October 24, 2016

Black and White and Read All Over

I recently talked about complementary colors, so it only seems fitting that I talk about the opposite end of the color spectrum: black and white. Generally speaking, black and white are each used to emphasize negative space and spacial relationships. So what happens when black or white occupies the negative and positive space in their respective illustrations? How do we tell where things exist and what their relationships are to each other?
Funny Little Bird by Jennifer Yerkes is the perfect place to start. The text tells the story of a white bird who always goes unnoticed because, well, he's a white bird on a white background. Eventually the bird learns a valuable lesson about the perks of blending in and how he can make himself stand out as he is.

Yerkes uses her white space to the point where, as readers, we essentially see the bird in what we see around him--fabrics, feathers, even the birds facial features help us to piece his shape together. It's up to us as readers (or "beholders" of the illustrations) to determine where the bird is in time and space.

Of course, it's not just the fabrics that help us determine where the bird is--it's also partly our brains! We see backgrounds and the eyes and beak of the bird, so our brains take over and draw the necessary lines to finish off the image.

Granted, Yerkes does cheat now and then by putting in shadows to help us along (just check out the bird's wings), but overall she does a beautiful job of using negative space to enhance positive space and bring her bird to life.

In terms of beautiful black books we have Menena Cottin and Rosana Faría's The Black Book of Colors, which tells the story of a blind boy who views colors in his own special way.

But this book has a twist: it's actually meant to be experienced by both sighted and blind children! Each spread has printed white text that is accompanied by shiny, raised Braille. It's a book about blindness that blind children can actually read! And there is a Braille alphabet in the back for those who want to learn. 

The embossed illustrations are designed so that children can run their fingers across the pages and emphasize the descriptive text like a normally-printed illustration would. Instead of the colors being emphasized, it's the objects themselves: the textures, the shapes, the sizes.


It's such an interesting way for children to experience blindness in a safe environment and learn about this particular disability.

If you can think of any other books like this, I'd love to know! It was hard enough finding two!!

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