Thursday, October 28, 2010
'It's a book' ... full of laffs!
I got an email from a friend yesterday with silly jokes about computers and what they've done to us since they took over our lives BIG TIME just over a decade ago. It reminded me of the article I read after comments from a fellow blogger concerning the diminishing number of picturebooks in book shops, and the discussions I've lurked on about the death of the book and 'long live digital'. So I decided to dedicate this post to "It's a Book".
Lane Smith, the creator of this picturebook wrote: "The reason I made the book? Certainly not to 'throw down the gauntlet', as one critic has stated. Naw, I just thought digital vs traditional made for a funny premise. No heavy message, I'm only in it for the laffs."
Laffs? Lots of them! It's a brilliant collection of facing pages with much of the information coming from the illustrations, though of course it's the interaction between word and picture that create the humour.
The front cover, as you can see above, stars a book loving monkey; the back cover shows us a jackass, confidently sitting in a chair holding a book and confiring "No... it's a book." The inside pages show us how he discovered the book.
The endpapers are a warm orange, reflecting the colour tones throughout the book. (Interestingly the book featured in the story is also an orangly colour.) We move from warm orange to a dusty blue past a simple dedication and no copyright page. The title page covers a double spread, introducing the characters: 'It's a mouse'; 'It's a jackass' and 'It's a monkey'. The choice 'jackass', instead of 'donkey' is obvious, but it only hits you when you get to the final page.
Lane Smith has described the monkey as traditional and the jackass as modern, and visually they are the opposites of each other too. The pointedness of the jackass radiates speed, modern day efficiency, and relentlessness (using Smith's own word for his character), he's tiny too! The monkey's roundness oozes a slower life, a calmer, ponderous one. He's enormous next to the jackass!
Jackass asks lots of questions, 'How do you scroll down?; Do you blog with it?'
This is one of my favourite facing sets, when we are introduced to the mouse. 'Where's your mouse?'
Questions continue, 'Can you make characters fight?' 'Can it text?' 'Tweet?' 'Wi-Fi?' 'Can it TOOT?' Calm traditional monkey keeps replying, 'No, it's a book.' Another fun page is the jackass' reaction to seeing a page of the book, (which is actually 'Treasure Island'). '
'Too many letters. I'll fix it.' says the jackass! But jackass is eventually tempted to take a good look at the book and time flies, depicted not in the words, as there are none, but in a series of clocks which move from 12.05 to 16.35, but on a good old-fashioned clock with hands!
The frustrated monkey ends up going to the library, and our mod-con jackass still seems to think the book needs charging. Back comes our friend the mouse, from under the monkey's hat. 'YOU DON'T HAVE TO...'
And we all know the answer to that ... 'IT'S A BOOK, JACKASS.'
Following my usual obsession with peritext, I particularly like the way the copyright page is at the back of the book, and includes a bit of bumff about Lane Smith. Very cleverly done!
The short, simple sentences in this picturebook are deceptive - this is a book which works on many levels, playing on our commonly shared understanding of what computers and books do, as well as knowing a little about what certain books contain.
Lane Smith contributes to a blog called Curious Pages, where he's written about 'It's a book', describing some of the options he made as an illustrator, with the help of his wife, who designs books. It's well worth visiting. And there's a book trailer on Youtube, which is fun too. But the book is better!
How could we use 'It's a book' in the classroom? Well, it's an excellent picturebook for boys! Why not use it to begin discussions about before and after. Many of our younger students don't know a life without technology, but they could ask parents and grandparents and think about the world before computers became part of everyday life. Look at some of the verbs like blog, text, tweet, wi-fi ... and scroll ... what is a scroll, and how different is it from the verb to scroll. I wonder what happened when books began replacing scrolls? But most importantly, look at the book, read it together with your students and have a good old laff.