Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Words and Images

Jana Novotny Hunter talks about the Relationship of Words and Images in Picture Books


Words and pictures have to support each other and weave together like a musical symphony. Picture books have to be tightly written. If you take one word out the whole page will not work. They are a distillation of ideas and should work on many levels.

Books are no longer the pre-requisite of wealthy children. Writers and illustrators have to be aware of who their readers are. Books provide precious moments of one-to-one with another world, letting images into a child’s mind. No two children will get the same experiences from looking at picture books. They bring their own culture and opinions to the story.

Emotions can be overwhelming but the child always has the option of closing the book. The physicality of the book becomes a reality and is a learning situation, e.g. books read from front to back and left to right. A picture book is a magical happening that grows out of a marriage of words and illustrations. It is an amalgamation of so many different minds.

A picture book is a series of layers:


  • Reader
  • Format
  • Layout
  • Content
  • Construct.
During the last fifty years there has been a breaking down of these layers. Jana demonstrated these changes with the following picture books:

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd




Goodnight Moon is a short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for and attempting to postpone bedtime. He says goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot, including the ‘quiet old lady whispering hush.’ Clement Hurd's illustrations are simple and effective, alternating between small ink drawings and wide, brightly coloured views of the little rabbit's room.

The text is broken in the middle of a sentence so the reader is forced to turn the page to find the answer to what happens next. The illustrations work in the same way in that the circular rug on the left and the main protagonist is on the right of the page.

The text gently rhymes. Rhythm is very important. You must be able to read all picture books aloud as that is how they are usually received by children. Rhyming is reportedly tough to sell, so sell to the US.
On the third double spread the pictures are bled right out. The layout changes subtly to create a visual game with a story in the images going on in the background to supplement the text. These little changes are not lost on children. They read more into pictures than adults.
Finding all of the items mentioned throughout the book within the pictures is a good bedtime activity. By the end of the rabbit's goodnight poem, the story has quieted to a whisper, and the drawings have darkened with nightfall.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak


Mickey falls through the dark into the Night Kitchen and is whisked away into a story described by Maurice Sendak as 'a fantasy ten feet deep in reality'. He uses lots of repetition which a small child can join in with.


Alfie Gives a Hand by Shirley Hughes


In this book Alfie goes to his first birthday party without his Mum. The words tell exactly what is going on in the pictures. The book gets into the language of the children’s world. Adults skim over things and see the bigger picture whereas, children see the little picture.

Shirley Hughes sends a message of complete involvement with her characters. There is always a sense of you are looking at a book. The old-fashioned feel is not accidental and is reflected by the cream colour of the pages and the tone of the language. She addresses the reader.


Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are has become a children’s classic. The words say something different from the pictures. The text starts in the middle of the story so the story begins where something happens. A lot has happened before the story begins for Max to be sent to his room.

Max puts on a wolf costume and feels mischievous. He breaks some rules and is sent to bed without supper. From there, his imagination takes over, a jungle grows in his bedroom, and he goes on a magical journey of self-discovery.

Children love bad kids as they can be the well behaved one. Each double-spread illustration grows bigger until it crosses the gutter of the book and the fantasy grows to fill the whole double-page. The illustrations use filmatic methods to engage the reader. It is overwhelming. The page with no text is the loudest page in the book.

The wild things are the bad ugly feelings inside Max. He finds them on a personal island where he has to control his emotions and tame his feelings. The child solves the problem not the adults. It is the children who have the power in books. Children need confidence builders. It forms a data-pool from which a child can learn from.

At the end the child knows his mother still loves him no matter what as his dinner is waiting for him when he gets back. It’s a time sequence journey and in max’s imagination the journey has taken two years and two days but, in reality we know it only a few minutes as his dinner is still hot.


Changes by Anthony Browne

Every child goes through the experience of things are not what they seem to be on the surface. In Changes the text becomes secondary to the illustrations so you do not need as many words. There are clues in the illustrations that what is coming is a new baby to the family. The dialogue at the end of the book breaks down all rears and worries as it is just a normal voice. The book explores the child’s feelings as he awaits the return of his parents with their new baby.

Anthony Browne uses diagonals to draw the reader’s eye to where he wants them to look. The diagonal of the shawl goes to the bottom right corner to encourage the reader to turn the page but it is framed by other diagonals that draw the eye to the baby’s face, which is crying.

The oddness of the pictures is juxtaposed with straight forward text to let the child know it is about reality.


When Daddy's Truck Picks Me Up by Jana Novotny Hunter and Carol Thompson


Jana Novotny Hunter’s book is about a single parent family but, nowhere in the book does she say this. She leaves it open so the reader can interpret the story in the way they want, or need it to be interpreted.

The text is written in rhyme and the illustrations show two worlds through textures and colours. It takes a lot of working out and roughs to develop just the right method and style. The pages have to balance each other and the illustrator has to consider this. Contrasts help to tell the sub-text. Dad’s journey home is shown in comparison to the child’s day on each double-spread.

The dad drives a big red tanker truck, and he's away on the road a lot. But once in a while, he's near enough to pick up his little boy from preschool. All day as the boy plays at school, the little boy pictures Daddy's truck making its way toward him. Meanwhile, Daddy pushes on, down the highway, over mountains and through tunnels. When a traffic jam slows him down, it’s a race against time to get to his destination. But, the boy’s dad is never far away or out of his mind as shown by the presence of the toy red truck on the child’s pages.


Come Away from the Water Shirley by John Burningham


While Shirley's parents sit on the beach with their knitting and newspapers, Shirley embarks on a fantasy adventure, interrupted only when her parents become over-fussy.

The book portrays the two viewpoints by the illustrations. There is Mum and Dad on the beach sitting in deckchairs not moving, each page the same shown in dull colours. In comparison to Shirley’s pages which are more imaginative with intense colours, showing movement and agility. No text is used on Shirley’s pages.

The illustrations give a subliminal message at the end of the book that things are getting back to normal by taking parts of the normal world and placing it into the fantasy.

True Story of Chicken Licken by Jan Ormerod

There are four distinct stories going on in the illustrations of this book. Each story is portrayed in a different way. The contrasting media work as a whole.

Movement goes to the right hand side to get the reader to turn the page and the baby’s journey goes in the other direction. The book breaks all the rules. It is split into thirds to produce a cohesive image on each double page spread.


The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka and Steve Johnson


The Frog Prince Continued tells the story of what happened after the happy ever after and things don’t seem to be that happy. The adult knowing voice in the book appeals to boys in particular. The language and illustrations are amusing. The immediate impact is a jokey thrill. Roles are being challenged. Evocative verbs are used to create images and hints are added to the illustrations to develop character.


Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child

This book in particular shows how in picture books today the layers have been broken down.

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? finds Herb accidentally falling into a 30-page book of fairytales, where he causes mayhem to the storylines by changing the stories and illustrations. Herb's ‘scribbling and snippering’ creates much humour and children will enjoy recognisable traits as they spot the queen with a moustache in biro and learn that Prince Charming has gone missing as he has been cut out by Herb for a birthday card.

The illustration is both alluring and frenetic, with clever collages made up of ink drawings, colourful fabric samples, wood grain and photographs cut and slotted together. Several typefaces are also employed and the size, shape and orientation of the text vary to complement the twists and turns of the story.

2 comments:

Candy Gourlay said...

wow. this was one of the harder events at bologna to report. well done for doing so and thanks. according to publishing news, jana managed to sign a deal (on a napkin!) with a UK publisher on the sunday before the bologna book fair opened!

Anita Marion Loughrey said...

Cool!