“The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.”
One of the premises of StoryLabs is that the books we read as children stay with us our entire lives. They are part of the arsenal for all our future imaginings. Even Albert Einstein appears to agree, when he purportedly told a concerned mother that “creative imagination is the essential element in the intellectual equipment of the true scientist, and that fairy tales are the childhood stimulus to this quality.” So, a book that sets out to pay “homage to (the) stories that impacted and influenced us,” in our childhood shown bright on our literary radar.
The book we’re talking about is A Child of Books (Walker Books, 2016), a collaboration between Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston that took home the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2017. Author of such books as Stuck, Here We Are and The Day the Crayons Quit, Oliver Jeffers is one of our favorite contemporary children’s authors. His work is driven by his own curiosity and this authenticity seeps through to the final product, which is fun and fresh, but also heartfelt and universal. Sam Winston is an equally formidable graphic artist who uses “language not only as a carrier of messages, but also as a visual form.” He is known for his special edition artist’s books that can be found in the permanent collections of the Tate Britain and MOMA, as well as the British Library and Library of Congress. In A Child of Books, Jeffers’ idiosyncratic figurative images combine with Winston’s rich typographic landscapes crafted from excerpts of children’s stories and lullabies to create a true masterpiece of children’s literature.
This book so deeply embodies the values of StoryLabs that to choose A Child of Books as our inaugural year’s leitmotif was a necessary choice.
First of all, the book seeks to instill love for the magic of reading. In Jeffers’ own words about the characters in the story, “The first is the Child of Books, who knows the secrets of literature and imagination. The second child needs to be shown the way. The second child perhaps represents timid readers who have not yet been bitten by the bug of literature. I like to imagine that the adults who read this book to children might take on the role of the Child of Books, guiding the young readers into this world of text. “
The book also pays homage to the beautiful physicality of books, which is something we also do at Story Labs by placing the book-object at the center of every session. Sam Winston says, “Books create a very visceral and sensual experience and that combined with imaginative ideas (…) is a very compelling introduction to learning and creativity.”
The authors also identify the book’s role in helping us slow down and go deep in an age of constant digital restlessness. “The Information Age,” says co-author Winston, “has also turned out to be the age of infinite distraction, and I certainly see books as a contemporary tool by which we can remedy some of that — especially in creating a focused way of entertaining and teaching ourselves.” This bet on books as a way of living more essentially is shown even in the way the collaboration for this book came about. Introduced by a mutual friend, the two authors knew that something interesting would happen if they just found the time to sit down in a room together with some pencils. Turns out, they were right and you can tell these guys love what they do. As do we. We are all brought together by the sentiment, more than the belief, that “the universe is made of stories, not of atoms,” in the words of the poet Muriel Rukeyser that adorn the dedication page of this book. It’s funny to think Einstein might very well have been among us in that sentiment.