Lines on the drawn line

5th July 1996 at 01:00
Talking Pictures: pictorial texts and young readers, Edited by Victor Watson amp; Morag Styles, Hodder amp; Stoughton Pounds 12.99

Penni Cotton listens in to a debate about the picture-book tradition - its history, its character and its place in our culture. This is a conversation about picture books which draws the reader into an animated debate with its distinguished contributors, focusing on the picture book as an art object and as a central tool in the development of reading. The scholarly yet very readable text truly places these books within the realms of serious literary criticism.

David Lewis's historical background of the ancestry of picture books sets the scene for the other players, all of whom develop their roles with consummate skill. Lewis suggests that picture books "come out of three separate but inter-related traditions: the chap booktoys and gamescaricature and the comic strip". He believes that there are a number of important features which have survived to the present day and give picture books their own specific character, making them "uniquely flexible and capable of adapting to changes in a wider culture".

Many of these observations are revisited in subsequent chapters. Morag Styles suggests that young children are drawn into the artistic world of picture books through the post-modernist mode in which many illustrators are working, often involving a kind of humour which is analogous to children's play. Barbara Jordan develops this theme, discussing the humour of picture books and argues that powerful, emotive stories can be handled through pictorial texts because they are given comic treatment.

Helen Gomez Reira, on the other hand, uses her artistic expertise to demonstrate the importance of visual intertextuality when reading picture books. The illustrator Shirley Hughes somehow manages to draw these threads together in a delightful chapter "Getting Into The Picture" in which she shares secrets about her own personal visually creative world and draws parallels between her creative process and that of a jazz musician.

Turning to how picture books can be used in the development of reading, Victor Watson focuses on the strategies used by two six-year-old girls and draws some fascinating analogies with John Burningham's writing of Grandpa.Helen Bromley demonstrates through practical, yet thought-provoking, examples how teachers might develop a greater textualinter-textual awareness in young monolingual and bilingual readers.

The poet Michael Rosen, putting his teacher hat on, very perceptively analyses his six-year-old son Isaac's ability to classify and access information when reading the Beano - sharing insights into the reading process which a less discerning eye might overlook. Helen Arnold concludes by focusing on picture books in the light of the current reading debate and the national curriculum; making a number of practical suggestions for their use in enhancing the key skills of young, developing readers.

Talking Pictures is a well crafted book which draws attention to many of the reasons why picture books are such enthralling texts, focusing on their complexity and multi-layered nature. Anthony Browne, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, John Burningham and Shirley Hughes are among the many popular illustrators and authors discussed. This book is essential reading for those working in primary classrooms.

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