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Reviewed by:
  • Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality
  • David Lewis (bio)
Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality. Edited by Lawrence R. Sipe and Sylvia Pantaleo. New York and Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2008.

It is now almost twenty years since postmodern features were first identified in a range of children's picture books. During those two decades the notion that books for young, inexperienced readers might, on occasion, play fast and loose with what we normally expect from a picture storybook has fascinated many students and academics working in the field of children's literature. Journal editors have received an ever-increasing number of articles examining the phenomenon, and at the same time more and more of the books themselves have been published, some of them truly virtuoso performances. In fact, we could be forgiven for believing that the world of the picture book is now a "world turned upside down." It is perhaps strange, therefore, that it has taken so long for a serious attempt to be made to gather together in one book a collection of essays on the subject by some of the most respected authors in the field. Postmodern Picturebooks is not so much timely as overdue.

In compiling this book, however, the editors have taken on something of a challenge for the topic, as one might expect, abhors fixity. No one seems to be able to agree on what exactly characterizes postmodernism, so Sipe and Pantaleo take a pragmatic line in their introduction and suggest that individual picture books may best be thought of as sitting somewhere along a continuum according to how many or how few postmodern features they appear to display. Such an approach may not satisfy everyone, but it does help the reader steer a course through the essays that follow. After two chapters that aim to set the scene, an examination of the origins of the picture book by Barbara Kiefer and a view of the subject from the point of view of the illustrator by Martin Salisbury, the central section of the book is given over to a collection of essays that scrutinize the phenomenon from an extraordinarily wide range of viewpoints. The final four chapters are dedicated to examining what we find when we observe children reading the kinds of books that have just been discussed. Most of the pieces at the heart of the book, however, are content to focus primarily on the books themselves and/or the way in which they are situated within wider cultural concerns.

Bette Goldstone, for example, peers into "The Paradox of Space in Postmodern Picturebooks" and discusses the many ways that authors, illustrators, and "authorstrators" ( a neologism from Salisbury) have at their disposal for distorting, upsetting, and redistributing both the illusory and real spaces within the text. Susan Lehr contributes a useful case study of Lauren Child, and John Stephens examines a selection of Australian picture books to see whether the interpenetration of local and global concerns have produced a "glocal" [End Page 91] artifact. His stress upon Australian books is refreshing, for something that the reader of this book will not fail to notice is how the same titles come up for consideration again and again. Most frequently these are English or American, so it is very helpful to have examples from other countries and continents brought to our attention. Maria Nikolajeva, in her examination of "Play and Playfulness in Postmodern Picturebooks" also turns her back on the usual suspects and offers the English speaker a whole new corpus of Scandinavian works to consider.

With such a varied program on offer it is perhaps inevitable that some of the arguments will fail to persuade or will provoke objections. A book of sixteen chapters on such a slippery subject is unlikely to please all the people all of the time. So, for me, Eliza T. Dresang's Radical Change Theory still remains something of a puzzle, and I found Michèle Anstey's "Postmodern Picturebook as Artefact: Developing Tools for an Archaeological Dig" simply unconvincing. More disappointing still, however, are the missed opportunities. Barbara Kiefer ranges far too widely in her introductory chapter and thus fails to bring her subject—"What...


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pp. 91-93
Launched on MUSE
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