Episode 8 - The Mighty Page Turn - TRANSCRIPT
[HOOK] you really just want to think, “but then what” you want your reader to think, “but then what” before you turn that page.
This is The Beginning of Your Life Book Club a podcast celebrating the transformative power of children’s literature and the magic of picture books. I’m your host, Emily Akins.
Episode 8 - THE MIGHTY PAGE TURN
(page turn sound) Did you hear that? Let me play it again. (page turn sound) That sound is the sound of the turning of the page. A page turn in a picture book is probably one of those things you do without even thinking about it. Unless your kids fight over who gets to the turn the page then you do think about it and you might even find yourself saying, “oh, come on, it’s JUST a page turn!” But … you would be wrong. It is so much more that just a page turn.
According to Barbara Bader, a noted children’s literature scholar and author of the book American Picturebooks from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, the page turn is essential to the picture book. She writes, “As an art form [the picture book] hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning page.”
In their book Children’s Picturebooks; The Art of Visual Storytelling, authors Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles explain theories of the “grammar” of visual design, pointing out that “the verso side” - that’s the left side - “of most picturebook spreads deals with the known whereas the recto” - that’s the right side - “favors new information, thereby encouraging the reader to turn the page.”
And in the kidlitcollege.com class that I took online - a class called Peeling Back the Picture Book - I learned about the power and impact of pacing … and the page turn.
So I have begun to appreciate how profound that page turn moment is. And to think about the tension between what was and what will be. About the turn of the page as a symbol of movement or progress. About the power embodied in the turning of the page. About how turning the page lets you control what happens next.
As I continue to ponder the need for diverse books that we talked about in the last episode - and as I consider the need to let go of some of the things I loved - I am thinking about the phrase “turning over a new leaf.” Now … I know from studying Spanish for many years, that the Spanish word for leaf and the Spanish word for page is ... “hoja.” “Hoja” has the same Latin root that connects the English words folio and foliage. So the metaphor “turning over a new leaf” is really turning to a fresh, new page.
It was Maya Angelou who said “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” And that helps me a little too as I think about the downside of nostalgia. You know, Megan Dowd Lambert pointed out to me that, as she put it, “the certainty about how we feel can be very comfortable. But it’s also really limiting.” This means a little bit of breaking out of our comfort zones as we let go of what we know - and challenge ourselves to seek out and to embrace what we don’t know.
So it’s time to turn the page. Time to build a better bookshelf. A bookshelf more representative of all the people in our world. A bookshelf that represents a more just world. How do we go about it?
Well, I spoke to Lauren Ranalli who is a children’s book author, a public health professional, a mother of two, and a co-host of a series of events on creating a more diverse bookshelf.
Lauren Ranalli: So what we're going to be doing is we'll lead parents through an activity that will help them kind of think about their own goals around buying, borrowing and gifting books as well as possible gaps in their own bookshelf. So,
Emily: oh wow.
Lauren: For example, some suggested checklists categories for an intentional bookshelf may include books that explore, um, culture, disability, emotion, gender, geography, language, race and ethnicity, religion and holidays um socioeconomic status or STEM or STEAM themed books. We put together a great list of books to consider, but there's this wonderful world of diverse kid lit out there and I would really encourage people you know to follow, you know, blogs or accounts like We Need Diverse Books or Girls Read the World or Multicultural Book Day, Biracial Bookworms, Brightly, Lee and Low focuses on publishing books by diverse authors. This is a starting point to see what kind of resources are available.
In November of 2018, I was delighted to host a Twitter chat - a #intentionalbookchat - with Lauren and another author named Rahma Rodaah. Lauren, Rahma, and I shared and invited others to share resources, tactics, and an understanding of what it means to be mindful with your children’s books. And purposeful with your storytimes, just like Lauren does in her diverse bookshelf events.
The mirrors and windows metaphor comes into play here as well as I believe it provides an incredibly useful means of measuring or assessing the representation on your shelf. Make sure that you and your family are represented - but also make sure you see other stories, too.
Emily: So, you know, without being super prescriptive about like how many mirrors and how many windows, you know, how do you balance that in a bookshelf for, as you're instructing parents.
Lauren: So I think that is a really wonderful way to look at is exactly what you said. Like there is a lot of value in kids being able to see themselves in books and then being able to see, um, and try to understand or at least get exposed to the experiences of others. Um, and so I think it is a balance, you know, so and it, I, you know, I have my own personal belief that kids should grow up with regular exposure to different cultures or religions or family systems or abilities and so on. You may be more inclusive, more tolerant, more compassionate and I think children's books are a wonderful vehicle for creating that exposure and for helping to understand ourselves to understand big emotions. There's a few things I would recommend that I think a pretty good the scan of your current bookshelf and see what gaps you may have. Like, you know, we all have them. I have a lot. Um, you know, I feel like I'm very mindful of this and when I look at my own bookshelf I'm like, hmmm, you know, we can, we can fill some of this in. And then set some like buying, borrowing and gifting goals for the next few months. And it's easy to do, you know, Kinda just, you know, take a look and just have some, have some categories in mind and just sort of see where, where things fall and it's not that every book you own has to fall into one of those buckets, you know, there's great value in some other really wonderful children's books out there that are just, you know, fun or silly or engaging. Just thinking about the balance.
