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Decoding picture books. February 23, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bloody books, Charlie and Lola, Children's Literature, Dave McKean, EA300, I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Neil Gaiman, OU, reading, The Savage, The Wolves In The Walls, TMA05, Wolves.

Phew! Who knew reading picture books could be such hard work and so taxing on the poor gray matter? I didn’t, that’s for sure.

I am now gearing up to write TMA05. This essay is an analysis of a couple of pages from a picture book. Now, while this may seem simple enough, it has so far been nothing short of a befuddlement.

Problem number one: What picture book to use? The two set books for this block are Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park. OK, so I’ve become slightly addicted to Browne’s books since starting this course, his use of intertextuality is fabulous, but as the book was a set book I felt too much will have been covered by the course materials. Ditto Peter Rabbit – besides, I’m not a fan of Potter. I don’t quite know why, but I don’t like her style. There’s no questioning that she was a clever writer, illustrator and designer of children’s books, they just don’t appeal to me. So a new choice had to be made so I am able explore my understanding of the subject. I have narrowed my choices down to:

  1. The Wolves in the Walls

    The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. I have been desperate to fit some Gaiman into the course somehow, and this seems the logical point. I also love McKean’s illustrations, so this appears to be a double whammy. But I am now struggling with the decisions regarding which pages to use!

  2. The SavageThe Savage by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean. Yep, more McKean. What can I say? I love his illustrations! But this is a good story, dealing with the subject of death and loss. It made me cry! The illustrations show the wildness of the savage, which in turn explain the feelings of the main character, Blue. There  are plenty of areas of analysis – graphically, textually, and semantically. A strong contender. Oh, and if you haven’t read it, then I recommend it.
  3. WolvesWolves by Emily Gravett. I discovered this book after reading a critical essay. I had a look around, found some of the illustrations, loved it! The idea of a rabbit borrowing a book about wolves from the library and the wolves then stalking the rabbit was too good to pass up. It’s on order and I can’t wait to read it, it looks so interesting and funny, and there appears to be a lot there that would be worth analysing.
  4. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. There had to be some Charlie and Lola in the list. They’re Princi’s favourite and best! And c’mon, there is so much in there to get your teeth into! There is one image in this that always sticks in my head. When Charlie is giving the alternative description of mashed potato, the shape of the text fits the image, if you know what I mean? He describes it as ‘cloud fluff from the top of Mount Fuji,’ and the words are shaped into the roof of a Japanese building. Just fab!

Problem number two: Understanding a whole new set of terminology. Again. This time the codes of picture books. I didn’t even know there was a code! More fool, me. I am working my way through an excerpt of an article by William Moebius called ‘Introduction to Picturebook Codes.‘ (Not all of it is included here, but you get the gist.) For me, it’s interesting reading even if I’m having a hard time retaining all the info. But another read through should sort me out. Then it’s applying this new knowledge to the pages I choose to analyse. Looking forward to it! All that’s left to do then is attack the post-modernist angle, which means another crash course. I think I may end up with concussion from all of the crashing I am doing!

So that is my current predicament. I think I am probably more or less settled upon Gaiman/McKean unless it twists my brain too much and becomes too wolfish for me. One thing is for certain, though. I am looking forward to writing this essay. And that’s not something you hear me say very often!



1. hannah meiklejohn - November 24, 2012

I did this course a few years ago and now I’m about to start teaching what I learned for this TMA! Like you, I had no idea picture books could be so interesting until I started researching it. I only took this module because I needed a literature module for my literature and creative writing course. My interest was in creative writing but after taking this module I remained hooked on picturebook illustration.

I chose ‘The Tunnel’ by Anthony Browne for my TMA. 🙂

phoenixaeon - November 24, 2012

Hi Hannah 😀

I did the course on it’s first presentation and loved every minute of it. I only chose to do it because I thought ‘Oh, read Harry Potter and Northern Lights and call it study? Yes, please!’ I didn’t actually have any plans to study literature and had planned to do a straight up English Language degree. As it turns out, I’m now going for a Humanities and Literature degree, and I’m now studying my last course – which happens to be the only English language course in my degree. As for studying in general, it was the creative writing course that attracted me to the OU 😀

Oh, and I ended up going with ‘Wolves in the Wall’ by Gaiman/McKean, though I would happily spend my days analysing picturebooks now. 😀

2. Denise - March 16, 2012

hi i am doing ea300 trying to do tma05 can you help or give any advise please

phoenixaeon - March 16, 2012

It’s been a couple of years now since I did the essay. Hmm. Well, concentrate on the Moebius essay, that gives you all of the terminology. Pay attention to the font and its placement in regards to the imagery. I ended up using Wolves in the Walls, and one of the images had the words pressing down onto the protag. I said that this symbolised the sense of forboding that the character was experiencing about not having her pig-puppet. Make sure you mention allusions to previous books. In WitW there are a number of ‘Three Little Pigs’ allusions, therefore providing intertextuality. Try and link it in with study from the previous blocks, for example mentioning the contrasts between fantasy and reality. If you’re restricted to the set books, this could be the anatomical accuracy Potter uses in Peter Rabbit, or the how Browne has twisted elements of the familiar to make them unfamiliar.

Hope this helps somewhat. I don’t know what the options are for the TMAs this year, so I’m going on what I had to do.

3. Reading with Space | About TC Buddies - September 15, 2010

[…] TC Reading & Math Buddies are encouraged to help students decode books on a variety of levels. Working with picture books, for example, allows discussion of space, line, shape, tone, depth, and color. By including […]

4. renn - July 18, 2010

please help! does anyone know where i can find the Moebius picturebook codes online??? i’m writing an essay about the function of illustration in childrens’ literature…

phoenixaeon - July 18, 2010

There is a link to the google books version on the post, but it’s not the full essay. In fact, I’ve just had a look and the pages available are not the same as the ones that were available when I put the link up. Other than that, if you can’t access the journals online through your university the only thing I can suggest is finding the paper article at the library. Here are the details: Moebius, W. Introduction to Picture Book Codes, Word and Image, Vol 2, No. 2, April-June 1986.

5. dadwhowrites - February 28, 2010

I do really love that particular Gaiman/McKean book – so does dudelet. I don’t know which pages I’d pick, though – there’s a whole series of interesting little shifts as the family prepare to burst out of the walls, for example.

phoenixaeon - February 28, 2010

There are too many to choose from, it’s stressing me out! I think I’ve settled on a double page spread plus a single page. The double page is just after the wolves come out of the walls – when the family are running down the stairs and are then seen at the bottom of the garden. The other is a page later when Lucy is imagining what is happening to pig-puppet. There is plenty to comment on about the mixed media, how McKean combines realism with fiction (the tuba), the allusions to famous artworks and fairy tales, and the typography. The page turns are also interesting, and I’m copping out a bit by choosing pages that use the whole page for the imagery. This way I don’t need to talk about the gutter (or at least, I could make passing reference to the fact that there is no gutter, unlike the page setup for Peter Rabbit.), so maybe I need to choose a page with some frames and guttering on. Hmph. Argh!

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