spread is open.

Teachers often speak of “mentor texts,” books that model clear exposition or surprising use of language. The Happy Little Yellow Box is a model of invention—what can be done within the construct of a book to break it wide open, to investigate the possibilities of the page. Children will do this intuitively, asking themselves, “How does he do that?” and likely finding an answer as they solve the mystery for themselves. There are no gimmicks. If they look hard enough, they’ll see just how Carter does it—and he does it with such simplicity that they may well have a go themselves.

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