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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

The Seeing I

Writing With Images

I’m going to AASL to speak on a panel organized by SLJ on the research we NF authors do. We only have 10 minutes each, so what could I say? Since I am blundering my way into learning how to create Power Point Presentations, I decided to use the technology — and talk about the research behind NF visuals — photos, prints, archival paintings. We have been told, endlessly, that kids are more visual today — but how does that translate into bookmaking? The answer is not just that we need to seek out more images, rather it is that we are challenged to think of what part images can plan in narrating the story. And that leads to a whole new set of questions.

Your picture research begins with the challenge matching text with art, but that is only the beginning. Narration is as much a matter of pacing, emphasis, as it is selection. A large image speaks differently than a small one. Two images juxtaposed allow — sometimes even force — the reader to compare and contrast. The publisher generally designs the book, but publishers often ask the author to note in the margins of the text where they want pictures to fall. On the simplest level you are thinking "I am talking about King Kong here, we need that famous still of him holding Fay Wray in one hand and the Empire State in the other." But you are aware that that image looks grainy and old — your caption needs to deal with that, and you want to put a more recent Kong next to it — since the old image will seem antique to your readers, and won’t have any of the charge it once had. So you need two Kongs side by side, each telling its own visual story.

If you want an image to stop the reader, it generally needs to be large — to be a kind of exlamation point or poster in the narrative. But like a paragraph with too many exclams, too many large images compete with each other. In turn there are times in a narrative where the lack of images is a subtle point — a trek through a quiet place of visual silence, to land at an oasis of imagery at the next narrative turn.

Next time, oh my blog pals, you look at one of the NF books we create for kids, take a look at the images as a form of narration, almost a film strip, a Ken Burns film, with the captions as the voice over. Think about how the placement, size, and choice of images does not merely illustrate the text, but tells a story of its own. We all know about the marriage of text and art in picture books — we have hardly even begun to talk about how text and art work in photo illustrated nonfiction for older readers. Or should I say, we will begin in Reno — see you there.