The Power of the Visual

It’s the first day of Term 4, so I hope you’re feeling refreshed after the holidays. This month on the blog I’m looking at the power of visual texts. I’m examining three quite different books, all of which use visual techniques to great effect.

Like many of you, I’m a huge Oliver Jeffers fan. The Fate of Fausto continues to be one of my favourite picture books. So, when I heard that he was creating a new picture book by playing with a limited colour palette and mixed media, I was thrilled. There’s a Ghost in this House does not disappoint! This amazing book tells the story of young girl who lives alone in a big house she’s been told is haunted, but she’s never seen a ghost. She asks, can you help her look for them? Jeffers utilises textbooks, photographs, illustrations and tracing paper to stunning effect in this story. As pages are turned the reader meets the ghosts who inhabit this house; ghosts who have a quirky sense of humour! There is so much to examine in There’s a Ghost in this House, that repeated reads are warranted. This would be a fantastic text for secondary English and Visual Arts students, who will have fun examining Jeffers’s skilful use of technique, as well as younger students who will have enormous fun as the story unfolds.

Migration might just be the extreme sport of the animal kingdom, and it’s one that many species participate in. Atlas of Amazing Migration tells the stories of some of these epic feats of endurance. For example, there’s the burrowing owl, the only species of owl that lives underground (no, I had no idea either) and can migrate up to 3,500 kms from Canada to Texas and Mexico. There are also Christmas Island red crabs, whose migration is determined by a combination of weather and the lunar cycle, and is so overwhelming that special tunnels and bridges have been built for them. Along with the enthralling facts about animals, there are stunning illustrations of them in their habitats, or on their amazing migrations. This is another text which will find willing readers in both primary and secondary libraries and classrooms.

Some of you may know Noelle Stevenson from their wonderful graphic novel, Nimona, others may know them from contributions to the Lumberjanes series, or work on the re-boot of She-Ra and the Princess of Power. Even if you’re unfamiliar with their work, this list tells you they’re a hard-working and extremely talented person. The Fire Never Goes Out is Stevenson’s journal for the eight years that cover finishing school, attending art school, and beginning their creative career. This time was one of enormous struggle: with their mental health, their sexual identity, and their confidence in their artistic talent, and the possibility of turning it into a career. The Fire Never Goes Out is difficult to define: it incorporates aspects of graphic novel, memoir and illustrated narrative. But it will come as no surprise that the visual elements of this text are just as important as the written ones. Students in senior secondary will find this an intriguing coming-of-age journey. Classroom resources are available.

Read of the Month – Blackout

Over the past couple of months I’ve talked about the need for ‘comfort’ in my reading: I’ve found it difficult to engage with many of the books I would normally enjoy. This has led to a change in my reading habits, and I have been thrilled that it’s opened me up to some books that I may not have read otherwise. YA fiction is not something I would normally read for pleasure (with a few notable exceptions), but I am so glad that I cracked open the stunning cover of Blackout, because it was an absolute delight to read.

Blackout is the story of one night in the middle of summer in New York City. It’s told by six well-known and loved YA authors through the device of inter-weaving stories as the city goes through a blackout. The stories that are told are ones of love: different kinds of love. There’s friendship and first love, there are break-ups and self-discoveries, there’s taking risks for love and finally, there’s the love for the city that encompasses all of these narratives.

While there are many stories told in Blackout, the thread that links them – apart from the city – is the ‘The Long Walk’, which tells the story of Tammi and Kareem in five acts. When we meet them in the late afternoon they are less than happy to see each other, as they have recently broken up after a long relationship and are now in competition for an internship. However, when the power goes out they must help each other walk the long distance home. As their story weaves in and out of the other tales in this book, we learn about their relationship and they learn a lot about themselves. It is also very satisfying that at the end of the book, all of the stories converge, so you have some understanding as to how they’ve been resolved over the course of the evening (I became very attached to some of those characters, so it was nice to see them get their happy ending).

This lovely book is well-written, funny and sweet, without being saccharine. While each writer has their own style, they all work well together, and it’s a lot of fun making the connections between each story. While the target audience is YA, Blackout can be enjoyed by anyone 12 and up, thanks to the lack of sex and violence, and the mostly clean language. So much fun!

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