Some Thoughts From a Quick Trip to NCTE
I hobbled on to the train down to Philadelphia on Friday to attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference. My view of the meeting was skewed in a few ways — I attended two seesions honoring notable books, so I got a close view of a selected group of books. My tours of the booths was limited by the slow pace of being on crutches– so again I saw fewer books, but in a bit more detail. Still, the overwhelming impression the books and the conf. left me with was of the vitality, experiment, and creativity now going on in books for young readers. With the wide acceptance of the graphic novel format for middle grade and older readers, publishers have felt more and more free to experiment with the use of visuals and text, different kinds of type, creating new collage forms. While most of these books are, surely, fiction, I feel that we have finally taken the next step past the DK era.
DK transformed nonfiction from the staid and stately rectangles of art and text that had been the absolute norm. They brought photoshop into bookdesign, so you could use a spread as a total area, a canvas, you did not need to limit yourself to the text block and the art grid. For decades everyone else did bad versions of Eyewitness books — such that the sidebar surprinted over a faintly visible image became not an innovation but rather a sign of textbook uniformity — the very effort to be more visual stamped the book as more standard. Everybody knew this. Everybody lamented how the DK design destroyed narrative and turned text into captions. But no one knew what to do next.
Next is here — it is in the scrapbook approach of Candace Fleming, it is in graphic novels, it is in the free and liberal use of collage, it is in the explosion of art across pages. I left NCTE with a feeling of exhileration — this is a time to try anything, and everything. Publishers are worried, under financial pressure, facing very tight library and school budgets — all that is true. But I also see that spunk, that creativity, that energy and experiment which is the best of books for young readers at every house. And that was a thrill.