Photoluminations Books & Fables

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Thu, 09/01/2011 - 16:04

Stories can be told in words or in pictures, but come to life when the reader can imagine a world created in words, and see images that relate to a physical reality as well as a fabulous environment. Such a story knows no limits. I call them "fables."

In developing illustrated stories for children, my concepts tend to be too long to fit any traditional publishing market. The books are too expensive to print because of the large number of photographic illustrations. The concepts and vocabulary are not watered down, but children will stretch to learn.

In our world where the printed book is being replaced by media that take the work and imagination away from the viewer—electronic media like TV, interactive games of violence, ebooks that read aloud, multimedia "books" that are more like an interactive game or a movieߡI believe there is still room for the challenge and excitement of discovery to be found in reading. I suspect that all the bells and whistles, while attractive and fun, only distract the child from learning to read and learning to imagine.

Now, with the rapidly expanding availability of electronic devices such as ereaders and pads capable of presenting a book in color, it is possible to publish long-form photo-illustrated stories for children for digital distribution. The cost of distribution is the same for a short story or a long one. While the distribution channels are somewhat irrational and limit easy access, and the cost of ereaders is a barrier for many, these problems should be resolved soon.

Are these long fables too long and complex to hold the attention of a child whose reading skills are at the level of grades one and two? Responses from children, teachers, and parents suggest that children do indeed rise to the challenge. They immerse themselves in the books and read them in a single session. And they understand the story and are enthusiastic, rushing to share the book with friends and their schoolmates. The stories also serve well for class use or for bedtime stories over several nights. A beginning reader can enjoy the book by looking at the images and reading the captions. There are many issues and concepts that are embedded in the story, and can be developed in class or in a home-schooling environment.

The first title to be released is A Tree for Max, the story of trees, birds, and a dog cooperating to help a young boy, Max, get a tree to help him adjust to his new home.

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The second title will be Dogged Flight, the story of how Keren, a Canaan dog, overcomes all obstacles and learns how to fly like a bird.

Followup: The book vs. digital argument goes on, and the key issues seem to be "Will children be literate?" and "Will children be learning skills for the future?" Kristen McLean, executive director of the Association of Booksellers for Children, predicts a positive outcome: a world with both print and digital products; an increase in children's literacy; and children learning needed adaptive skills. The Kids Are Alright! Why Digitization and E-books are Good for Literacy… I found her perspective on the picture book encouraging:

The traditional book — especially the picture book reading experience — is one of the most perfect exercises for building the kind of literacy needed for the 21st century.

Picture books are actually a very sophisticated learning tool — readers control the story, absorb information visually, immerse themselves in an alternate world, scroll back and forth, touch and point, anticipate developments, and ask thoughtful questions. This creates great analytical skills and an empowered reader, the kind of reader that will hopefully go on to ask better questions of all media, and make thoughtful decisions about what is worthy of their attention.---Kristen McLean