Prestonian Jake Hope's new book 'Seeing Sense' shows how visual literacy will empower learner readers

When you look at a book how much do you see or understand?

By Fiona Finch
Wednesday, 16th September 2020, 11:09 am

Jake Hope's new book is a persuasive call for everyone to sit up and take more notice of the information we see in the world around us.

The just published paperback 'Seeing Sense' provides a reminder of the sheer wealth of books now available to stimulate new or reluctant readers . It also shows how illustrations can provide a navigable route to literacy for the beginner reader and help those and accomplished readers develop essential life skills.

The Preston expert's publication is an academic book aimed primarily at librarians and educators and those working in the field of book illustration but its message has wider relevance too.

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Jake Hope champions the power of pictures in his new book 'Seeing Sense'

Especially so in an age when we communicate at speed and we all rely on our visual literacy to adapt to new technologies, understand instructions for equipment, read graphics and navigate our way though life.

Jake, 41,from Spring Bank of Fishergate in Preston, who formerly worked in Lancashire county council's libraries service and has been a judge for many top children's book prizes said :"I think visual literacy is really important because it has an immediacy the written word often doesn't have."

The reading development and children’s book consultant remembers as the youngest of four children growing up in the Fylde that he was glad of pictures to enable him to keep up with the stories his siblings could already read and sums up the appeal: "Illustration can provide a hook and immediacy."

He adds that for those who do not have English as a first language illustrations enables a person to still feel "involved and empowered".

Jake Hope ponders which book to re-read

He continued: "Visual literacy sounds very offputting and people don't always necessarily know what it means. I like to think of it as reading, but with pictures. You're kind of constructing the meaning through pictures. The term was coined in 1969, it's a relatively new term, but actually the process it involves goes back longer than writing - look at cave paintings."

Illustration became a key part of early religious texts and featured in early books made of horn.

Now new technologies have created what Jake, who gained a Masters in Children’s Literature at Reading after an English degree at the University of York, dubs a renaissance in the world of books, creating many more opportunities to hone those visual literacy skills and appreciate the immense power of pictures: "It's possible to do things now that would have been very cost prohibitive recently. Technology has now created a very different visual experience."

He continued: "I think it's partly to do with ways of looking. We recognise now kinesthetic and visual learning are very important ."

Part of the front cover of Jason's new book 'Seeing Sense'

While kinesthetic relates to physical tactile learning, where a student uses their sense of touch and learns through practical experience, in visual learning the user learns through what they see and analyse . For some auditory learning - what they hear, is the key.

When it comes to books Jake says he finds it hard to name just one or two favourites. But Raymond Briggs whose memorably illustrated work, including the ever popular 'The Snowman', has touched so many people has particular significance for him. He said: "I think he has done some phenomenal work and also shown how comic style strips can be used to carry a weight of meaning on very significant emotional and social issues."

The more recent and award winning 'The Lost Words' by Jackie Morris and Robert Macfarlane also earns high praise and features in his book. He said: "Visual literacy allows you to look but also to create. The Junior Oxford Dictionary removed a number of nature words and replaced them with technological words.The whole book was built around each of these words taken out of the dictionary (e.g.conker, heron, kingfisher). It was like rewilding. It's been a phenomenal success."

In 2019 The Lost Words won the Cilip Kate Greenaway medal and has also won The Beautiful Book Award

Jake noted a Crowdfunding campaign was launched to ensure every school in Scotland got a copy.

Jake also praised Quentin Blake's 'Patrick' about a young man whose magical violin brings life out in colour.

Now that information is conveyed in so many ways Jake believes we can all benefit from "meaningful looking" and also an appraisal of the truth of what we see. He emphasised it's important children also understand about being manipulated by disinformation and said: "It's easy to communicate and easy to manipulate."

In the book's foreword author Philip Pullman declares: "No visual literacy, no democracy. It’s a simple as that."

Jake spoke to many leading illustrators and players in the world of children's publishing while researching his book including Quentin Blake, Lauren Child and Shirley Hughes.

The publication includes case studies from China, Singapore and South Korea and, perhaps not surprisingly from Lancashire, where Jake became a Reading Development Manager in the county library service. He was also voted one of ten ‘Top Librarians of the Future’ in a Love Libraries Campaign.

His previous work includes "Voice and Vision' published in 2017 which looks at diversity in children's books. He said: "It's an area where there's a lot of room for improvement."

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant plans for training events linked to the book and appearances at book festivals have had to be cancelled. He said: "I'm hoping to still be able to do some electronic events and have been working with a colleague of mine to develop an events training package."

He hopes the book will remind all age groups to slow down and look afresh at books and their illustrations, noting that to slow down and reflect more is essential for wellbeing and good mental health: "As children get older and move towards adulthood they stop looking so closely and pay more attention to the text."

He added: "The book is aimed primarily at teachers and librarians but also anybody who has an interest in children's book illustration. I suppose my big hope is that it will cast the doors wide for more children and young people to be able to read more widely. Sometimes when we talk about reading it's a bit limiting and we bring our own ideas (about) what we can and can't be reading. If we can widen that out more that's going to be good for everyone."

* 'Seeing Sense. Visual literacy as a tool for libraries, learning and reader development' by Jake Hope is published by Facet Publishing which is owned by CILIP (the Library and Information Association) and costs £39.95. It includes a foreword by author Phil Pullman, a special illustration by Kate Greenaway medal winner Chris Riddell and an afterword by children's illustrator Nick Sharratt. The eight chapters look at what visual literacy is and why it matters, developmental stages, building blocks for visual literacy, the publishing industry, cultural diversity and learning needs, awards and information sharing, how to use visual literacy in library displays and much more. The cover illustration, featuring a young reader and much loved characters from children's stories, is by Olivia Lomenech Gill, illustrator for the illustrated edition of J.K.Rowling's The Illustrated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

*Jake is Chair of the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal Working party and has judged the Klaus Flugge Award, Oscar’s Book Prize, the Little Hakka International Picture Book Award and been a jury member on the Bologna Ragazzi Prize.