- Children, Visual Images, and Narratives
The five books that are the subject of this review have in common a preoccupation with visual images and their cultural purposes and meanings in texts for and about children. What Do You See? and New Directions in Picturebook Research are outcomes of conferences: IBBY’s fourteenth annual conference, held in conjunction with the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature at Roehampton University, and the New Impulses in Picturebook Research conference held in 2007 at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, respectively. Both collections comprise a selection of papers presented at these conferences [End Page 182] and (in the case of New Directions) commissioned by the editors. Sylvia Pantaleo’s Exploring Student Response to Contemporary Picturebooks describes the responses of children from Grades 1 and 5 to a range of contemporary picture books over a period of four years. Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman’s Picturing Canada is the first study of the history of Canadian illustrated books and publishing for children, commencing with the British-published books about Canada from the nineteenth century and ending with books published in 2005. Depicting Canada’s Children focuses not on picture books and illustrated books for children but on pictures of Canadian children from the seventeenth century to the present. The five books thus differ in the circumstances of their production, the scope of the topics they address, and the audiences for which they are intended. Two of them, Picturing Canada and Depicting Canada’s Children, foreground Canadian cultural and historical contexts, while the other three traverse texts from a variety of national literatures.
At the beginning of Picturing Canada, Gail Edwards and Judith Saltman observe that “the picturebook, a relatively recent development within the history of children’s publishing, is the only book format that is the exclusive domain of children’s literature” (3–4). Picture books occupy a crucial place in the lives of many children and young people: they very often introduce young children to printed texts and the pleasures they afford (Nodelman and Reimer), they are widely used within practices of literacy education, and they have demonstrated their adaptability as texts for adolescents and for young adults (Stephens and Watson). Their reception frequently occurs in social contexts that incorporate interpersonal communication of many kinds through dialogue between inexperienced and experienced readers. In many respects, as Elizabeth Parsons has pointed out, they function as “scripts and sites for performance by forming a visual and spatial backdrop, providing textual narratives, scripting dialogues, and incorporating scores for an interplay of speech, gesture and the production of abstract sounds.” These performative renderings of picture books are folded into the interpersonal relations of those involved in them. Picture books afford repertoires of visual images and narratives anchored in cultural assumptions, systems of meaning and ideologies. They thus reflect and advocate concepts and values responsive to the times and cultures in which they are produced, even as their reception often stretches beyond these times and cultures, especially in the case of widely translated works such as Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
The collection What Do You See? comprises twenty-two chapters whose origins...