Lauren is also an author, as I mentioned. She saw a gap not just on her own bookshelf but in the marketplace. And she wrote a book to fill it. As the Beverly Cleary quotation says, “if you don’t see the book you want on the shelf, write it.”
Lauren: My husband and I are an interfaith couple. My family is Jewish and his is Catholic and our oldest child has a December birthday and when he was born we received several Christmas books as gifts um, and so I went out with the intention to buy Hanukkah books and found that out there. really falls into Two ends of a spectrum. On one side you have things like elmo celebrates Hanukkah. Then on the other side, you have like a history of Hanukkah and the maccabees and neither of which really resonated with me and my own family traditions and cultural experience. No offense to elmo or the Maccabees, but I wanted something that was kind of more in the middle that just felt like the, you know, an everyday family experience with Hanukkah. And so a few months after I went book shopping I was riding to work in Chicago where we lived at the time, the story of The Great Latke Cook Off came to me. The entire book downloaded in my head during that 25 minute drive.
And so I wrote it up and send it to myself as an email. And I sat on it for about five years. I was a new mom with a full time job and I had absolutely no idea where to even look to get a book published. Then at the start of this year at start of 2018. I was really feeling the need for a creative outlet, you know, as I said, my kids are now six and four and um, I felt like I might have some capacity to take a stab at putting my book out in the world, so I pulled up that old email and started googling and I found an incredible local illustrator and embarked on kind of a 6-month sprint to turn The Great Latke Cook Off into a real book that you can have and hold and enjoy with your family and I decided to self published it. I didn't even really know you can do when I first started, but I wanted to have it available for this holiday.
Then collaborated with my husband to build a website. It's very handy to be married to a creative director. And I've just been just been learning as I go.
(page turn sound)
There’s another helpful tool for building a better bookshelf - and that is the #ownvoices movement. As Nicole Johnson of We Need Diverse Books shared in the last episode, though there are increases in the percentages of books featuring diverse characters, there has not been as great an increase in books that are written by people of color, indigenous people, people with disabilities, or people from specific cultural or religious groups, like Lauren Ranalli writing her book The Great Latke Cook Off. It was in 2015 that Corinne Duyvis, a middle grade and young adult author and activist, suggested an idea to make it easier to recommend kidlit about diverse characters written by authors from that same diverse group. Her idea was the hashtag ownvoices. Since then the idea has had widespread impact and has become a vital tool in the conversation on diversity in children's literature.
I see the fundamentals of this concept played out as I observe my kids. They understand the power of telling your own story. When they bicker and tattle on each other they often argue over who gets to tell the story, yelling to make sure that their version of the story gets to be told. Neither of them wants the other to speak for them or to tell their own story.
The problem with someone else telling your story is that the other person ends up controlling the narrative - which means they hold a position of power. And this - as my wise children would suggest - is unfair.
So here’s another example of the importance of #ownvoices - from my conversation with Dr Debbie Reese. Again referring back to mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors, Dr Reese suggests the addition of curtains which allows whomever is telling the story to decide what gets told and what doesn’t.
Debbie Reese: I don't know if this is any help at all, but, um, it's, it's that being aware I think of the world and who we are in the world and how, how others see us in the world that helps us to be able to understand why it is important to hear from those people who are not often heard from, whether it's in children's books or the media of any kind and, and the, the curtains that I bring to all are, um, related to the power dynamics historically where people who are not native would go to native communities historically and in the present because this still happens and watch and think of native people as very exotic and then they come away and write a story that misrepresents what was going on.
curtains, the metaphor itself is that idea that any family, any people, any culture does things that are private and that others don't understand and so they don't need to look at. They don't need to see. And so we draw a curtain on that.
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Building a better bookshelf is something we can do in our homes. It’s also something I hope to see more of from publishers. And it’s something I asked about when I spoke to Julie Bliven, an editor of children’s books at Charlesbridge Publishing. I asked her about diversity trends. She told me about Charlesbridge’s work - and made an important clarification on the idea of diversity as a “trend.”
