The Boat is a book of short stories, authored by Nam Le, which has been extensively used in education to stimulate discussions and elicit challenges about the way Senior students (aged 15 and up) might think about concepts such as war, refugees, resilience, family, intercultural perspectives and more. Extensive teaching guides are available via AustLit & Reading Australia. As a text, it is powerful, and critics admire how Le writes with authenticity across a variety of worldviews and experiences.
To mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, SBS has launched an interactive graphic novel, specifically for online audiences, which brings the title story, ‘The Boat’ to a whole new audience, in a whole new way. The work, in Le’s own words,
” is strange and powerful. More importantly, it opens up new ground.”
Using a combination of illustration and movie-making techniques, the online story draws the reader in, as they scroll down at their own pace, immersed in a soundscape that engages the senses and following text that flows across the screen like the ocean the boat is traversing. Experience it here.
As a librarian, this is what I imagine ebooks truly should be. To use Puentedura‘s terms – this is not just a substitution – backlit text on an electronic page – but something that reimagines and redefines storytelling and the experience of story, taking advantage of flexibility in form and function, and drawing together word, image, animation and sound.
While movie sound designer, Sam Petty, reflects on the challenges he experienced while creating in this new media form:
“I’ve had to break up what I do into very specific moments that relate to a particular drawing, extend the mood for as long as someone lingers and provide atmospheres that blend into one another. It’s been fascinating… and quite a technical challenge.”
it is clear to see that this style of publishing requires a whole new literacy to be taught to students. No longer just dealing with alphabetic fonts on a static page, readers must move with the text in a non-linear way – sometimes fading into dreams which feature a collage of line drawing and historical photo, then returning to the main storyline, simultaneously combining their understanding of the interplay of many different forms of expression.
Will there be more re-imaginings of the ebook, and even more interactive and engaging stories being shared via changing technologies? I hope so. I also hope that educators continue to deepen their definition of literacy, so that students are able to not just consume, but begin to create innovations such as this.
The shape of texts to come by Jon Callow as well as the work of Anstey and Bull are great places for teachers to begin exploring multiliteracies and the development of visual literacy. Another avenue to explore is that of graphic novels – the format which shapes The Boat – as complex, stand-alone plotlines are developed using text and sequential art. You can read more about the potential of graphic novels in the classroom in this recent ResourceLink blog post, Getting Graphic.
So please, take the time to explore ‘The Boat’ – both interactive and traditional versions. Introduce it to your students (even younger students can access the story as retold on the site); and consider how literacy has changed, is changing, and the impact this has on your practice. Share your thoughts below!