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  • Lire et relire Béatrice Poncelet: une entrée en littérature par Sylvie Dardaillon
  • Sophie Heywood
Lire et relire Béatrice Poncelet: une entrée en littérature. Par Sylvie Dardaillon. (Didaskein.) Grenoble: ELLUG, 2013. 400 pp., ill.

Since the soixante-huitard generation of artists, authors, and editors revolutionized the hidebound and heavily censored children’s publishing industry, French picture books have been at the forefront of experimentation and innovation in children’s books. Characteristic of this avant-garde is the work of the Swiss-born artist Béatrice Poncelet, who seeks to ‘parler autrement’ to children, ‘de les confronter vraiment à l’existence’ (‘A bâtons très, très rompus . . .’, La Lettre de l’enfance et de l’adolescence, 61 (2005), 59). Often compared to those of the nouveaux romanciers, Poncelet’s books invite multiple readings. She uses ambiguous narrators, rarely pictured or named, along with the suggested and the unspoken, to allow readers to let their imagination take over. Poncelet represents the everyday, the domestic, and the disturbing (divorce, sexuality, illness, and mortality) in elliptical books that reject conventional, illustrative relationships between text and image to create instead evocative visual and textual landscapes. She compares her working method to musical composition. Still lifes and collages are organized rhythmically with recurring motifs and colours, overlaid with polyphonic texts, usually in the form of interior monologues, or snatches of conversation, in order to evoke emotions and sensations. While critically acclaimed, the ‘difficult’ nature of Poncelet’s works has inevitably led to questions as to whether they are truly suitable for children, and for this reason they have been considered by many in the teaching profession to be inappropriate for the school curriculum. Sylvie Dardaillon’s book seeks to challenge this idée fixe. The first half of the book is dedicated to analysing the literary qualities of Poncelet’s œuvre, drawing upon reception theory to think about the many interpretations and points of entry her books can encourage. In the second half of the study, Dardaillon records the pedagogy she has developed to teach Poncelet’s works in two very different settings: primary school children with average grades for CM2, and teenagers with difficult educational backgrounds in a technical lycée. The book is, in this way, also a polemic about the teaching of literature in the French education system, which she indicts for the ‘sclérose provoquée par l’utilisation répétée de matériels pédagogiques prêts a l’emploi, visant souvent des aspects littéraux ou grammaticaux du texte’ (p. 342). Her section detailing the pedagogic possibilities of the performative in reading texts out loud invites the teaching profession to take risks and embrace experimental literature in creative ways. She concludes forcefully that Poncelet’s œuvre ‘me semble donc paradoxalement permettre aux élèves, y compris les plus disqualifiés, d’entrer dans l’aventure de la lecture et de changer de posture pour adopter celle du lecteur littéraire’ (p. 339). Thought-provoking, and with strong theoretical and pedagogical underpinnings, Dardaillon’s study provides a spirited riposte to the assumption that young readers cannot handle complex books, and develops an approach for teaching using Poncelet’s works that could easily be adapted for university seminars. It will be useful for both literary and education specialists. This is the first book-length work [End Page 266] on Poncelet, and much remains to be said on this important and intriguing author, particularly in relation to the flourishing scholarship on picture books in children’s literature studies. It must be hoped that this book inspires more studies.

Sophie Heywood
University of Reading


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pp. 266-267
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