Today, new reading guides on books by this year’s laureate Isol are published on ALMA:s web; It’s Useful to Have a Duck, Nocturne – Dream Recipes and Petit, the Monster. The reading guides are written by jury member Ulla Rhedin, PhD in Comparative Literature and picture books specialist.
Why should people read the reading guides? What is it that you want readers to reflect on?
For an adult, reading a book together with a child is like arranging to meet up in an unknown world. Each time, the child and I are setting out on a walk together that will change us both simultaneously and build shared memories that transcend all age differences.
My idea with the reading guides is that they should serve as introductions to the author’s work and provide some background information on the picture book in question: for instance, by describing how the author’s narrative techniques, in both words and pictures, have evolved and varied over the course of the author’s career. As the author of a reading guide, I take on the task of trying to stimulate adult curiosity about and interest in the book I am introducing; of “opening up” the book to someone who is going to share it with others; of bringing to bear the judgement that I hope I have developed in the course of the “10,000 hours” I have devoted over the years to studying, researching and teaching others about picture books.
One possible approach is to pose questions to the adult reader about particular aspects, to provide gateways to different interpretations or point out specific aspects that less familiar readers might not discover with ease. Ultimately this is a matter of “hermeneutics”, of setting in motion an interpretive process that may open unimagined doors to the work, the contemporary world and the reader’s own soul. This is what I regard as the essential element in literary or “aesthetic” reading to children.
Another possible approach is to suggest how the adult can open up the book to the child. In this case, it is more about methodology and educational theory, and about having a purpose other than the actual reading experience: for instance, using the book as an aid in opening up the world to the child. Here, it is a matter of “efferent” reading, of “taking away” information from reading the book.
You write that readers of all ages may find It’s Useful to Have a Duck amusing. What do you mean by that?
At first sight, It’s Useful to Have a Duck looks as if it’s intended to be “baby’s first book”. With its fun accordion-style format and hard-wearing board, it is a book with many playful aspects. The game of “let’s read a book” between adult and child is just one example. You can build things with the book and reshape it a little if you wish. But what’s really special about this book – and Isol’s books in general – is that it contains something surprising, an unexpected turn or twist that intensifies the reading experience and enriches your relationship with the book the more you read it. Isol often uses a double perspective, which may be in the language, as it is here, or in the pictures, as in Petit, the Monster, where outlines, colours and shadows tell an expanded story. The skilful way that Isol handles these subtexts allows her books to be read on multiple levels. The child is constantly discovering something new, while the adult is rewarded on a perhaps more profound psychological level.
What makes Isol’s artistry so unique, in your opinion?
Isol’s artistry is unique in that she seems to constantly be in process, to be investigating new ways to tell stories through picture books. What’s also unique is her ability to reflect on what she does – ambitions and achievements alike. This combination of theoretical and artistic awareness makes her unusually fascinating to follow.