Frank Newfeld: The Book [in a Box] Part II — A Complete Package

by Frank Newfeld

Forty years have passed since the new e-book made its bow without too much of a brouhaha. When the late Jack McClelland of M&S actually foresaw its potential as a handy travel accessory [way back in the 60’s], the response was less than lukewarm. Attempts to interest members of the printing industry, both in Canada and abroad, came to nought. It was obviously premature — perhaps for reasons of self-interest — as far as pursuing his idea here in Canada, or even as far away as Italy.

The recent blossoming of the e-book, especially in its impact on the Children’s Book, and its acceptance by both players and parents seems unanimous. So much so that the e-book merits a close look at the changing relationships which now confront us. Even the initial encounter is quite different!


In place of the traditional Book, we have the choice of an e-reader in a frame, or a slim tablet, with a window-like screen. Where we have been accustomed to handling many pages [adorned with word or picture]; and perusing twin pages at a time, we now often see only one page at a time. The e-books, still with the ‘only-one-or-two-pages-at-a-time’ turn, discourage the time-honoured habit of ‘just flicking’. For the young reader, the flicking helped to establish a very special owner relationship. Something that the e-reader [now numbering in the millions] might consider adopting in some manner, as a nostalgic link to the time-honoured basics of the traditional old book.

Of the many different kinds of Young Reader Books, the two categories which will most experience the impact of the e-book are the Nursery Rhyme Book and the Poetry Book for Young Readers. Not only in areas of verbal or visual content, but in the potential for personal comment, both spoken or illustrated.

From Creatures, Douglas & McIntyre, 1998

Both these kinds of books have traditionally contributed a great number of illustrations, to further enhance the package. Where other sorts of publications might use some visual language — often pages apart — both Nursery Rhyme Book and Poetry Book are always accompanied by artwork, page for page. Without pictures, the two kinds of this category of book might seem too advanced for the young reader. Of course, and quite naturally, the poet often has preconceived ideas of both the content and even the appearance of his [MY] book. And at times sees the most professional illustrator as just a pair of talented hands. From the very outset of every project is the time for the editor or the publisher to establish clear provinces of responsibility. Bearing in mind, that where the poet’s work is woven around the words, the illustrator’s work is drawn towards the words. Where poetry draws into the central point, from start to finish, illustration paves the way towards the climax.

Seldom does worthy children’s verse employ much baby talk, especially by an established poet. But neither should the visual! To draw ‘down’ to a reader, old or young, is insulting, It is simply a fact, that every noted illustrator of Kid Lit has always shown not only respect for the recipient, but also striven for artistry in the creation aimed at even the youngest reader.

Man with Trumpet

To mention just three well-known artists, who have enriched us with their work, giants beloved by young and old for their work in the field of the great book illustrators: the late Maurice Sendak (USA); Brian Wildsmith (UK); and our own, the late James Hill (CAN). With other cherished Canadian illustrated books ranging in subject matter from The Wind has Wings to Sally Go Round the Sun ! Always respectful of their many readers, and respected for it by them!

Of note is the fact that the three above named artists — and many others with well deserved reputations for their own distinctive gifts — have entranced young readers, without resorting to base cartooning, or needing to kidify their artwork. Even more noteworthy is the fact that the young recipients are at times more in tune than the donor, with this mature Art ! It almost appears as though the diluting of any visual intricacy [for ‘Kids Art’] is an underestimation of the visual comprehension of the young reader.

At times, it may seem that the written and the visual are still accepted as being on two different levels, even with the e-book. The written, distinctly more creative, and the visual just a space filling afterthought. As if the visual wanted to compete with the verbal, forgetting that the Book has become a Package. One filled with worth from start to finish. A complete package that belongs to the reader.


Next up: THE BOOK [IN A BOX] Part III—Novel Possibilities.

Check back tomorrow!

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.