Perhaps one of the best Barefoot books for boosting literacy, Out of the Blueis a wordless book by celebrated illustrator Alison Jay. Page by page, Jay’s striking alkyd oil paint and crackle varnish artwork tell the story of a young boy who lives in a lighthouse with his father. After a fierce storm shakes the seacoast, the boy’s beachcombing adventures take a surprising turn! Out of the Blue is more than just another picture book: richly detailed and elegantly plotted, it’s a memorable work of magical realism for children. Plus, it’s a picture book for the twenty-first century: children need tools to learn to analyze and interpret the visual media that permeates our world, from commercials and billboards to comic books and films.
And a wordless book like Out of the Blue is the perfect tool.
Out of the Blue as Visual Art
Have you ever heard the saying: the best way to learn something is teach someone else? That’s exactly how wordless books work. When children read a wordless book aloud, they’re both the storyteller and the audience! As kids watch the story unfold, their brains works to identify important visual details on the page, interpret the abstract meaning behind those details and express that meaning in words—a process that strengthens not only their verbal skills, but also their visual and analytical skills.
As with any work of visual art, the key to Out of the Blue lies in its visual details. Like any story, Out of the Blue features a beginning, middle and end; a protagonist, an obstacle and a goal. To make the perspective and plot points clear, the illustrations draw on Western conventions established by Renaissance painters and used widely by today’s filmmakers, comic creators and other visual artists–for example, the window imagery on the second spread frames the protagonist in order to align the reader with his perspective.
Spread by spread, Jay’s illustrations also parallel the Hero’s Journey, described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and since adopted by Hollywood screenwriters as their baseline plot arc. (Take a look at Out of the Blue’s second and seventh spreads in particular to see what I mean!) Thus, reading Out of the Blue introduces children to the structure and motifs they’ll see over and over in visual media, from superhero films to Super Bowl commercials.
Of course, once you identify key details, you have to figure out what they mean! Reading a wordless book is an interpretive exercise, which means that no two people will read it the same way. Readers invariably find their own meaning in the visual details.
For example, consider two different reviews of Out of the Blue: Publishers Weekly says the beached octopus was tangled in a net, while Kirkus Reviews suggests that some inconsiderate biped has “netted it to the ground.” The former emphasizes passive human mismanagement of the environment, the latter active abuse. Those are two very different stories!
In this way, kids and grown-ups alike bring their own meaning to the visual story—as they do to any film or comic book, but a wordless book makes this interpretive process more obvious. By reading a wordless book themselves, and then listening to someone else read it, children will discover that there is always more than one way to understand a story, always more than one thing it might mean.
And the more you read Out of the Blue with the children in your life, the more the book’s little details will come to life—and the more you’ll boost your kids’ visual literacy.
Catch the wave of excitement!
We’re not the only ones excited about the power of Out of the Blue to build visual literacy! In her guest blog post, Barefoot Books Ambassador Laurie Mattaliano outlined how wordless books develop children’s literacy skills, including visual literacy:
Because these books relate a story entirely through the illustrations, they encourage children to apply visual literacy skills, and not only draw inferences from what is pictured but also respond to the quality of the pictures and note details that adults sometimes miss.
Book blogger Melissa LaSalle also praises those tell-tale details in her review of Out of the Blue: “As with any great wordless book, it takes several ‘readings’ to grasp all the details and sub-plots at work here.” For a closer look at those vital visual details, check out this great fan-made video!
But it’s Ambassador Pam DeCicco’s daughter Lydia who really nails it in her YouTube reading of Out of the Blue: “As you can see, there are no words in this story, so I’m making up the story off the top of my head! And if you don’t like my story, you can buy this book and make your own!”
You said it, Lydia!
So get ready to help the kids in your life build strong visual literacy skills with Out of the Blue! We’d love to hear about the different stories the children in your life find in the book. Share your favorites with us in the comments below!
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