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.
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 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.
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 understanding 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.