Alexis meets Oliver Jeffers!

Paul Romani

Oliver Jeffers Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable 3On Saturday I had the opportunity to hear the picturebook author, Oliver Jeffers. I am a big fan of his books and I found him to be a fascinating speaker. There are 3 ideas he commented on that I walked away with.

Jeffers has a picturebook app for his book, The Heart and the Bottle. I have the app, and my students think it is fantastic! The app is beautifully designed and is read by Helen Bonham Carter (the famous actress, who is also Tim Burton’s wife).
When Oliver Jeffers was asked how much technology influences his work, whether or not he uses digital animation, and if he’ll soon release another picturebook app, he commented on the “Mariah Carrey Effect”. He pointed out that Mariah Carrey is able to sing a 5 octave vocal range and whistle register. Because of her ability to do this, she feels compelled to include this in every song she sings, even if it does not add to the song or if there isn’t a point. He said he believes that technology is the same, and that many people use technology despite there not being a point. He said that he thought technology could extend the platform for reading and understanding The Heart and the Bottle, which is why it was made into an app.
I certainly believe the same thing; technology should not be used or incorporated, particularly in education, if there is no point other than to use it for the sake of it.
A second point Oliver Jeffers spoke about was the ‘multimodal’ nature of picturebooks. He started not as an author/illustrator, but as an artist, and only later did he begin to add words to his illustrations. He discovered how the words could inform and change the illustrations, and how when read simultaneously, the words and the picture can create a very different meaning than just reading the words or looking at the picture alone. He also pointed out that for this reason, picturebooks can be quite sophisticated, and are therefore not just for children.
Oliver Jeffers Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable 1 Oliver Jeffers Vancouver Children's Literature Roundtable 2
A final comment that stuck with me was that – believe it or not – his target audience is not children, despite being labelled a “children’s picturebook author” (rather, targeting materials at children was Nickelodeon’s job). He said that he does not have a target audience, and is not compelled to make books for anyone in particular.
Going along with the previous point about picturebooks being sophisticated, I agree that too often picturebooks are pinned at being something only for young children, when there are many fantastic picturebooks where the topics and illustrations are most suited for older children or even teenagers. I think The Heart and the Bottle is one such example.
Here is a video he made, so you can get a taste of what I got to hear on Saturday. I hope to have another opportunity to hear him speak!