- Picturebooks: Beyond the Borders of Art, Narrative and Culture ed. by Evelyn Arizpe, Maureen Farrell, and Julie McAdam, and: Reading Visual Narratives: Image Analysis of Children’s Picture Books by Clare Painter, J. R. Martin and Len Unsworth
Picture books—books intended for young children which communicate information or tell stories through a series of many pictures combined with relatively slight texts or no texts at all—are unlike any other form of verbal or visual art. Both the pictures and the texts in these books are different from and communicate differently from pictures and texts in other circumstances.(Nodelman vii)
With this assertion in his 1988 publication of Words About Pictures, Perry Nodelman began the first and in many respects still standard work of literary criticism aimed at the picture book as a distinctive art form. By that time, the study of children’s literature as something other and more than an educational tool of dubious literary and cultural interest and value had enjoyed just over a decade and a half of institutional recognition (measured by the creation of the Children’s Literature Association and the launch of its journal in 1973). However, there was as yet no analytical framework for considering how picture books actually do their communicative work. The available tools for considering images were based on the aesthetics of gallery art, not the complex and varied interactions of words and pictures deployed in the process of storytelling. Nodelman’s work broke new ground in teaching us how to see the various elements of picture book art and design, and opened a dialogue that has grown in critical sophistication and scope in tandem with the form itself.
Since the appearance of Nodelman’s book, the criticism of picture books has both deepened with respect to explorations of what constitutes a picture book—including the very terminology we use to designate the form and its features—and broadened to include insights and critical apparatus adapted from other areas of inquiry, such as cultural geography, cognitive studies, visual literacy, philosophy, and semiotics. This review looks at two books that represent the exciting and dynamic [End Page 305] state of the evolving critical dialogue of picture book research. The first, Picturebooks: Beyond the Borders of Art, Narrative and Culture, is part of a Routledge series of edited collections of essays that include New Directions in Picturebook Research (2012) and Picturebooks: Representation and Narration (2013). The essays and articles in these books originated from conference papers; the ones in the collection under review were presented at a 2009 conference at the University of Glasgow, Beyond Borders: Art, Narrative and Culture in Picturebooks, the second in an ongoing biannual series entitled New Impulses in Picturebook Research. Subsequent conferences have been held in Turbingen in 2011, and Stockholm in 2013, with edited collections forthcoming from those conferences as well.1 The present collection also includes two papers from the early stages of a separate but related international research project, Visual Journeys, which aims to study immigrant and nonimmigrant children’s responses to wordless picture books; the book from that project, Visual Journeys through Wordless Narratives: An international inquiry with immigrant children and The Arrival, will be published in 2014 by Bloomsbury Academic. The three editors, Evelyn Arizpe, Maureen Farrell, and Julie McAdam, all of the University of Glasgow, form part of the Visual Journeys research team, which also includes partners from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, the Australian Catholic University, and the University of Texas at Austin. The articles in this collection first appeared in a special issue of the New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship; that Routledge considered it a profitable venture to reprint them in book form testifies in a material way to the status of and demand for this type of research, as does the conference series itself. Unfortunately, the production quality of the book is variable...