A photonovel is a structured story with dialog bubbles, like a comic strip. Photographs are usually used instead of cartoons.
Photonovels (fotonovelas) and other types of novelas, such as telenovelas and radionovelas, typically have dramatic plots like soap operas. They are extremely popular in Latin America.
‘Storytelling’ is central to the development and use of photonovels.
When describing lessons learned from their health literacy research, Hohn (1998) observed, “Storytelling was a vitally important part of the process (for fostering empowerment in health education). It brought the information back into the psychological-emotional realm so that meaning and connection could emerge...
Even if health materials are written at appropriate literacy levels, they were insufficient by themselves in promoting active engagement with a health issue likely to result in behavior change.”
“You can’t just tell people something and expect them to change as a result. You have to find ways to start with where people’s hearts are and connect to things that mean something to them.”
Student Action Health Team Member
Reach adults with limited literacy skills. Share prenatal information in a way that is clear, culturally appropriate, and motivating.
Our stories are designed to assist you in teaching in a way that truly reaches those you serve. Responding to the needs and issues identified during field-testing inspired many of the unique features.
These features allow the photonovels to be used in a variety of ways.
"You relax and eat, chat and learn. And then take a break and learn some more. The facilitators' attitude towards us is always special."
"I feel like this program has helped me because I feel more sure of myself to ask questions. Because before they would...ask, 'Do you have any quetions?' and I'd say, 'No, it's fine.' And now if I see that my child has something, I ask, 'Why is this happening?' I ask them [so I can] be very well-informed."
FIELD-TESTED FACILITATOR GUIDES to help you use the photonovels for groups.
“Of all the materials we have, these are the best! The photonovels are at a level the people understand. The information is good, not too overwhelming. The pictures are great. The families read and relate to these the most…the ‘picture book’ format is something that they’re used to and find much more interesting than pamphlets or information sheets. I highly recommend them!”
OB Hispanic Nurse Educator
"The attention to the cultural appropriateness of the material and the nuances of the Spanish language is remarkable. These photonovelas are universal and easily understood by those with lower educational levels."
Former Director, Novela Health Education
University of Washington
"There are many Latinas in my community. I know these materials will help them, especially with all the pictures. But what’s great is that they really help me with my Spanish!"
Midwife, Livemore, California
“I am just learning Spanish... I do home visits with many Spanish-speaking clients. I feel so frustrated since we do not have enough Spanish-speaking staff. I have started memorizing the photonovel dialog and phrases since they contain many of the important messages I have to communicate. I know it’s not the best situation but at least I can communicate some of the essentials to these new mothers who need the information now.”
Lactation Consultant, Raleigh, NC
“These are excellent materials, easy to understand. The women love the stories and pictures of Hispanic women. They also like the Spanish/English layout…I know for sure they read them because they learn key words in English and use them to help explain problems at the clinic when I’m not here. These are definitely the ones that we keep in stock!”
Hispanic Outreach Worker
NC Davie County Health Dept.
“I know very little Spanish and many of our clients speak very little English. We use the side-by-side layout and the numbered dialog boxes to help us ‘read’ and communicate between English and Spanish. They have really helped me out of some difficult situations!”
Public Health Social Worker
"These are the first materials to go at my table when I put them out at community events. They catch people's eye and are engaging. It's not just the women, men and teens pick them up too."
Health Educator /Outreach Worker
Chapel Hill, NC
"When we first started out we learned from our needs assessment with Latinas in the community that they were most interested in learning English, not prenatal education. So we partnered with the local community college to provide English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes after the prenatal groups. We had a lunch break in between which the women loved. It gave them a chance to socialize and spend time with their children."
Mélida Colindres, MPH
Co-founder of the original De Madre a Madre program & TWS Study Team member
There are different ways to develop a photonovel. How you define ‘community’ and the level of involvement of the community can and will vary depending on your timeframe and objectives (which are often driven by funding stipulations).
Involving and getting buy-in of community and system leaders (e.g., healthcare, school system, local and state governments) up front can be critical for effective advocacy and community change efforts.
The process of photonovel development by itself can be a powerful intervention with a group or specific community.
A Particular Story
At one end of the participatory continuum, a photonovel is planned, written, designed, photographed, produced, and printed by community members.
See Rudd and Comings for more info re: learner developed photonovels.
A Universal Story
In our development process, we define ‘community’ in a broader, more inclusive way.
Steps in Development:
We gather extensive information from diverse perspectives and sources.