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Book Notes: The ‘Special Book’ Finds a Niche

The state of the book as a going thing has been in question for a generation. I remember Harold Ramis in Ghostbusters saying “Print is dead” with an authoritative smirk. That was 1984.

As an illustrator of more than 30 children’s books, Norwich resident Lizi Boyd feels the pressure that books seem to be under. But there’s an opposing force at work: The more people talk about books disappearing into the electronic void of e-readers and the Internet, the more authors and artists explore what books can do, and the more readers seem eager to grab onto paper.

“I think books need to be very special now,” Boyd said in a recent interview. To that end, her new book, Inside Outside, is a departure, her first wordless children’s story.

Through 40 pages of drawings in which a child plays alternately indoors and outdoors, cut out squares and rectangles form tall windows and little peepholes in the scenery, providing a view from one environment to the other. In addition to the playing child, small characters reappear page after page — a dog, a cat, a white mouse, a turtle. It’s a meditative book, one meant to reinforce the visual acuity children often ignore once they start reading.

Boyd will sign copies of Inside Outside and conduct an activity for children from 10 to noon tomorrow morning at Norwich Bookstore.

Inside Outside began life as a series of black and white drawings on craft paper. Boyd’s work space took on the book’s atmosphere of silence.

“When I worked on this book, one of the fascinating parts was that I didn’t have any language for it,” she said. The images appeared of themselves, and she found she had to keep the radio off to avoid breaking the spell.

Hopefully, children will receive the book in the same spirit of rapt and quiet attention. Understanding the world through pictures is an ancient mode of communication, older than language, but children often turn away from mark making as a system of meaning once they take an interest in words.

“It needs to be nurtured; it needs to be encouraged,” Boyd said. Children need to know that they can invent and play with image-making, and adults need to understand that we create, often without forethought, a visual environment for children. “We are very responsible for their physical world,” Boyd said.

Children also need art materials that can enable their success and build some confidence. A sheet of heavy black paper and bright, white marker can lead to results that will spur a child on to the next drawing project. Even the best-funded public schools often have paltry budgets for materials, and end up with little that children want to handle.

“If you give them an interesting material, chances are they’re going to be successful,” Boyd said.

For her event in Norwich tomorrow, Boyd has been folding and cutting pieces of craft paper for children to draw on and make their own inside-outside stories. There are no reservations required. For more information call 802-649-1114.

∎ Also appearing at Norwich Bookstore in the coming weeks is poet Partridge Boswell. He will have something to celebrate on April 24: Some Far Country, the Woodstock resident’s first collection of poems, won the 2013 Grolier Discovery Prize, a prestigious award bestowed by the Grolier Foundation and the Grolier Book Shop. Boswell will read from his work at 7 p.m. The reading is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. To reserve a seat, call 802-649-1114.

∎ Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library is honoring Stinehour Press, the legendary book and fine art press that had a 50-year run in Lunenburg, Vt., with an exhibition of the press’ work. Founded by Roderick “Rocky” Stinehour in 1952, two years after he graduated from Dartmouth, the press was famous for the quality of its work and its book designs. The exhibition, “Designed and Printed by the Stinehour Press,” is on view through May 31.

The library also will recognize Rocky Stinehour’s contribution to the printing trade on April 11 at 4 p.m., with publisher and book collector David R. Godine serving as the keynote speaker.

∎ Charlie Wheelan, a Dartmouth grad and now a Dartmouth public policy fellow, has made a cottage industry out of explaining boring subjects to readers with modest attention spans. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science (2002) was recognized as an accessible primer on economics for the general reader.

After writing a couple of books on other subjects, including a policy textbook, and running for Congress in the special election to replace Rahm Emanuel, Wheelan came out with another title that paired the promise of nudity with, in my view, a science even more dismal than economics — statistics.

Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data, published last year, was as much about interpreting health care decisions, which are underpinned by statistical analysis far more than we generally understand, than about the dry manipulation of numbers.

This explains why Wheelan will be speaking at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s “Primary Care Grand Rounds” next Friday at 12:15 p.m. in the medical center’s auditoriums E and F. The talk is free and open to the public.

Cloudland, Joseph Olshan’s 2012 thriller set in the Upper Valley, is out in paperback. Olshan, the author of eight books, including the novels Clara’s Heart and Nightswimmer, is a former resident of Barnard and is currently executive editor at Delphinium Books.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3219.