Picture books and the reluctant reader

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 Picture books are often utilised with reluctant readers, and students with English as a second or even third language . They regularly appear in the secondary classroom for this reason. They have a role in introducing narrative concepts, visual grammar and the terminology employed in creating competency in visual literacy. The research literature demonstrates that in many classrooms, most noticeably in the US, they are often used as a resource for exploring content areas . Research indicates that the focus in Australia is on intersemiosis, multimodalities, critical literacies and the development of narrative strategies.

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What are picture books?

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Picture books are regarded as texts in which words and pictures co-exist and where imagery becomes vital to the meaning. Picture books are made up of a complex relationships between two sets of signs, iconic and conventional, sharing the function of describing representing and narrating, where iconic signs are representational and conventional signs rely on a shared knowledge of the code . The intersemiotic relationship between text and image is such that in many cases there would not be a book without the images. This is especially so of Shaun Tan’s The Lost thing and The Arrival, David Weisner’s The Three Pigs or the work of Anthony Browne, whose Voices in the Park has become a standard for exploring voice, character and the metafictive.

Picture books in the Secondary Classroom

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Picture books can be a vital part of the curriculum in English, offering a wide spectrum of literary engagements for teachers to harness for student enjoyment and constructive learning experiences. Picture books provide teachers with a range of opportunities to explore visual literacy with students. This point is reinforced by Anstey and Bull who state that “picture books are a great place to commence the study of still images” as they “are familiar, accessible and high quality”. With the explosion of multimedia and digital technologies, developing visually literacy should be a priority to enable students to understand and interpret a range of multimodal texts vital for study and lifelong learning.

Thinking about visual literacy

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Wordle: visual literacy

 Becoming visually literate is now a given in our multimedia world. Collaborating in the learning process should be an essential tool for every school librarian. Picture books can be used across the curriculum, for language development, reading skills, investigating visual language, introducing content areas and developing an understanWordle: languageding of the “third” meaning between the collision and connection of image and text. As a way into the skills needed for multiliteracies, picture books cannot be beaten. Working with student teachers has given me the desire to explore this further, especially the nature of meaning in visual texts, and how the classroom and the library can collaborate in the learning process.

J.C. Burke

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How far is too far to go to get an authentic feel in your book? Is it up to your armpits in the internal organs of a pig? That is what author J.C. Burke did to get a feel for what it was like to be a pig hunter for her latest book, Pig Boy. I listened to her talk on Saturday, and she was awesome! She decided the only way to get the feel for it, was to do it, get on a quad bike with a dirty great pig dog slobering down her neck, and go pig hunting!

It was a great talk, and I have to report I was impressed with her depth of research, not just on the subject of pigs. It is an object lesson to see the amount of research she did on the Bosnian conflict, and how she pulled the text together. Well worth the read.

15 Australian Picture Books Everyone Should Read

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Okay, I’ll bite. My friend, Judith Ridge, has put together a wonderful list of 15 Australian Picture Books Everyone Should Read, in reposte to the SMH entry which left children’s books completely out in the cold. So typical! So what would you consider would answer this opportunity to explore our cultural experience through our picture books, and also our children’s and young adult texts. I would find it so hard to limit to just 15, but I am willing to have a go.

So Judith, I will see your 15 beautiful texts, with which I totally agree, and raise you some! These are not intended to be in chronological order but are aimed at getting your thinking caps on. My favourites may not be yours, and I am happy to have a discussion about it!

Jenny Wagner’s The Bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek, Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Kestrel Books, 1973.

A wonderful discussion of identity and friendship, with Ron Brook’s beautiful illustrations. A companion text for the HSC Area of Study of Belonging (with apologies to those systemic linguistics shuddering at the thought) or a gentle and thoughtful look at the concept of the other, it remains a favourite in my household and one my cousins are all requesting I buy for their small fry starting the reading journey.

 Ana Zamorano’s Let’s eat! Norwood, S. Aust. : Omnibus Books, 1996.

This beautiful book is illustrated by Julie Vivas, and I was incredibly privileged to watch part of that process happen. It is also a picture book that is not entrenched in the Anglo-Celtic family environment. The author’s Spanish heritage informs her view of family and food, and it is wonderful text both for a cosy family read and a classroom launch pad of food and cultural heritage. 

Annaliese Porter’s The outback  Broome, W.A. : Magabala Books, 2005.

With illustrations by Bronwyn Bancroft, this is a wonderful insight into that part of Australia that most of us think we are a part of, but very few of us go to visit, let alone live in. The outback is very much part of the ethos of being Australian, and a big selling point overseas, but most of us only see it on the news or in documentaries.



Liz Lofthouse’s Ziba came on a boat, Camberwell, Vic. : Penguin/Viking, 2007
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen, this picture book is a disturbingly pertinent book for our time, and one which could be used in classrooms across a wide spectrum of years. It is definitely NOT a cosy fireside read, and given recent events, may well precipitate nightmares. For me, it, like Refugees, The Rabbits and Home and Away, should be mandatory reading for all of us as we watch the unfolding tragedy of refugees seeking a safe haven from a comfortable vantage point.

Pleasure or tool?

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Here’s an interesting concept. You’re in a great book shop which has a wonderful children’s literature – think Better Read Than Dead in Newtown, or Gleebooks near St John’s Rd, Glebe. There is an abundance of riches in front of you. Now here’s the question – do you immediately think “Yum, I could eat you, you’re so beautiful” or do you go “Wow, that would be great for that unit on Conservation ….”? So are you looking at the pleasure that book can offer, or have you, like me started to be obsessed by how it can be used as a tool, and forgotten that the author did not write it so it could help your class understand bullying, or noxious weeds, or narrative or point of view …. or any of the other myriad topics that might come to mind? A head’s up … the author and any illustrator who was part of the action, almost always had the fun part in mind, regardless of what we think about what it could be used for in a classroom, and the kids in that classroom might like to share the joy!