Julie Bliven: So we've always sort of prided ourselves and it's always been part of our identity to really publish books that are socially conscientious or globally aware and so we've always had a lot of multicultural books and, and, and different books um that reflect many areas of diversity. But I would say that we need diverse books movement and the own voices movement has been encouraged to even more so to really take a step back and look at our lists, you know, think about who are we publishing, who could we know, what groups could we reach out to more, you knew are there, are, are there, you know, people that aren't represented in our list. And so those are definitely conversations that we're having in terms of, not really in terms of being like the first at doing certain things, but just making sure that the books we publish thoroughly reflect the world in which we live.
Yeah, let me actually make a distinction. Because I wouldn’t want to call them trends. I don’t think the We Need Diverse Books movement and own voices movements are trends. I actually think they’re more sort of like the pulse of where our culture is right now and where we need to move. So i’m hoping that they’re sort of longstanding movements that get us all, every publisher and ever-- anyone who makes art gets to a place where they're really deliberate about making spaces for own voices and we need diverse books and reflecting that.
I loved talking to Julie about the creative process behind picture books - a little editorial shoptalk as we compared books to greeting cards. And I asked her about that Mighty Page Turn … about the tension created in a book, a tension that is controlled by the turn of each page. There is a certain tension between words and pictures on each page of a good picture book. This is something Jane Doonan mentions in her book Looking at Pictures in Picture Books. She says that “curiosity about how the story will develop is what drives the reader on, working against the pictures, which by their nature would have the beholder stay.”
Julie: You have the formula right in front of you, they tend to be 32 pages. So you can paginate with that 32 page structure in mind and think about the rise and fall of tension and, and you can study other picture books, and see often, you know, that that rise of tension and when sort of the climax happened tends to be, you know, maybe closer to page 24 and around there and then it gives you time 24, anywhere from 24 to 27 and then it gives you time afterwards. It's sort of like slowly wrap up, not slowly, but sort of wrap up the book on to page 32 and that rise and fall of tension is just so important because the, the turning of the page can act as so much. It can act as, you know, a lapse in time. It can act as this essential pause and you really just want to think, “but then what” you want your reader to think, “but then what” before you turn that page. And I think thinking deliberately about pacing helps with that, but more importantly, you know, pacing is largely responsible for sort of our emotional resonance. You know, we need time to sort of feel and react and root for a character or an outcome. And I think that is one of the things I discuss most with new authors or aspiring authors is that they are often not giving me enough time to see a character sort of struggle because the more a character can struggle a little bit more the more I'm rooting for them and getting invested in them. Getting out of that struggle, getting out of that tension. But if it doesn't happen, you know, if it happens so briefly, I'm not invested in them. Um, so that's where pacing can really help.
(page turn sound)
When my oldest was a few months old, I read a book to her. A book I’d never heard of. It was as fresh to me as was the newborn infant in my arms. As new to me as the whole idea of parenting. The book is called “You Are My I Love You” by Maryanne Cusimano Love; illustrated by Satomi Ichikawa. It starts out “I am your parent; you are my child. I am your quiet place; you are my wild.” As I read the book I recognized that tension between parent and child - but, no. not tension - let’s call it a delicate balance or a dance between parent and child. In lovely rhymed and metered verse the book captures the give and take relationship. “I am your way home; you are my new path. I am your dry towel; you are my wet bath. / I am your dinner; you are my chocolate cake. I am your bedtime; you are my wide awake.”
Reading that book for the first time, I felt so clear about my role as a mother. As I read to my tiny baby I cried and cried - probably because I was still postpartum but also because I was suddenly so assured in the differing roles we would play in tandem with one other. Julia was only 3 months old and I as a mother was only 3 months old, too! We both had so much to learn. Together. So much to teach one another.
While working on this podcast, I had been following the news about changing the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award and then reading about banned books during National Banned Books week. I felt some tension there as well as I experienced these two news items together. On the one hand I am completely opposed to banning books. To censure. To limitations on freedom of speech. However, I also am making the decision to avoid certain books in my own home library. Wait a second. I thought. Am I banning books in my home?! I can’t do that! I’m against that. I couldn’t sort it out.
Once again - as happens frequently - my kids led the way to a clearer understanding of this conundrum. One day Julia was playing with something and I told her she’d need to put it away. She challenged me saying that Daddy said it was okay if she got it out to play. And I agreed - yes you can get it out to play with it - but you need to put it back when you’re done. “It’s like the tables at school” she said. “The what?” I asked. “At school, Ms York says we have the right to use the tables but we have the responsibility to clean them up afterwards.” I agreed heartily and then googled “rights and responsibilities” and I finally realized - “I have the right to read whatever books I want (a right I shouldn’t take for granted, by the way, because not everyone has that right). But I have a responsibility to be deliberate in my choices.”
