Friday, February 28, 2014

Less Is More

The simplicity of Nest by Jorey Hurley is astonishing--the spareness of the art, and the economy of language. Just 14 words describe an entire cycle of life, from the building of the nest for a newly laid egg, to that new life maturing, finding a mate and beginning its own family. One word per spread completes the story.

Over the years that I have been in children's books, I have heard many adults cavalierly say that they "have a picture book" they've written. Usually people with little experience reading them to children or studying them to see what makes the successful ones a success and the misfires a misfire. A great picture book is like a fine poem: every word counts.

Interior from Nest by Jorey Hurley
In Nest, all 14 words count. Because Jorey Hurley is also the book's artist, she can choreograph each word's placement on the page, drawing a child's eye to where she wants them to pay the most attention. Many of the words she chooses do double duty, as both noun and verb or adjective and verb. "Nest" is the place the mother and father robin watch over their sky-blue egg; it also describes what they do when they protect their egg. In the spring, "warm" refers to the quality of rain that falls around them and also to the activity of the mother incubating her egg. When the tree where the robins live bears fruit, the fruit provides a "feast"; it's also a word that means to eat, which they do in the illustration.

As a child lives with the book and returns to it for multiple readings, and as his or her experience of the world widens, these double meanings start to become clear, and the book feels new to the child. Children begin to wonder, what other discoveries can I make? What other ideas are here, hidden on the page (who's holding the other end of the kite on the "surprise" page in Nest, for instance)? What other books of mine have these secret revelations awaiting my newfound understanding of the world? That might not be quite how the child would put it, but these are the connections he or she is making. Most importantly, children begin to see that books are a way to unlock life's mysteries.

1 comment: