Catherine Stine's IDEA CITY

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Text, Art and the Virtual World--new directions in novels

Graphic novels, manga and video games have infused popular culture so completely that kids today are born making the connection between text, images and the virtual world.

This does not make them “bad” readers, nor should one assume that kids are any less literate or have shorter attention spans. These are the sort of paranoid, knee-jerk assumptions that the older set has, those of us who have vivid memories as a kid of going to the library to pick out summer books for vacation reading. When the Commodore 64 was too coded for anyone but programmers to figure out, the only sanctuaries for those hungry for story were libraries and "ye olde" neighborhood bookstores.

Kids have more options now. This is a good thing. They are adapting very quickly to eBooks as they will to interactive and enhanced eBooks—those with embedded online links and video. As I said, the younger-than-twenty-set were practically born with keyboards in their paws. Authors, rather than fear the new technology, think of the many opportunities it presents for us to create content: enhanced eBooks, interactive eBooks, such as my recently penned A Girl’s Best Friend, from American Girl for the Innerstar University series, which has an online gaming component. Or the 39 Clues series from Scholastic (various authors), where a child goes from book to online game, and back to the book to solve the mystery.

In a similar vein, until recently, including pictures with text was a no-no with any fiction above a chapter book. Not any longer! In addition to the straight-on graphic novel, we now have the pleasure of reading all stripes of art-text hybrids. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick was among these first wave of hybrids. It caused a major stir in 2007 with its innovative drawings that oozed from one page to the next, and peeped out from corners, only to explode into full-blown drawings on the next page. Scott Westerfield’s YA steampunk series Leviathan and Behemoth is another example of this growing trend of art/text hybrids in fiction, in this case for teens.

Why not infuse YA and even adult fiction with brilliant, color-saturated illustrations? Why should the chapter book set have all the fun? I am thrilled, especially as an illustrator, to know that we can look forward to more and more novels, rich with illustration on the level of a Gustave Doré or an N.C. Wyeth.

Have you stumbled upon any new YA that’s filled with gorgeous illustration? A middle-grade fantasia of art and text? Tell us all about it! What do you think about these growing trends?


  1. This is cool, and on the right track. Why not make books that have wonderful illustrations coming alive? Why not go a little further and have embedded video and audio if possible? These all make a deep connection to the reader. It's about a relationship between author and reader.

    There's an article in the NY Times about a company, Electronic Literature, based in Brooklyn that is making apps for books. Not just Kindle, Nook, or iBook (Apple iPad) accessible, but an actual app that is a book.

  2. I like pictures in books, even for older readers, and if they make kids read then great.

  3. A client of mine had her collection of short stories accepted for publication as an enhanced e-book. The collection lends itself perfectly to this medium. Her stories are loaded with weird medical imagery (an old woman with a horn growing out of her head) and some music (one character "sings" hymns in her head). My friend is happy about the e-book, with one stipulation--that the publisher produce a "real" book along with it.

  4. Kudos to your friend. Whatever the delivery system, it's still all about the original content. The odd medical imagery would be great as links. And yes, I like pictures in books, even books for adults.

  5. I like illustrations when I'm reading books for young readers, and I love photos in non-fiction, but when I'm into good adult fiction, I really love becoming lost in the beauty of the words, imagining the characters for myself. I have tv if I need to "see" a story, but the immediacy and intimacy of the word to mind is what I want when I read.

  6. C. Lee, I hear you. Really depends on the artwork too. Dante's Inferno and Paradise Lost would be whole different books without Dore's incredible drawings. He also illustrated books for Edgar Allen Poe and Byron.
    But yeah, finding one's way through an illustrated novel could be distracting for some.

  7. absolutely: words and pictures yeah yeah yeah. I personally like it when they contradict each like Magritte's This is not a pipe written under a painting of you know what. As Maira Kalman says her text and pictures "bicker like a family that lives together for better or for worse."

    As far as the ebooks. Yeah like it or not it seems inevitable that books (except for picture books maybe) become arcane objects of curiosity from a bygone era. Sort of like videotapes. or dvds are soon to be. Gulp. Being a subway rider with eager thumbs I jumped onto the bandwagon and began enthusiastically reading all manner of books on my Iphone, (I admit it the free samples were what hooked me!) And how depressing the news was to read.

    Lately, maybe it is the sense of nostalgia for something about to disappear I have been favoring books just because I don't finger them and find my fingers and brain wondering what else could I be reading and channel surfing as it..(This does shorten the attention span, but okay I admit t I already do have ADD.Which the rest of you are getting in the digital age.

    Now my author illustrator self would like to speak. Happily one of my books (for some reason my least successful in terms of sales)Thumbelina, Tiny Runaway Bride is available on Kindle, and that's way cool. The other is available as far as paying for, but not, when I last checked as far as downloading. I really like seeing the little pictures and the text and how it almost feels like a little movie. But inevitably there are the gripes. why is it also available as an obscure " app." and why is that app so hard to buy.that you have to try about 5 times and wonder if they have kept your money each time. and why do they insert some of their own graphics that it seems to me they ought not be allowed by copyright laws. And since it looks so cute on a digital devise why cannot ipad readers get it as well ?
    Ah well. The writer must now go back into her cage return to writing.

  8. As a child, I loved to flip through books for pictures and hated ones without. So I'm happy with the new direction in publishing.

  9. Barbara, your post is so funny! Except for the part about your publisher, or the app person putting someone else's graphics on your beautifully-illustrated eApp? What gall!

  10. Oh, yes, I love when the text and illustrations literally blend together. Gaiman's GRAVEYARD BOOK is a great example-that first page just grabs you. My boys especially gravitate towards the hybrid books like "Wimpy Kid" and "Captain Underpants". I loved PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH when I was young, using the map and everything. I can only imagine how much fun they would be in e-books.
    It must be a wonderful thing to be able to illustrate your writing! My visual art talent is limited to coloring and crafting :)