Mother and daughter team Ingrid Mennen and Irene Berg have created a children’s book that evokes the wonder of print to celebrate how awesome reading is. They share their creative journey with and why they keep red crayons in their pockets
The obvious question in the digital age is: Why use a newspaper as the central character? Ingrid: Despite the digital age and the convenience of flat, hard screens, I believe that books and news printed on paper will not vanish any time soon. There is comfort in paper. Print on paper will continue to enchant us. Somehow we need the three-dimensional, “soulful”, “old-fashioned” intimacy that the tactile experience of reading on paper continues to give us. Paper allows a slow read, where the reader can page forwards and backwards, allowing a thoughtful kind of read that can lead to the heart of things: to creativity and art. I believe that a child brought up in a home where newspapers are read (or where newsprint is brought into a home as discarded matter) has another advantage: big bold headings make the letters of the alphabet visible, long before a child can read. The Story of Ink shows what can happen when paper or newsprint lies around, next to the couch. I think that a newspaper as a central character is fun. Who is Tinka based on and where does the story come from?
Ingrid: The story of six-year-old Tinka and her paper friend is based on memories I have of my six-year-old self, eager to read and write. I grew up in a home where stories were read to us every day, an hour at a time. A newspaper was delivered at our front door, early every morning. Even at six, I wanted to write, to make a book. What came first – the pictures or the story? And how do you decide the look the book will have?
Irene: The story came first. My mum had a strong visual sense of Tinka’s world. She knew, for example, that she wanted a simple Cape vernacular house next to a stream surrounded by hills, inspired by her childhood in Stellenbosch. Tinka had to have glasses, a fringe, two plaits, a 1960s dress with a Peter Pan collar and puff sleeves. We had brainstorming sessions via Skype before I would start with the pictures, and some of the contents of the double spreads were created as a result. But the look of the book, including the reduced use of colour and retro touch, the simple lines and use of silhouettes, mixed media, collage and photographed newspaper were deliberate choices I made. All of these visual elements evolved as our work matured over the course of three years. Some words changed, and as they changed, double spreads were redrawn or thrown out. I changed some of Tinka’s facial features very close to the end. I drew the text by hand with a black pencil, as if the letters are part of the illustrations, scanned the letters into my computer, and neatened the individual letters with a mouse. It was a particularly time-consuming process, and I hope the imperfections add to the specific child-friendly but quite artistic look of the book. What is it like working together – a mother-daughter team? Is it mother-knows-best, or more democratic?
Irene: When we work, we sometimes forget that we are mother and daughter and just work as a really good team, like old colleagues. Sometimes it is mother-knows-best, and sometimes it is daughter-knows-best. It is a give-and-take, and we feel lucky that we have this strange and interesting coproduction going. We have had some stressful moments too, doubting whether we were on the right track, and trying to find the right answers to what the book needs. As a 64-page project, it took patience and perseverance to complete. Some of the sentences required children to give it another read to make sense. Is this deliberate – to test their comprehension?
Ingrid: Every word in a children’s picture book is chosen with great care, but I did not choose words with the thought to specifically test a child’s comprehension. Not at all. But you are right, there are a few sentences where the reader could pause for a moment, for example: “I learn that a name is a word, too.” It is a simple sentence, yet there is a challenge for a young mind, like a small jigsaw puzzle made with words, and the child needs to work this out. Depending on what the young reader or listener knows, Tinka’s words could be interpreted or understood in different ways. You could explore your way through Tinka’s adventure. If the illustrations are looked at or ‘read’ slowly and with care, there are clues to provide interesting answers. What do you hope new readers take away from this paper adventure with sixyear-old Tinka and her friend Ink? Ingrid: I hope new readers will fall in love with reading. I hope they will create their own ‘ink’ and fall in love again with stories and books. What is next … another adventure for Tinka and Ink?
DREAM TEAM Writer Ingrid Mennen (left) and her illustrator daughter Irene Berg