Analysing a Picture Book

If you are using a picture book as a related text some of the following resources may be of use.

An Introduction to the Grammar of Visual Design (PDF)

Here you can read about specific concepts to help read (and write about) visual images, including mood, perspective, colour, lighting, and more. Based on the work of Kress and van Leeuwen.

Making Picture Books by Libby Gleeson 741.64 GLE

The author is highly qualified to advise on this subject as an award winning author of many picture books. In this book Gleeson takes us through the process of writing and illustrating a picture book using many examples, and illuminating comments from a range of experienced writers and illustrators.

Picturing Books

Picturing Books

This site is very valuable for developing a vocabulary to use when discussing picture books. Go to the sidebar on the left and down to THE PALETTE for a quick visual guide to many elements of the picture book.  “Picture Book Meme“ brings these all together in a hierarchical word cloud, and there is also a glossary (under resources) which lists them all again with definitions.

Julie Bain’s Webquest Viewing The Viewer: Postmodern Picture Books has a wealth of resources for studying any picture book as well as specifically for the postmodern.

From the sidebar choose Key Terms, Visual literacy Scaffold and PoMo I.D. Scaffold, amongst others. You will find some excellent tools for writing about picture books. Although this webquest is written for a postmodern book, The Viewer by Gary Crew, it introduces technical information which you can relate to any picture book.

If you think you might be working with a postmodern picture book take a look at this video: Playing with the Postmodern: Picture Books for Multiliteracies

Definition of a postmodern picture book:

Author and illustrator consciously employ a range of devices that are designed to interrupt reader expectation and produce multiple meanings and readings of the book. These books also challenge the traditional audience of picture books. Traditionally the picture book has been seen as the province of the young, inexperienced reader. However, the postmodern picture book appeals to a much wider age span, level of sophistication, and range of reading abilities.

(From: Anstey, Michele. “‘It’s Not All Black and White’: Postmodern Picture Books and New Literacies.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 45.6 (2002): 444-58. Literary Reference Center. Web. 26 Mar. 2012.)


The Dream of the Thylacine

The Dream of the Thylacine.

The Dream of the Thylacine

The Dream of the Thylacine is a lament for a lost species, and a celebration of the Australian landscape. It interposes arresting text and images of the last known thylacine in a concrete cage with sweeping colour paintings of the animal in its natural environment. Intense, poetic and beautiful, this book will haunt you. …
The economic 130-word text is an extended metaphor, an ode, a lament, yet also a lyric, reinforced by intriguing and absolutely ‘right’ illustrations. The thylacine here is representative of any hunted, caged, imprisoned creature capable of dreaming – of running wild, of claiming one’s biological and cultural birthright to be free…
Maurice Saxby, Magpies

Visit the publisher’s site to see an extract from this book along with teaching notes, or find it in the library.

Nobody Owns the Moon

by Tohby Riddle

Here is a gift, not from this blog, but from Tohby Riddle, that whimsical Australian cartoonist, illustrator and author. Tohby has presented some illustrated notes on Nobody Owns the Moon.


I recently talked to a student about using this as a related text with Herrick’s The Simple Gift. I’d only read Riddle’s book once before and found it quite captivating when teasing out some of the similarities and differences with the Herrick. The Simple Gift also includes the pleasures of sharing a meal, gifts, and the importance of the spiritual over the material. Join Clive Prendergast, a fox, and Humphrey, a rather desultory donkey as they savour some of the uncommon pleasures of the city.

Shaun Tan on illustration as narrative

North Star artwork copyright Peter Reynolds/ FableVision The Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture, an annual event of the Australian Society of Authors, was delivered by illustrator and author Shaun Tan on 28 March, 2009 at Redfern Town Hall, Sydney.

Tan, whose recent works include The Arrival and Tales From Outer Suburbia, speaks with great insight about illustration as a narrative device. He comments on a range of interesting picture books and graphic novels written by others, and also discusses some of his own work.

You can listen to the lecture online, or read a transcript (PDF). The audio is also available from TheBookShow on ABC Radio National.

Shaun Tan discovered the wonders of picture books as an adult after being asked to illustrate a couple of titles aimed at young adults. He discovered that “picture books seemed especially good at presenting a reader with complex questions in a concise way, largely through the imaginative play that can exist between words and pictures, outside of any simple or direct visual-verbal relationship.” The best may prompt the reader “to think about familiar concepts in an unexpected way, offering up a new and interesting perspective.” (p 3)

Tan says that many illustrators, including himself, are interested in ideas of silence and voicelessness. Illustrated books can invite “a great deal of speculation over repeated readings.” (p 6)

Describing his own approach to story and illustration as “an act of limited suggestion, heavily dependent on a reader willing to creatively find their own meaning”, Tan believes some images, when successfully created, “are able to tap into a kind of subconscious emotional intelligence.” (p.8)

“Photo albums are actually perfect examples of how illustrated narrative works most effectively. Their power is not so much in documenting particulars, but triggering memory and imagination, urging us to fill the empty space around frozen snapshots, to build on fragments and constantly revisit our own storyline, a kind of visual literacy we all understand intuitively.” (p 10)

Follow up the rest of this interesting speech to gain invaluable knowledge which may help you when analysing an illustrated narrative.

Quotes from: 2009 Colin Simpson Memorial Lecture by Shaun Tan, March 2009 

The North Star illustration in this post is copyright Peter Reynolds/Fable Vision


tales from outer suburbia

suburbia2by shaun tan

This anthology by Shaun Tan is a unique collection. The fifteen illustrated stories are packaged in a beautifully designed book. The stories are all very short pieces about strange or unusual events which occur in the outer suburbs, but each is different in visual style.

The Water Buffalo presents a conundrum with a few paragraphs facing an illustrated page.

Eric is more illustration than words, and mostly black and white sketches. The said Eric is a foreign exchange student small enough to sleep in a teacup in the pantry, which indeed he chooses to do. His hosts are very willing to please but don’t really understand their guest. However, they accept him as he comes, and find a pleasant surprise when he leaves.

Broken Toys presents a rather surreal character (even for this book) wandering the streets and apparently finding his way to a home.

In No Other Country

The green painted concrete out the front of the house, which at first seemed like a novel way to save money on lawn mowing, was now just plain depressing.

 And there was more to complain about from this family until a freak accident makes a hole in a wall which opens up

– an impossible room, somewhere between the others.

And what a difference this makes.

Shaun Tan has a beautiful website with more information about this book.


by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks

He belongs nowhere. He loves no one.

Dog rescues Magpie and tends to her wounds after a bushfire. Unable to fly, she is distraught but finally accepts Dog’s friendship. Together they fly with Magpie’s good eyes seeing for Dog who carries her on his back. Then comes Fox. His friendly approach leaves Magpie wary but Dog is welcoming.

This beautiful picture book takes a simple fable and gives it resonance on many levels. Strong colours reflect the Australian bush. The text is drawn in rough strokes of charcoal lettering.

Excellent notes by Janet Anderson available through the publisher, Allen & Unwin.