Montana State University

Text to image: Sexson explores early children's books in new film

October 9, 2008 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service


Ross Barkow of Bozeman portrays a child who is transported into another world through the magic of reading in "My Book and Heart Shall Never Part," a film by Lynda Sexson, MSU humanities professor. Sexson's film premieres at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman. It explores children's chapbooks, primers and toy books from the late-18th to mid-19th century as they relate to the world today. Photo courtesy of Lynda Sexson.   High-Res Available

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It is perhaps fitting that Lynda Sexson, an expert on the written word, has created a visual presentation to demonstrate the impact of early American children's books.

Sexson's film, "My Book and Heart Shall Never Part," derived from a line from the "New England Primer," will premiere at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, at the Emerson Cultural Center in Bozeman. Sexson's 55-minute film explores children's chapbooks, primers and toy books from the late-18th to mid-19th century as they relate to the world today.

It is the first film written by Sexson, an award-winning professor of humanities at Montana State University. Sexson has published three books and is a scholar in the field of text and image in American culture. Sexson said the film is a meditation on literacy.

"Many of these books, although they are now almost forgotten, had a significant impact on this literate culture," Sexson said.

Sexson said she enjoyed her exploration of the new medium, which she calls one of the most wonderful writing experiences of her life.

"The astonishing thing about writing for film is that it is writing by silence," Sexson said. "Most of the words have to go away. And that's interesting, because I was writing about books."

The plot follows two contemporary children who discover tattered, old children's books in a secret drawer. As one of the children reads the old books, she can't decide which side of the page she's on. Is she herself, a character in the book, or even the child who long ago read the book? The film illustrates the magic of reading as it re-enacts scenes from "Little Goody Two Shoes," published by the Newberry Press in 1765, and the classic fairy tale "Little Red Riding Hood."

The stories are just two in the canon of early books for children that Sexson has studied for years. During her research she also collected the early children's texts, which range from stark to ornate, grim to effusive.

"The film asks: What is a child? What is a book? What is nature? And, how do they read one other?" Sexson said. The result is a multi-layered film that Sexson believes will appeal to a wide audience ranging from older elementary school students to graduate students studying text and image.

"We see it as useful on many levels," she said.

Sexson worked with local talent in the development and production of the project.

Sexson's husband, Michael, an English professor at MSU, produced the film. Colin McWilliams ("Psycho Sheep of Butte") is the cinematographer. Other contributors include art by local artist Linda Knox and an original score by Stuart Weber. The project is partially funded by a grant from Humanities Montana. The actors include Sexson's granddaughter, Devita Sexson, as well as Gabriel Martens, Abigail Fletcher, Beckett Burns, Royce Martin, Phillip Kirk, and Ross Barkow.

The film is free and open to the public. However, tickets are necessary for the premiere and may be obtained at the AskUs Desk in the MSU Strand Union Building. For more information, contact Lynda Sexson at 994-5200 or Michael Sexson at 994-5189.

Lynda Sexson (406) 994-5200, uhils@montana.edu