I expect that some of you recognise the allusion in the title of my blog. It’s to Lewis Carroll, of course, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
‘and what is the use of a book’, thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’
I’ve always liked this quote and I do agree with Alice. I think she’s right both literally and metaphorically.
Judging for the Kate Greenaway Medal opened a whole new world of books for me. Up until then I hadn’t paid all that much attention to picture books. I’d bought them for the library and occasionally for the children of friends but I hadn’t really studied them. Some of my fellow judges were real experts on the subject and I learnt so much from them about how illustration (not just in picture books but in any book) enhances the reading experience. I love the way the words and pictures in a book can tell different stories as in Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner by John Kelly and Cathy Tincknell. And I am enchanted by the 1920s’ style used by Shirley Hughes in Ella’s Big Chance.
My enjoyment of a novel is definitely affected by the dialogue. I don’t necessarily like a novel because it has lots of conversations but I do struggle if there are few. I think that the reader learns so much about characters from the conversations they have and is more easily drawn into their world. The opening lines of Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women is a classic case in point.
But the ‘pictures and conversations’ thing is true too metaphorically. Good books paint pictures in the mind. As a child, I was steeped in the Chalet School books of Elinor Brent-Dyer, especially those set in Austria. I was in my late twenties before I ever went to the Achensee, the real-life setting of the early books in the series, but I had a remarkably accurate idea of what the lake and its surrounding villages looked like. Equally, I have never visited Vienna but, having read The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson, I feel as though I have! I can see, too, Anne Shirley cracking her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head in the Avonlea school (and I could before ever I saw either the BBC’s excellent adaptation of LM Montgomery’s book or Kevin Sullivan’s equally brilliant offering).
And a book with any lasting impact will always engage me in a debate – often with myself but sometimes with others! It might be about the plot or characters or it could cause me to ponder the themes and issues raised. One such book was The Garbage King by Elizabeth Laird which had a huge impact on me when I first read it. Set in modern Ethiopia, it contrasts (but, oh, so subtly) the lives of two boys from opposite ends of the social scale. It stayed in my head for ages afterwards. I’ve even been known to debate books with their authors. As a teenager, I wrote to Joan Lingard (and received a reply) to remonstrate with her about the way she ended her Maggie quartet. And whenever I see Linda Newbery I try, with no real hope of success, to persuade her to write a sequel to the excellent Sisterland because I so much want to know what happens to all the characters.
So, yes, for me there is no use of a book without pictures and conversations.