I was lucky enough to interview the founder of Pop Up Projects, Dylan Calder, before being invited to spend a day at their Pop Up Lab. The Lab was designed to take a look at issues surrounding visual literacy; the state of it within the curriculum, the teaching around it, and of course the position that it holds within children’s literature. Here’s my report of what happened.
Visual literacies are very dear to my heart. We work children away from visual narratives before ultimately allowing them to return to such when they’re presented as beautifully produced, but often astronomically priced, graphic novels. It’s an interesting curve that I’d like to plot one day; the legitimacy of the image, and its return later in life. It’s also a curve which forgets how complex it is to actually decode an image. Somebody like Scott McCloud is eloquent on this topic in his Understanding Comics. I also have a lot of time for Jane Doonan and her Looking At Pictures in Picturebooks (a book I also recommend as part of my 54 Places To Begin With When Thinking About Children’s and Young Adult Literature).
Here’s a report from the day. Thanks!
The day began with a keynote from Bessora and Sarah Ardizzone, two thirds of the creative team around Alpha – the third being the artist, Barroux. Alpha has been on my radar for a while and I’m looking forward to the day it gets in my library. Here’s the story of its UK acquisition by Barrington Stoke, and a link to the great website full of supporting material. I admire books that have so much thought in them.
“We are all somebodies, we are not nobodies” – Bessora
As the writer, Bessora faced some interesting challenges. She was afraid of the “cliche” of immigration and so chose the diary form to give a level of immediacy to the project. In effect, this was a way to “kill off the narrator” and allow her, Bessora, some space to “back off” from the text. This idea of distance had some resonance for Sarah, who spoke about the freedom of a multiple author format.
…[Alpha] is a lie telling truth” – Sarah Ardizzone
As the translator, Sarah also spoke about the role of translation itself. She talked about how translation is somewhat of a “Trojan Horse” when it comes to literacy, because it “seems to have been already invented” and is, as a consequence, “less scary.” This was really interesting to me as I’d never quite thought about the strategies of reading translated work and they are quite different. I’ve read the X-Men, very laboriously, in French, and it’s peculiarly accessible because the images are there. I have a vague idea that Magneto is doing something and the Scarlet Witch is doing something, and all I have to do is figure out what that something is.
“Before writing, you draw. Writing is drawing” – Bessora
I was really excitd to hear from Tiny Owl, an independent publishing house that set out to “publish the books that weren’t there.” The co-founder, Delaram Ghanimifard, spoke of the dominant media narrative that surrounds Iran, and how books could help people find the “truth” of somewhere. They began in 2015 with a focus on Iranian writers and artists, but are now working on a series of wider intercultural projects.
“Out of every hundred picture books that are published, three are translated”
Some of the books they mentioned which caught my eye:
Minilabs / Flying Eye
The final session I attended was from Minilabs and Flying Eye, talking about Astro Cat, and the app that Minilabs had created from the book. They showed us copies of the book and honestly, it’s gorgeous. I really love what Flying Eye do with their books, particularly from a design perspective. Plus, good quality paper is always a plus.
“A third of children, aged three-five, have their own or very close access to an ipad.”
Their points about app development were really interesting. I’ve been intrigued by apps for a long time but have come to the decision that, unless I win the lottery, my idea for one is going to have to go on the backburner for a while. Lauren from Minilabs spoke of the difficulty of bringing value to something that’s throwaway. What’s the incentivisation to play this once, let alone multiple times?
The app itself is a delight. Here’s a video that’ll give you an idea of what it looks like.