Reviews 2015

Picturebooks: Representation and Narration

Picturebooks: Representation and Narration. Ed. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer. Routledge: London and New York, 2014. 239 pages. $140.00 (hardback).

There are numerous kinds of publications on children’s literature and illustrations, for example the well-known Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books (1988) by Perry Nodelman, Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books (1997) by Uri Shulevitz, How Picturebooks Work (2006) by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott, Play Pen: New Children’s Book Illustration (2007) by Martin Salisbury, Writing and Illustrating Children’s Books (2008) by Desdemona McCannon, Sue Thornton and Yadzia Williams, and Picturebooks, Pedagogy and Philosophy (2012) by Joanna Haynes and Karin Murris. All of these books give different perspectives on illustrations and children’s literature and all of them could be assets to a collection of books of anyone involved in the field of children’s literature.

The recently published Picturebooks: Representation and Narration (2014), edited by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, would be an excellent addition to such a collection. Apart from the value arising from the imposing diversity of the content, the variety of approaches and the excellent manner of writing of the contributors, the book can be recommended for use in research and teaching, creative writing, illustrating, publishing, and mediating of children’s books in educational contexts.

In her extensive introduction, Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer contextualizes the intriguing photograph on the book’s cover of post-World War 2 children looking at L’Histoire de Babar (The Story of Babar, Jean de Brunhoff, 1934), with regard to its relevance for current research on picturebooks. Kümmerling-Meibauer also presents an overview of topical issues in the development of research on children’s literature and illustrations, especially picturebooks, and explains the intention behind the book, which is encapsulated in the title – Picturebooks: Representation and Narration. This is followed by a comprehensive discussion of the variety of and the interconnectedness between the chapters in the three main parts of the book.

The five chapters in Part I focus on genres and the crossing of boundaries in artists’ books, wordless picturebooks, and picturebooks for adults. In Chapter 1, Åse Marie Ommundsen writes about different kinds of Norwegian literary crossover picturebooks for adults and analyses three texts to explain how picturebooks for adults (about being an adult, a human being) are examples of a new trend in Scandinavian literature. Ommundsen ascribes this literary trend to the general increasing interest in multimodal media. Carole Scott examines artists’ books, altered books and picturebooks in Chapter 2. The traditional book as such is criticised by some artists, theorists and critics as an antique container in which the words are being held captive. Scott argues that form and deformation are not only supportive of meaning but also become the meaning. The densely woven Chapter 3 is a discussion by Sandra Beckett of formal strategies in the art of visual storytelling, and specifically in wordless picturebooks. The works of several internationally renowned artists are discussed in minute detail. Researchers interested in pop-up books, for instance, may find that this chapter also offers an expansive view on new structural formats and new ways of reading them. In Chapter 4 Emma Bosch examines the distinctions and connections between texts and peritexts in wordless, almost wordless and false wordless picturebooks (which are, it seems, apparently or ostensibly wordless picturebooks). She expresses the hope that publishers, who might fear the possibility that visual narratives will be misunderstood, will not be hesitant in publishing books with no or few words. Evelyn Arizpe’s contribution on wordless picturebooks is concerned with critical and educational perspectives on meaning-making. The chapter deals with the ways by which illustrators or visual artists invite, elicit, guide or demand readers to respond so as to make meaning of wordless picturebooks. Arizpe’s chapter also shows how such meaning-making can be utilised in the teaching of reading.

Part II, which consists of three chapters, looks into the means of character representation, the visual representation of emotions, and the aesthetic and narrative properties of the matchstick man as hybrid picturebook character. In Chapter 6 Nina Christensen discusses character, thought and dream, the concept Bildung, and the aesthetics in Stian Hole’s Garmann trilogy (2006–2010) as a story of change. Maria Nikolajeva continues in Chapter 7 by focusing on characterisation. In her application of Theory of Mind to picturebooks, she shows in intricate detail how emotional tension is created in selected picturebooks. In Chapter 8 Bettina-Kümmerling-Meibauer and Jörg Meibauer examine the aesthetic and narrative properties of the matchstick man as a hybrid picturebook character. The different functions of the literary matchstick man as icon with regard to recognition, reflection and reaction upon by different age groups are discussed.

Part III centres on interpictoriality and visual clues in picturebooks and consists of four chapters. In Chapter 9 Maria José Lobato Suero and Beatriz Hoster Cabo analyse intertextuality in the hypotexts of Anthony Browne and suggest that the task of mediators of visual literacy is to acquire the capability to interpret clues and decode the complexity of hypotexts – in this case trees and hidden faces in Anthony Browne’s work – so that they will be able to convey these visual skills to pre-school children. Janet Evans’s contribution centres on how the potentially disturbing topic of death is turned into a sensitive symbolic picturebook narrative in Wolf Erlbruch’s Ente, Tod und Tulpe / Duck, Death and the Tulip. The penultimate Chapter 11 by Nina Goga concerns picturebooks about intertextual connections between books that are visually depicted on bookshelves in characters’ bedrooms. These collections of books as part of the narrative show how these young characters make meaning of what they read and how they learn to understand life. The intriguing and apt concluding chapter by Agnes-Margrethe Bjorvand deals with the sometimes overlooked importance of prologue and epilogue pictures as paratexts that can affect the narratives; to make her case, Bjorvand focuses on a large number of Astrid Lindgren’s picturebooks.

The majority of the chapters contain illustrations/visual images from certain of the texts discussed. A minor dissatisfaction is that there are no colour illustrations. Although one is well aware of the expense involved, colour illustrations would certainly have added to the appeal of a book on picturebooks.

In conclusion, it is however difficult not to speak in superlative terms of Picturebooks: Representation and Narration as it deserves acclamation of the highest order.

Betsie van der Westhuizen
North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa