Picture books as a visual feast


My experience of picture books has a long history. From my earliest childhood memories, I can dredge images of sitting with a book, snuggled down to be read to, and I can add to that a kaliedescope of visual experiences which continue to this day. One of the main reasons that I still experience that joyous feeling when I pick up a new book is the wonderful way a successful one builds a tertiary meaning through the way text and image meet.


12 responses »

  1. Jacquie, I have really enjoyed “Orange pear apple bear” by Emily Gravett. It only has those four words but the humour is in the pictures as the bear takes on the shape and colour of the fruit it eats. It’s a great read for an emergent reader, like “Dog in Cat out ” by Gillian Rubinstein. Simple written text but complex pictures support the development of comprehension and reading for meaning while not being too challenging for young readers who are still learning to decode…. and of course both books are funny and therefore fun to read with great pictures. Can you suggest any others like that?

  2. This challenge really set me thinking, and I realise I have very little beyond “Each Peach Pear Plum” by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, and the wonderful “Diary of a wombat” by Jackie French and Bruce Whatley. Another that I love is “In the night kitchen” by Maurice Sendak, which draws the reader in with the semi-rhyme and nonsense combination Sendak is so famous for.

  3. Just adding another thought – maybe this is the challenge for the year – how many texts which have that enticement for emergent readers can we collect and add to the blog?

  4. Hi Kathy, Clare’s suggestion is “Avocado baby” by John Burningham, which is an oldy but a goody, and she adds “anything by Alison Lester, especially “Magic Beach””. Lets also throw in a red herring brought on by a discussion of childhood memories with one of our masters students – “The bunyip of Berkeley’s Creek” by Jenny Wagner and Ron Brooks.

    One of the issues for me is how nonsense stories will draw some children into the reading cycle with great enthusiasm, while others want the pleasure of experiencing of being able to identify with the story line.

  5. How about Anthony Browne’s ‘Bear Hunt’;Lauren Child’s Lola and Charlie series of books; John Burningham’s ‘Mr Gumpy’s Outing’ and ‘Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car’; ‘Mem Fox and Julie Vivas’ ‘I went walking’, ‘Farmer Duck’ (Martin Waddell) just to name a few….still layered texts with lots of meaning but predictable text….

  6. I started this a while ago, and been meaning to come back and look at some of these in depth. Let’s start with ‘Diary of a Wombat’.

    (Jackie French and Bruce Whatley, Diary of a Wombat, Pymble: Angus and Roberston, 2002)

    Wombats are often portrayed as cute, cuddly and mischievous by illustrators and tourist brochures. They are anything but. They are pushy, aggressive, obstinant, and often covered in fleas. In Diary of a Wombat, French and Whatley have managed to capture all of this, and still ensure that their endearing nature comes through. The illustrations portray a determined young wombat in the process of training her humans, concluding “that humans are easily trained and make quite good pets”.

    Diary of a Wombat would not stand without the illustrations. Whatley has captured the character in a way which matches the words. The final double page spread, with its careful juxtapositions of verticals and horizontals, the prone slumbering wombat and the equally content humans is a wonderful resolution of her statement. “Night: dug new hole to be closer to them”.

  7. In ‘Sleepy Pendoodle’, Julie Vivas’ distinctive illustrative style adds a visual rhythm to the verbal text which plays with a child’s wide-eyed exploration of the responsibility of ownership of a puppy. There is a light and movement to the verbal text which is complemented by the visual interplay, and the way in which words are morphed: “Pendoodle ,,., Pendiddle …. Pendaddle … Penduddle … Splendiddle.” It is a gentle rollicking game to engage the reader into the process of making meaning. The text is all about movement, while Vivas’ illustrations fairly dance off the page. Neither text nor visuals could stand, one without the other, and provide the same degree of meaning and enticement to join in.

    Malachy Doyle and Julie Vivas, Sleepy Pendoodle, London: Walker Books, 2002

  8. A Year on Our Farm is a straightforward recount of the cycle of farm life, told through the eyes of one of the children. It is a simple text, told with both knowledge and understanding of the good things and the bad. The illustrations have attempted to portray the reality of life on the land, with a softly sentimental hue. There is a ring of accuracy in the old house behind the main homestead, where a generation has traded up from the original cottage, the sheep newly crutched with their bare bottoms, and the poddy lamb who will not accept she’s a sheep. The text has a decidedly didactic element to it, which will see it used in countless teaching units about rural life.

    Penny Matthews and Andrew McLean, A Year on Our Farm, Norwood: Omnibus Books, 2002

  9. Jeannie Baker’s collage and textual plea for the preservation of the rainforests of the Daintree presents a powerful ecological argument. The superb illustrations are all the more persuasive for the intricate and demanding collage with which they are created. Baker puts together a persuasive set of verbal and visual pleas for the protection of our vanishing wilderness. To do it, she uses a blend of statistics and a reflective recount of the boy’s fantasised sightings of the many former inhabitants during his walk deep into the forest, as well as his contemplative reflections of the future as he joins his father for a freshly caught fish supper.

    This is a text which has been used countless times in the classroom, not only for its textual richness, but also for its ability to lend itself to lessons across the curriculum, from Visual Arts to Science to the Built Environment elements of HSIE. Indulge yourself but remember it is a path well trodden in the classroom.

    Jeannie Baker, Where the Forest Meets the Sea, London: Walker Books, 1987

  10. In ‘Time to get out of the bath, Shirley’, John Burningham has created a delightful romp through a child’s imagination. He juxtaposes a mother’s night-time ritual of harassing a small child out of clothes, through the bath and into her nightie with a demonstration of the power of the imagination, To do it, Shirley visits a world of knights in shining armour, rubber duckies big enough to play at dunking people in a flower filled moat, and castles with Kings who a quite happy to be knocked of their perch. His quirky illustrations are a successful compliment to the mother’s monologue. The soap nestling in the bottom of the water, the labyrinth of pipes through which Shirley’s fantasy travels, and her exploits as an escapee in a bath towel, sets a wonderful visual dialogue up with the blunt verbal nagging of the mother.

    This is an older text, but still a wonderful one to engage children in the literacy experience, either in the classroom or at home.

  11. The collaboration of Gary Crew and Steven Woolman on The Watertower is a testament to the amazing visualisation which can be created in illustrating a simple text. The text lives through the visual, cinematic quality of illustrations. There is a wonderful intertextual homage to the b-grade hollywood horror movie in the manner in which Woolman creates the narrative. The textual narrative plays this off against the visual message in a manner that draws the reader/viewer in.

    Steven Woolman’s graphic design skills takes a text which is somewhat problematic and makes it work as a text that can be read on many layers. The Watertower is nominally about a simple swim in the town water supply. However, the text alludes to and the visual imagery implies that there is something lurking in the watertower which will change Bubba and has already had a major effect on others in the town. The constant repeating of the eye-like symbol on the side of the tower, referenced in the eyes of the people in the street, and the shadows that fall like claws over Bubba’s eye, and the excited expectation on the faces, add to the filmic, surrealist feel of the book.

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