Pa­per

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

CityPress - - Voices -

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

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