Picture Books

Faculty Picks: 5 Great Books on Picture Books Selected by Choice Reviewer Sally Sugarman

In a visual culture, children and adults need to learn to read images as they learn to read words, as well as to understand the relationship between these two ways of telling a story. These books about picture books move readers closer to visual literacy, not only with pictures in books, but with all the other images in society that surround people every day and that they may not have examined critically before. Picture books are not just for younger children, but are significant in the education of adolescents and adults as well. The following books demonstrate their authors’ insights through specific examples. They are well illustrated to support the authors’ observations. They also provide a history of how picture books evolve over time to represent changes in society, both in terms of subject matter as well as in terms of the relationship between words and images.

how picturebooks work cover

How Picturebooks Work, by Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott. Routledge, 2006.
The authors discuss the changes in picture books as a result of the changes in society from absolutism to relativism, from the single perspective to the multiple perspective. The use of “picturebooks” as one word indicates the close alliance between the visual and the verbal. The authors show how complex these books have become, since the visual and the verbal are often in conflict.

Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality, edited by Lawrence R. Sipe and Sylvia Pantaleo. Routledge, 2008.
The postmodern picture book transforms children into coauthors as they interpret the various signs and intertextual references in images and text. Postmodernism not only presents different voices, so that, for example, readers get the perspective of the wolf in many of the traditional tales, but also calls attention to the forms of the text and how the book is created. Each author in this essay collection offers new insights into the evolving form of the picture book.

Ways of the Illustrator: Visual Communication in Children’s Literature, by Joseph Schwarcz. American Library Association, 1982.
Schwarz reveals the complexity of the picture book and its place in the continuum of art. Using specific examples, he indicates how language and visual images work in relationship to each other. The author’s examination of typeface shows how lettering contributes to the book’s overall design. He draws attention to what happens between panels and pages, providing fresh insight into how picture books work.

words about pictures cover

Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books, by Perry Nodelman. University of Georgia Press, 1989.
According to Nodelman, picture books supply different types of information. The tension between the text and the image creates a rhythm that engages the reader. Images are spatial and text is temporal, which can be challenging.

Writing With Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books, by Uri Shulevitz. Reprint ed. Watson-Guptill, 1997.
As an author and illustrator, Shulevitz provides technical information, encouragement, and information about selling a book as well as creating it. He discusses the relationship between background and foreground and the necessity for readability. He talks about how a story is told in words and pictures, and how it is built, including the process of turning the page. The picture book is a three-dimensional object, the size of which is a part of its aesthetic and narrative message.

About the author:

Sally Sugarman (sugarman@bennington.edu) is emerita faculty of Bennington College where she taught courses in Children’s Literature and Childhood Studies. She is the author of If Kids Could Vote: Children, Democracy and the Media (Lexington Books, 2006) and How Shakespeare is Presented to Children. A Review of Methods Used to Incorporate the Bard into the Canon of Children’s Literature (Edwin Mellen, 2016). She currently edits a blog, moretheatretalk.wordpress.com, where she interviews people of the theatre about their profession.