Interplay in ‘the yes’ by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura

I have been aching to do another picture book in depth post for a while now. Whilst I know picture books aren’t the main focus of this blog, they are one of my great and genuine joys and they are something very, very important. Picture books are our introduction to literacy. They’re read by us in so many ways as our reading ability develops, and as such they have to work on a ridiculous amount of levels. They have to reward the adult reader. The child pre-literate. The child emerging literate. The child literate. And quite often they do that with maybe a handful of words, or none.

Picture books are extraordinary.

Front cover of 'the yes'

A) Front cover of ‘the yes’

And I think that the yes stands proud up there with the best of them. Written by Sarah Bee and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura, the yes is a book about being brave and strong and confident. And it’s really rather lovely.

Have a look at that front cover and think about the first word you see. It’s yes, right? That capital Y, the slightly bigger font? Remember what front covers tell us – they are a statement of intent, a sort of mood-board of what you’re going to get inside, and in the case of picture books (shelved face out, pretty much always), they are your first read of the book. This front cover is giving us so much. It’s giving us lines of sight with those leaves, the way that little one underneath the Yes’ middle leg is pointing straight up at it; it’s giving us a bright red Clifford-the-big-red-dog-esque figure who is the Yes because it’s been labelled as such. You wouldn’t have that as clearly if the title had been placed away from the dog. We’ve immediately been given a solid base to this story, and it’s one that’s emphasised in that firmly grounded line of crystal coloured leaves across the base of the front cover. This is a story about the Yes and this is the Yes and that’s all you need to know. Seriously, it’s like a masterclass in visual design.

'the yes' : interior double page spread

B) ‘the yes’ : interior double page spread

So once we get into this, we have some of the most gorgeous artwork and text to savour throughout. It opens with the Yes curled up polar-bear like in his den: “In a soft comfy nest, in a safe warm place there /  snoozed a great big orange thing called the Yes. / He was snug, but the Yes had a Where to go to. // So he left his nest and went trundling out to see” (Note – just to clarify, every time I use one of these / it’s to indicate a line break. Two of them like this // are to indicate a separate block of text).  And this I think is the part of this post where we chat about interplay. The best example of interplay I can give you is to think of a conversation. the yes has some gorgeous dialogue between the text and image and you can see this in image B. Look at the construction of the spread. That sort of dreamy closeness of the Yes’ nest. The warm dark snugness of it. The way the world isn’t part of it save for that tiny little circle at the top.

And now look at the right hand side page and how this is introducing the concept of sequential reading almost instantly to the reader. The text is here, waiting for the  yes, and so is the world. We can see both. We know that the yes is going to engage in this story because it is all about him (as we have learnt from the cover) and so we’re  all waiting for him to become part of it. The text is waiting. And we’re waiting and then, when he does, we get a quiet little: “So he left his nest and went trundling out to see” underneath a picture of him heading for the next page. And so we’re locked in – we need to know what’s over the page. We need to know what the where is. And we know now, what sort of book this is – it’s a journey, a from there to here book, and we’ve got that all in two pages of very aurally lovely text (seriously, those rhythms) and two full page spreads.

Oh my GOD, I want to make a picture book now.

"The Where was an endless place of Nos"

C) “The Where was an endless place of Nos”

We continue to track the yes on his journey to The Where and discover that it’s “an endless place of Nos. The Nos were everywhere / and everywhat in swarms and flocks and packs. They teemed and / seethed. They picked and nipped and snipped and snicked.” This is extraordinary writing. It almost loses something here in the tight banality of being typed, so I’d urge you to read it aloud. There’s more of that interplay here for me, the sense that the words at the top of the page are moments from joining the cloud of picking and nipping Nos at the bottom.

Also have a think about the construction of this spread – the great big blankness in the middle, with that dark mass of lines at the bottom and the words at the top. The Yes is sandwiched between them. There’s no escape for him here from the Nos and again we’re getting those subtle signs of what this book is telling us. We are getting a dialogue between text and image that is combining to create something super amazing. That last term isn’t remotely theoretical but it is amazing, it blows me away what people can do.

"the yes went up and up"

D) “the yes went up and up”

I don’t want to spoil the book for you as I think that there’s something glorious about discovering this one as you go through it, so I will just give you one last image (D) from it which I think is just lovely. This spread is glorious and, I think, one that will translate very well to a whole host of readers. What I love about is that interplay again between the text and image, where the majority text is massed  on the left with the Nos, buzzing and fuzzing, when on the right, the Yes is clear and exultant and victorious: “There was only the Yes.”

You know when a book gives you this much, so generously, it’s just wrong to ignore it. If you’ll allow me to be terribly theoretical for a moment longer, the yes is quite unique in the performative nature of its text and it is rather extraordinary in what it does and how it does it.  And I think it’s one that should be studied by anyone who’s interested in the potential of what can be achieved in a picture book space.

And if you’ll allow me to be a fangirl for a moment longer, the yes is gorgeous. I don’t know if you know or not, but I try to get everything that I receive for review through to an appropriate home for it. I knew where the yes would go the moment I started reading it. I have a friend who works with bereaved children and families and picture books like this are an amazing way for children to start talking about the untalkable and their feelings. I think the yes may have some quite special potential here, and I’ll keep you posted on how it gets on.

The Yes is published in March 2013 by Andersen Press. ISBN: 9781849397100

If you’d like to look at some previous picture books in depth posts, you can do so here.

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10 thoughts on “Interplay in ‘the yes’ by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura

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