Friday, July 18, 2014

Visual Grammar

Alison Jay has always created a visual story line in her books, and her beachside adventure Out of the Blue follows that established pattern. Her alphabet book (A B C) and counting book (1 2 3) teach youngest children these early concepts, and they also give them a plot line to follow that unfolds entirely through the illustrations. Out of the Blue, with no words, tells a complete story--two children make friends, take shelter from a storm, and rescue a giant octopus. It's liberating for children who are just learning to read because they can make up their own story.

Jay helps youngest children build confidence, as she reinforces all that they know: pages move from left to right, children can point out the heroes in the book who appear repeatedly (the boy and the girl) and they can follow the secondary characters down the beach. They do not need to decode words to "read" the story.

This spring at the Bank Street College of Education, Stephen Savage spoke about “visual grammar” using his book Where’s Walrus? to explain his idea. He spoke of the text and illustrations as “the harmony and melody of the song” and pointed to silent movies as “the original wordless books.” He explained the four components he believes are essential to books without words:

1)  The close-up
2)  Color/contrast
3)  Design/branding
4)  Pattern/repetition

You can see these elements most clearly in Where's Walrus?, but they also come into play in Alison Jay's work.

Children take in everything around them. They are sponges, absorbing how the world works long before they have words to explain what they're seeing. These elements, of which Savage spoke so eloquently, and which Jay also employs in her books, help children unlock the story within the book and also to use those strategies to make sense of the events in their own experiences.

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