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Book of the week

Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: picturing text
By David Lewis
RoutledgeFalmer pound;16.99

We are all familiar with picture books, but their form and what it means to read them are not simple matters. Are they books or manifestations of narrative visual art?

Which terminology should we use when discussing them? Should we take note of what children make of them, and how relevant to our attempt at understanding them is the regularity with which they are used to teach children how to read? How have they come to be the way they are?

David Lewis resists easy answers to these and many more questions. He enlists two six-year-olds, takes note of what they tell him, and insists on the importance of keeping an open mind as to what a picture book is.

The first half of his book is largely about the formal features of picture books; in the second half his emphasis shifts towards an examination of the ways in which readers and contexts influence their shape and form.

Described by its author as eclectic and possibly eccentric, Lewis's book is, for the reader, like accompanying a reflective guide on an exploratory tour of a territory that proves to be vaster and much more intriguing than many travellers might have envisaged. It's a real "teaching" text, with the author's voice coming across clearly: musing, explaining, insisting upon and restating matters, and occasionally sounding mildly critical.

After a brief review of a selection of picture books intended to demonstrate the diversity inside individual covers, Lewis makes his own contribution to the debate on how best to describe the crucial interaction of word and image. The vivid metaphor he offers is that the words and pictures are two strands held together in an ecological relationship.

Read the full version of this review innbsp;TES Friday magazine, 28 September 2001

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