Monday, 9 December 2013

Palazzo Inverso

"Palazzo Inverso" D.B. Johnson. 2010. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. New York.

In perusing the postmodern picture book section of my local library here in Ottawa, I came across this wonderful book “Palazzo Inverso” by D.B. Johnson (2010).

This book is a wonderful example of the post modern picture book. This innovative story begins with a capitalized sentence that then continues with the text running along the bottom of the page in bold text. At the top of the page there is more text that is muted in colour. This continues on each page.

Initially the reader is confused. The cues for constructing meaning on this page are ambiguous and contradictory. The text at the top of the page is upside down – so where does one start reading? Why is the text at the top upside down and muted in colour? Cleverly, D.B. Johnson has ensured that the final word on the bottom line enables the top line to match up seamlessly and on reading the first page. This non-linear approach, where the text is not following a logical, sequential pattern, has the reader wondering ‘How I am supposed to read this text?’

Then, at the end of the first line of text, the reader notices a hand directing the reader to the next page, indicating the text at the top of the page is not relevant – yet. As the reader moves through each page, the flow of the text at the bottom, captures attention, with bold striking illustrations to match. D.B. Johnson has cleverly used his artistic talent to use perspective, 3 dimensional drawing and illusion in each illustration.  The illustrations in this text are inspired by the works of the artist M. C. Escher, and based on one of his works 'Ascending and Descending. Escher was known for his skill at playing with perspective and tricking people into seeing his version of 3 dimensional space. D. B. Johnson has modelled his illustrations on this, and therefore there is a need for a certain level of sophistication in interpreting the visual literacy elements of this story. Readers must be as alert to the illustrations as they are to the text.

On reaching the end of the book, the reader is directed to read text around the side of the page and up towards to the text at the top of the page. At this point, the reader is required to turn the book upside down in order to continue reading the story. The reader then finds themselves reading back towards to the front cover. Once again, the cues for constructing meaning are blurred as the reader, in moving back towards the front of the text, is required to use the exact same illustrations they have just encountered. Cleverly, D.B. Johnson’s illustrations match the text at the top of the page as brilliantly as they did the bottom of the page, demonstrating the continued need for sophistication in interpreting the illustrations in this text.

Finally, once the young reader has reached the conclusion of the story, it turns out that the story does not, in fact, have any closure. It cleverly finishes the text with the final sentence of the story being also the initial sentence, forcing the reader to start the cycle of the story again. This is also a reference back to Escher and his artworks of endless loops that went nowhere. 

From the moment the reader starts this book, the engagement with text and illustration is obvious. Young readers would enjoy the alternative reading style of this text and the unique, playful aspect of needing to turn the book upside down to complete the narrative.  Also enjoyable is seeing the pictures take on a different meaning throughout the story.  There is a lot of visual literacy skill used in this story. It is unusual to come across a text where the exact same illustrations are used for two different parts of the narrative, and young readers would enjoy exploring each and every page, comparing and contrasting the story lines and what meaning can be drawn from the illustrations. 

D.B. Johnson. 2010. Palazzo Inverso. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co. New York.

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