Isabel Minhós Martins (author) and Madalena Matoso (illustrator) have created many successful books, most of which are published by their publishing house, Planeta Tangerina. Widely known for their innovative approach, Planeta Tangerina has won many awards including the Bologna BOP Prize for the best children’s publisher in Europe.
In this post, Isabel and Madalena talk about ‘Cá Dentro’ (Inside), a fascinating book for children about the human brain. Made with the support of a team of neuroscientists, philosophers and psychologists, ‘Inside’ is the companion book to ‘Outside’, Planeta Tangerina’s BolognaRagazzi Award winning book about nature.
Visit Planeta Tangerina’s website
Isabel: It was shortly after publishing ‘Lá Fora’ (Outside) – a book about nature in our country – that we started to think about creating its other half. What would a book called ‘Cá Dentro’ (Inside) look like? What could it hold inside itself?
At that time, we had many hypotheses on the table, but the idea that excited us the most was creating a book about the world of thoughts, memories and emotions. A book about ourselves and what’s inside of us.
As the book began to take shape and to mature, Maria Manuel Pedrosa (with whom I’d collaborated on educational projects a few years ago) joined me in the creative and writing processes. We had a lot of fun together doing our research for this book, talking about our own feelings and memories… This process was also a learning curve for us, the authors.
The hardest part was to choose what to include and what to leave out of these pages (the brain might be infinite, but the books are certainly not!). Therefore, we started by writing down a long list of questions that spiked our curiosity (and now brace yourselves, because when we start throwing out questions about the brain, it is really hard to stop): Is it true that everything we feel and think translates into a physical reality, a place, a cell, a chemical substance? How does a simple smell or the sound of a voice wake up an old memory inside of us? How can we identify things (one sound among a thousand others, a shape among a million others)? How does an idea come to our minds? And so on…
After asking all these questions, we grouped them into families. These families turned out to be the chapters of this book. Of course, from the primary structure, we had to change the order of contents and give room to subjects we didn’t even know existed in the first place.
From the beginning of this process, we knew that we would need a hand from experts, so we set up a working group with neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers. They helped us refine the bone-structure of this book and contributed with their own suggestions, in order to avoid inaccuracies. Above all, we wanted to have strong, accurate content (but also a simple, clean, elegant, funny and rich text!).
One of our core guiding principles was also to create a non-Wikipedia book, by creating a place where the content would be different from elsewhere on the internet. Of course, there are interesting places about neuroscience on the internet, some of which are good information sources. But our idea was to put together a book that was inspired by our experiences as human beings: to be born, to be loved and to love, to learn, to be curious, to be amazed with one thing, sad with another, to decide our actions and the course of our lives. That was essentially it…
At this point, we asked for Madalena’s help to bring a touch of everyday life to the pages, with images of people eating, dancing, playing, etc.
The illustrations played an essential role in making sure the book wouldn’t become long and boring. Likewise, having multiple layers of speech allowed us to reach different readers, with different ages and backgrounds.
Madalena: The process of illustrating ‘Inside’ was slightly different from that of the picture books we usually do. While creating a non-fiction scientific book, we knew that we would need to put an extra effort into making it appealing for our young readers. As always, it was very important to have a close collaboration with the writers – Isabel and Maria Manuel – to understand the role of the illustrations and how they would fit and communicate with the text content.
The process of defining the style started with casual experiments: I started to do some collages to experiment with shapes, textures and colours. As these experiments grew bigger and bigger, I started finding patterns that would eventually set the overall visual dynamic of the book. At this point, I was ready to start focussing more clearly on the text, finding the best way to create images that would complement it and have meaning.
A lot of the content talks about things which are invisible – things that happen inside of us, that we can’t necessarily ‘touch’. How do we learn, how does the memory work, what happens in our brain when we create something, how does the brain change when we grow up? At first, all the ideas I had were common metaphors that relate the brain to factories or cities. But the more I immersed myself in the subject, the more possibilities would emerge.
The invisible can become visible through the actions of daily life: reading a book, riding a rollercoaster, having a conversation. These drawings were made only with a pencil line, almost like minimal sketches.
We chose two colours – red and blue – to combine with black, adding an extra layer of rhythm throughout the pages. As we had different styles of drawing: collages, unpolished line drawings and scientific diagrams, only having two main colours helped us have a coherent path.
Somehow, aside from the science facts and educational content, we could include a little bit of visual poetry on the chapter pages. Each of them breaks down the book with a full-spread illustration, with no text, in which a subjective interpretation allows the reader to breathe (and think, and wonder) in-between chapters.
In such a big book, with so much information, it was also important to make sure our readers wouldn’t miss a thing! We didn’t want it to be monotonous, and we surely didn’t want it to look like a school book. To accomplish this, I also collaborated closely with our graphic designer Joana Pardal to create a dynamic layout that would favour the book as a whole, where each page should consider the flow and relationship between all elements.
To wrap up everything, we had to come up with a cover. Some of the rejected experiments included drawing the human body or using a box as a metaphor for what’s inside our minds. The final cover shows two people looking at each other. We can see it as two different people or as someone looking at himself, discovering himself (and discovering the other).
Illustrations © Madalena Matoso / Planeta Tangerina. Post edited by dPICTUS.
Cá Dentro / Inside
Isabel Minhós Martins, Maria Manuel Pedrosa & Madalena Matoso
Planeta Tangerina, Portugal, 2017
In ancient times it was believed that the organ responsible for our thoughts and emotions was the heart. Now we know that all this (and much more) happens inside the brain, in a continuous conversation with the rest of our body. But how does a thought begin? How does the brain work? How does the brain remember what it has learned? How does it create and invent? How does it make each of us unique?
‘Inside’ was made with the support of a team of neuroscientists, philosophers and psychologists.
- Portuguese: Planeta Tangerina
- Spanish: Fulgencio Pimentel
- Italian: Mondadori
- Portuguese (Brazil): SESI
- Russian: Samokat
- Chinese (Simplified)
- French and Polish editions to be published