Monday, January 23, 2012

Notes on picture books

  • Picture books provide children with visual experience that is different from story books.
    • Story book
    o Puts emphasis on story
    * Words carry the story
    * Plot development
    o Can be fully understood without pictures
    * Pictures’ purpose is to enhance words

    • Picture book
    o Words cannot stand on their own
    o Meaning of story unclear without pictures
    * Pictures supplement text
    * Provide info not contained in the words
    * Also may clarify or take the place of text
    o Picture books are plot oriented
    o Little room for character development

    • Story books express both sight and sound through words. Picture books separate the two.

    • Sight = pictures
    • Sound = words
    o Not a matter of number of words or pictures
    o Essence is different
    o Picture book presents a unique concept
    o Both pictures and words are “read”

    • Picture books are naturally more dramatic than story books
    o No words to interfere
    o See and hear directly
    o Direct, immediate and vivid
    o A lot is happening in the picture

    • Picture books require two kinds of interpretation
    o Verbal/text
    o Pictorial
    • Because meaning is generated in two different ways
    o Not read the same way as a story book
    * Read pictures through the words
    * And the words through the pictures
    • Unceasing interplay and interaction between words and images

    • How words and pictures work together in picture books:
    o Two mutually dependent ways of telling a story

    • Words drive us forward
    o Find out the complete meaning
    • But pictures may pull us back to explore illustrations in more detail

    • Some terms used to describe the functions of illustrations
    o Extend/elaborate/amplify/expand
    * Expands a child’s realm of experience
    * Picturing things child could not have imagined on their own
    * Extend words by showing details that not included/emphasized in the text
    * Pictures can fill in the gap
    * May change our responses to the text
    • Example: create atmosphere – Fairy Tales
    o Romantic to gothic
    o Medieval to modern
    o Realistic to grotesque
    * May amplify words, but at the same time
    • Limit theme – offer only one interpretation
    • E.g. Where the wild things are – much less frightening than what you could imagine on your own
    o Complement/complete
    * Words tell what pictures cannot show
    * Provide a soundtrack
    • E.g. “roared their terrible roars” from Where the wild things are
    * Words can be non specific
    • E.g. Text reads: One Monday morning
    o Pictures show setting (see below)
    o Redundancy
    * Illustration supported by very few words
    * (are they even necessary?)
    o Symmetrical
    * Words and illustrations are identical
    • Picture books and setting
    o Words describe space/setting
    o Illustrations show it
    o Artist/editor decides what to leave in/take out
    o Illustrations act like scenery in a theatre
    * May be realistic, symbolic, elaborate, simple
    o If no words, reader can interpret more freely
    o Historical
     Provide details
    o Fantasy
    * Provide details
    • Setting ...
    o Limited visual settings
    * Book does not date as quickly
    o Setting may determine how we read the story
    * Place the story in context
    o Setting can create/enhance mood
    * Is setting integral or a backdrop?
    * Can contribute to plot development
    • Creates conflict by moving character out of familiar surroundings
    * Are there jokes in the setting
    • E.g. Things to be read on boxes, cars, buildings
    * Diversion distracts us from the action (e.g. In the night kitchen)
    * Takes our attention from words

    • Pictures cannot communicate every idea
    o Sometimes do not convey information more readily than words
    * E.g. – child sitting at a window
    * How long? Just sat down?
    * Purpose
    * Remembering? Planning? Waiting for someone?
    o May need words to fully understand the pictures

    • But pictures can tell us about the way things look
    o Give us information/knowledge of character’s appearance and personality
    o Help children with limited linguistic ability

    • Pictures show things words cannot convey
    o Pictures get our attention
    * Demand an emotional response
    o Both to the style of picture and how subject is depicted

    • Pictures can change the meaning of words by interpreting them in a specific way
    o Vague words?
    * Pictures provide more specific information
    o Children like looking for clues and detail
    * e.g. Richard Scarry – like a visual puzzle

    • Picture books and characters
    o Description can be both visual and verbal
    * Can confirm or contradict each other
    o Can demonstrate how character relates to setting
    o Physical describtion best done by illustration
    some internal characteristics can be difficult to illustrate
    * E.g. brave, clever, innocent
    o Can be suggested through poses, gestures, facial expressions
    * Need support from the words
    o Emotions and attititudes are easier to illustrate
    * E.g. happiness, anger, fear
    * May need little support from the words

    • Pictures cannot show time passing
    o Series of pictures
    * Shows only a sequence of isolated movements
    * Not the connection between those two movements
    o Words describe space and time
    * Pictures can show only space
    o Double page spreads – no words
    * E.g. Where the wild things are
    o Further enhance rhythm created by our movement between pictures and words
    o Concerntrate our attention on a series of carefully perceived movements of stopped time
    o Length of time between pictures?
    o How long does the action in the picture last?
    * E.g. Where the wild things are

    • How is movement depicted in still pictures?
    o Blurs, motion lines, distortion of perspective
    o Action in progress, action not yet complete
    * E.g. character with foot about to step
    o Clarify an action, link two pictures together
    * E.g. millions of cats
    • Growing plump, pond, grass

    • How we read pictures
    o Scan pictures in Western World
    o Read from left to right
    o Top to bottom
    o If we go from left bottom to top right corner
    * Diagonal – creates uneasiniess
    o What happens if picture is reversed?

    • Some final questions about picture books
    o Should pictures be clear, simple and colourful?
    o Should not be abstract?
    o Should not be large/out of scale?
    o Are pictures easier to understand?
    o Pictures contain information that allows children to understand the words
    o Are children that simple-minded?
    o Words are not harder to understand
    o Children understand words before they can actually speak
Niklajeva, Maria and Carole Scott. How Picture Books Work. New York : Garland Publishing, 2001.
Egloff, Shelia et al. Only Connect Readings on Children’s Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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