The Blog Post with No Pictures*

Flipping through the internet today, I came across a Vanity Fair interview accompanied by a book trailer for B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures, his children’s book with, well, no pictures. The video itself is completely adorable and the conceit of the book—emphasized in this interview—touches on something that though it should be obvious, gave me a bit of an “aha” moment.

Why do children’s books exist? Of course the first and most obvious answer is as a form of entertainment, as yet another vehicle to occupy a child, give them a venue for using their imagination. They are learning tools and foster creative thinking. However, children’s books are rarely without pictures—in fact you’re far more likely to come across completely wordless picture books than you are to come across anything geared toward a young child that has no illustrations at all.

Yet. That doesn’t mean that the words can’t be visual themselves. The words in Novack’s book are all different colors, sizes, fonts. Though that’s certainly an added bonus, that’s still not even the point I’m trying to get at here—and I think the point the author has as well. Reading for a young kid is about more than everything I’ve mentioned above. Reading as a child serves to foster a literary attraction that can exist and survive long into adulthood. By giving the words printed in a book an interactive agenda (and I really just mean the words—there are tons and tons of interactive Pat the Bunny style books that have their place, too), does this help to create a space where kids feel compelled at an early age to respond and discuss what they’ve read? Without the help of pictures or texture? Making adults say silly things is really fun (as the video clearly demonstrates), so does a book like this not then make the words themselves the funny part of the book, a book which in and of itself is having a conversation?

Of course, I don’t have a child and when I was little enough for picture books to be my sole literary companions, I would never have stopped to think about these things, but the idea will at least be one I’m thinking about for a little while. What say you?


* genius title credit to Sharon Pelletier

One Response to The Blog Post with No Pictures*

  1. D. C. says:

    Books for kids have several purposes/functions:
    – to help out a parent who isn’t imaginative, or gifted as a storyteller;
    – to teach, via illustrations, pre-speech children (18 months to 3 years) the names of things they may or may not see in daily life;
    – to prompt young children to describe things not really and immediately present (i.e., things in the illustrations) and thus develop language;
    – to enable non-reading children to “read” stories themselves, by talking about the illustrations to adults, siblings, pets, or toys;
    – to inspire artistically-minded kids to draw.

    Colorful text and varied fonts seem like a good gimmick — but they do not achieve most of the ends described above. Words and letters in and of themselves have no meaning, so dressing them up colorfully is pointless if there is no compelling story to tell or skill to teach.

    Alice, before entering Wonderland, sagely asked, what is the good of a book without pictures? I would say, if the book is designed for young children, the answer is, not much good at all.

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