With the new possibilities for multi-media storytelling brought by the iPad, Jean Gralley’s 2006 essay gains new relevance. I haven’t seen Gralley mentioned in recent talk on the eBook revolution, maybe because she writes as a childrens’ book illustrator. But I think many of her ideas resonate with recent commentaries on digital books more generally, so I’m excerpting extensively from her vivid language. Here are her words, with screenshots from the accompanying Flash video  > >

> >  I love everything about the traditional picture book art form. But when I discovered a hidden world of picture book artists who are creating traditional books in radically nontraditional ways, I was fascinated and hooked. As I played with these new computer programs, it dawned on me that my very thinking was being re-wired. Story ideas came that didn’t work well on paper.

It’s ridiculous to make a monitor do what paper does better. But the problem is not that things have gone too far but that they haven’t gone far enough. Let digital be digital. Let the digital medium create stories that can’t be told as well on paper — or told on paper at all. Imagine a story progressing not by page turns but by proceeding up, down, to the right, or even to the left. … Recognizing that our commitment is to the story and not to paper is powerful fuel for picture book creators; it’s all we need for liftoff.

Imagine words and pictures appearing, receding, and gliding into place. Envision stories that might proceed by unfolding like a flower, or sinking as if into a black hole in space.

As illustrators are loosening our paper bonds, so, too, can picture books. We’re able to create digital books because we’re becoming technologically and psychologically ready to create them and because our imaginations are lifting off the page.

The reader should be the prime mover. Just as in a traditional picture book, no matter what the digital book is capable of, the reader should direct the experience, determining the pace, backtracking or even skipping ahead. The reader should read. Unlike watching a video, the child won’t passively watch pictures while a text is being “told” via an audio file.

E-Books, with their fantastic ability to cross-reference, layer, and update information with ease and speed, are already being embraced, especially in academia. But developing their unique promise as a visual medium could make us re-think what a book is, in truly revolutionary ways. It makes sense that we children’s book illustrators would be the ones to take this step. We love to play with materials and forms. … Now some of us are thinking of leaving the page altogether.

For me, the concept of digital picture books is less about “embracing the future” and much more about our now. If we once framed the cosmos with a black-and-white sensibility, we are now swimming in a vivid Technicolor reality. If we once perceived the world as flat, it is now understood to be dimensional. Why shouldn’t our art and our stories reflect this?

The printed book is a beautiful, ancient, enduring form that will continue to exist. But these new tech tools are exquisitely appropriate for our time. To resist them seems to me to be not quite present. Although different tools may produce different kinds of tales, we are simply furthering the narrative of our one long tale. We are still moving along the age-old thread of storytelling. > >

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Meta-story (How I came upon Jean Gralley’s article) – Recently Roger Sutton (@HornBook), the editor of the childrens’ book magazine Hornbook, followed me on Twitter. As I often do when I get a new Twitter follower, I poked around doing some googling on his website to see what there is about the digital thing, and came upon Gralley’s article — A real hidden gem, that confirms my idea that childrens digital book people have a lot of good things to say on digital books more generally.

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

0 thoughts on “eBooks – “Imagine the Possibilities for Storytelling”

  1. Thank you, Eric! The reason I believe picture book artists/writers can lead the digital book revolution is because, unlike novelists, we think in visuals. Visuals and motion being the strength of digital, they hold the greatest potential for a radically new “book experience.” We’ve still got a long ways to go. But, yeah… it’s exciting to see what’s finally developing! I still hope to play a role in it.

  2. Jean – As you say, pictures add another dimension, in a lot of ways — They call call upon our uniquely human capabilities and are less amenable to Google’s computer brain than text. On this theme see the first post I did for this blog — Think Different : Pictures.

    Have you done much work on an iPad?

    Thanks a lot for your comment!

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