(page turn sound)
There it is again. The Mighty Page Turn. It signals change, tension, power, control, hope, excitement and … the unknown. Another way to think of nostalgia is to think of it as the known, as being comfortable knowing what you know. But making sure you aren’t limited by nostalgia means getting comfortable with NOT knowing something. Not unlike waiting with bated breath at the cusp of a new page without knowing what will come next. Not unlike parenting. And I really believe that not knowing can be comfortable. Especially in the context of storytime. Books are a perfect place for both the parent and child to explore something new, something unknown.
I have another idea for you - for expanding your mirrors or windows, depending on your situation. Picture books in Spanish.
I spoke to Vanessa Nielson, founder of Sol Book Box, about her service and about the value of reading in another language.
Vanessa Nielson: Sol book box is a subscription service for children's picture books in Spanish. Um, we've been going for about a year and a half. We launched in December of 2016, so almost two years. Um, and we send one hardcover picture book that we bring in from lots of different countries all over the world. We send one each month and then wrap it like a present so that when you open it it's exciting and it feels like a gift because it is a gift. Um, and we have sent lots of books to hundreds of families, so that's, it's been great. It's been an exciting project.
I’m personally interested in this service since Sergio, my partner, is fully bilingual, I studied Spanish, and our children, especially our oldest, are interested in learning more. I asked Vanessa about her clientele. Some are like my household where one parent speaks Spanish fluently. But she also has subscribers who are parents learning Spanish right along with their children.
Vanessa: Um, there's, there's definitely a mix. A lot of times it is that one parent, especially like one parent is Latin-- Latin-x, Latina or Latino, and the other is not, but there are also a lot of other people that are of Hispanic descent but don't speak Spanish anymore or even learning Spanish along with their kids. So like maybe their grandmother spoke Spanish, but then, you know, back in the day that wasn't they kind of focused on English only in schools and here in the United States for immigrants. So then it was that the language is kind of lost through their parents, through them, but now they're kind of going back. So that actually has been surprising to me how many people buy books but they, Spanish is not their first language or even a language that they are particularly fluent in. They're just trying to kind of capture it again and pass it on to their kids. You know, as much as possible.
Um, and I think for, for, for bilingual picture books or Spanish picture books being read here in an English speaking country, um, I think also part of the magic is bringing that language into your kid's life. And it may be one of the few places that he or she hears it, you know, to hear Spanish at home from you reading a book. And that might be the only place, like maybe they get a little bit in school and a little bit in the community, but home might be the main place.
Vanessa and I chatted about the power of not only teaching children a second language but of simply exposing children to other languages even if they don’t develop fluency. According to a study from the University of Chicago published in 2015, children who are exposed to other languages are more empathetic because they are better able to understand or imagine another person’s perspective besides their own.
Vanessa: I think again, looking at it from the lens of being in a bilingual household, I think it just creates for my kids has created a really positive associations to Spanish in a way that I hope will help them once they get a little older and are out in the world a little bit more and maybe you know, I don't know if this is real or if it's just something that I think might happen, but if they start to feel like, oh, nobody else is speaking Spanish is weird. Like it's not cool. I hope that they'll retain some of those nice memories and maybe this is optimistic or putting too much into it, but to remember like what, what it feels like to hear something in Spanish and associate like that magic and that beauty with Spanish and reading too, you know.
These are precisely the warm, positive interactions that we know are so important to a child’s development. Wouldn’t it be great if when your kids grow up, their whoosh of nostalgia also includes a comfortable understanding that the world looks different to different people.
Mem Fox shares an anecdote in her book Reading Magic about a child who doesn’t want to turn the page just yet. She knows that on the next page there will be disaster for the main character, so she says, “wait, wait! Don’t turn the page yet.” She’s hoping maybe this time it’ll be different. I guess maybe that’s what I think too. Echoing Nicole Johnson’s hope for a new narrative, a hope for representation for everyone, a hope for - as Kwame Alexander puts it in the vision for his new imprint - a hope for powerful books that “celebrate the lives and reflect the possibilities of all children.” A hope that maybe this time it will be different.
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The Beginning of Your Life Book Club is written and produced by me, Emily Akins with original music by Sergio Moreno.
This podcast is made possible by the creative division at Hallmark Cards, where we believe that when you care enough, you can change the world.
Special thanks today to Lauren Ranalli, Julie Bliven, Vanessa Nielson, and Dr Debbie Reese.
And thanks to you, too, for listening.
Follow me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and on my website - TheBeginningofYourLifeBookClub.com.
Phoenix: And yeah I also read The Wild Robot; it was fun. It was about this robot who was wild and um the creatures thought that the wild robot was dangerous so they all were scared of her but then she protected, she like saved a goose egg.
Yeah I think books teach us something that like they can like give us some ideas of what things might be?
MIrna: Yeah it’s almost like it opens a new world every time you open up a new book.
Phoeix: I’m Phoenix Joe Stubbs and I’m 7 years old.