Friday 4 April 2014

Story Space

"The picture book is a place we can share, a place to be together as humans, no matter what age we are." Nicola Davies, author of A First Book of Nature tells Picture Book Party about the importance of 'story space', and how the power of a simple story can inspire great things in children and adults alike...

Narrative is a wonderful device! It’s the psychological bag we humans have used since we sat around the first fires, to carry information and to pass it to others. It is an incredibly flexible container, that can adopt all sorts of shapes and sizes, a sonnet, a song, a picture book, a novel. It is robust too - it can hold information about the deepest tides and currents in our nature, the instructions for making a soup or the life history of a polar bear. Narrative creates ‘story space’, that liminal region between the exterior world and the interior world of emotion and reflection. In it, boundaries are dissolved, the real and the imagined are combined in unique cocktails of experience, allowing us new insights into the world and our place within it. Story space allows us to to see things differently; it facilitates fresh thinking and helps both artists and scientists to formulate new questions, theories, new ways to describe the world.

Story space does its best work when it is combining things we never thought about putting together in the real world, so it’s no coincidence that the narrative media that create the story space with the greatest capacity to hold layered meaning and huge emotion, are songs and picture books, media that are themselves combinations of two art forms. We’re familiar with the idea that our lives can have a soundtrack of songs but the picture book still remains the most under estimated of art forms. Words and pictures, like words and music, have an unrivaled ability to create the most vivid story space, where the biggest and boldest, the strangest and the tiniest of human experiences can be portrayed, examined, recorded. This immense power to hold ideas and information of all kinds, and at all scales, makes picture books an incredibly valuable engine for learning; the story space they create is a learning environment far too valuable to abandon at six or seven.

One of the things that I’m most delighted about the picture books that I’ve created with Laura Carlin and Mark Hearld, is their ability to speak to people of all ages. A First Book of Nature has reminded adult readers of their own experiences of first contacts with the natural world, and renewed their commitment to seeking those experiences for the children in their care.  The story of The Promise has inspired children to plant seeds and moved adults to consider the ever present possibility of personal change and evolution.

In a society increasingly compartmentalised into age bands, fragmented by loss of community and isolated by the use of technology, the picture book is a place we can share, a place to be together as humans, no matter what age we are: Story Space, perhaps the most important, powerful and unique invention of human culture.

By Nicola Davies.

A First Book of Nature by Nicola Davies and Mark Hearld is now available in paperback. Find it at your local bookshop.

Discover the world on your doorstep with your free, downloadable A First Book of Nature activity sheet.