Picturebook Adult And The Child Readers Interest English Literature Essay

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Barbara Bader defined the picturebook as "text, illustrations, total design; an item of manufacture and a commercial product; a social, cultural, historical document; and, foremost, an experience for a child. As an art form it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page." (Bader) Picturebooks are undoubtedly designed to be "an experience for a child" (Bader), however, many picturebooks are also designed to appeal to adults as well. Intertextuality, word play, transgression, irony, role reversals and destabilisation are all used in postmodern picturebooks to push the boundaries of the traditional picturebook. It is likely that the appeal of postmodern picturebooks to adults arises from the use of such strategies in some novels and stories written for adults.

Postmodern picturebooks have departed significantly from traditional picturebooks, both in their narrative content and visual style. Visually, the pages of a postmodern picturebook will have multiple focal points and the array of images and text (often in multiple fonts) has no clear direction. This can be clearly seen in Black and White (Macaulay) where the reader is presented with four frames on one page and has to decide themselves which order to read them in, unlike a more traditional book like The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Potter) where the reader is shown one easily-understood image which corresponds to the accompanying text, and is led fluently from one pair of text-illustration to the next. Narratively, postmodern picturebooks are often non-linear, with a number of apparently unconnected plots; for example in Voices in the Park (Browne) there are four distinct 'voices', each describing their own version of the same walk in the park, and the whole story does not come together until the reader has read all four voices.

In Postmodern Experiments, Goldstone reflects on the "reconceptualization of space" (Goldstone) in postmodern picture books. Most traditional picture books use flat, two-dimensional illustrations that typically occupy the mid-ground, with text neatly placed, usually at the bottom of the page, quite often very separate to the illustrations (Goldstone). Conversely, The Three Pigs (Wiesner), which starts in the same manner as the original story, with an omniscient narrator, shows one of the pigs stepping off of the page and speaking for himself. Wiesner uses similar techniques in a number of his books, manipulating spatial planes and the reader-narrator perspective. The characters in The Three Pigs are aware of their story and the illustrations and able to talk about them in a similar way to the reader; they are both inside and outside of the story.

"The notion of intertextuality refers to all kinds of links between two or more texts: irony, parody, literacy and extraliterary allusions, direct quotations or indirect references to previous texts, fracturing of well-known patterns, and so on." (Nikolajeva and Scott) Intertextuality is prevalent in The Three Pigs, with the book beginning in the same way as the traditional fairy tale of The Three Little Pigs; there are three pigs who each build a house, the first out of straw, the second out of sticks and the last out of bricks. There is also a wolf, which, upon approaching the straw house begins his traditional appeal, "Little pig, little pig, let me come in". It is after the pig's response that the narrative turns dramatically - the wolf's huffing and puffing at the straw house blows the pig out of story, much to his surprise; "Hey! He blew me right out of the story!" (Wiesner). The other pigs soon follow and explore their new world by "pushing, shoving and folding the pages of their story". (Goldstone) However, while the pigs have left the scene, the original text of The Three Little Pigs continues, with a very confused wolf! As the pigs realize that they can step in and out of other stories, Wiesner parodies other literature, introducing the frames of other stories (a reference to another of Wiesner's own books Free Fall), fairy tales (the dragon) and nursery rhymes (the cat from Hey Diddle Diddle), revealing that stories are rather artificial in nature and suggesting that even the real world may simply be another narrative. It is this idea that enables the pigs to "go beyond their intended destiny" (Goldstone) and create a new ending for themselves free from victimization. This notion of creating your own destiny is one that, in my opinion, would appeal to adults and children alike, since I think that children thrive on the possibility that they can do anything, and, as I adult I know I still believe that whilst everything happens for a reason, I am still my own person and have the power to create my own future.

Intertextuality is also prevalent in Voices in the Park. There are a number of art references, including the Mona Lisa, Hals' Laughing Cavalier, Munch's Scream (on the front of Smudge's father's newspaper, Charles' reflection on the slide, and the trees when Charles appears to be missing), and perhaps the most obvious, Browne's repeated references to Magritte with his hat motif. Other intertextual references include the appearance of Mary Poppins (Browne 10) and King Kong (Browne 13). Whilst readers, adult or child, would not necessarily understand or even notice all such references in a picturebook, they would be likely to notice some. As Beckett points out, "readers who are unable to decode the parody at more sophisticated levels, or to identify the target painting or sculpture, will at least recognize the intent to parody and can still appreciate the humorous and playful treatment of preexisting artworks" (Beckett). Beckett goes on to explore the reasons for these parodies, saying, "Whatever their reasons for parodying artworks, illustrators offer enlightened adult mediators a wonderful opportunity to introduce children to the original works to which they refer." (Beckett) I agree with Beckett on this matter and believe that is one of the fundamental reasons why the postmodern picturebook is able to capture both the adult and the child reader's interest.

Voices in the Park features four chapters, each telling a different character's story of their walk in the park, with each chapter told in the first person. The chapters are separated by titles identifying which voice is speaking (first, second, third and fourth), and whilst we, the reader, learn the names of the children, we do not learn the names of either child's parent. Pantaleo argued that the narrative is non-linear and non-sequential, and, in respect of the story as a whole, this is true - the overall story is complete having read all the strands. However, the individual voices tell their story in a linear narrative. There is a certain ambiguity involved in the first three chapters since it is not until we have read all four that the narrative as a whole makes sense; children could be encouraged to fill in any gaps in the storyline until a fuller understanding of the storyline is reached. The non-sequential narrative might also encourage children to immediately re-read the book on completion so as to grasp some of the earlier allusions.

Visual intratextual references appear throughout the four chapters and suggest upcoming events in the story. The first of these references occurs on the second page of the First Voice; the mouth of the "scruffy mongrel" (Browne 2) on the right-hand side of the illustration, and the tips of Charles' shoes on the left. Later in the same chapter, the edge of Smudge can be seen in the illustration of Charles and his mother sitting on the bench (Browne 3), and on the following page we see a man in old clothing (later identified as Smudge's father) sitting on the bench reading his newspaper. These references all allude to the stories of other characters whom the reader has not yet met. However, it is not until a reader has reader all four chapters that they would realise the significance of these allusions.

While The Three Pigs features characters that are able to come out of the story, Black and White features a human hand reaching in a removing one of the story components, physically manipulating the story at the end. In this way, as Goldstone explains, the reader is invited into the story to understand and manipulate it; "Feel free to play with the story, add to it and alter it!" (Goldstone) The framing in The Three Pigs is the principle technique with which Wiesner demonstrates the pigs' ability to leave their own story to roam in others. Wiesner's pigs are able to change the order of the frames, knock them over, knock the words over, and even shape one of the pages into a paper aeroplane. The pigs even become aware of the audience, and looking 'directly' at us says, "I think… someone's out there". (Wiesner) This idea of being included in the story, of the characters being aware of us as a reader/viewer, I believe makes the story much more enjoyable. Moreover, it's an unexpected change in a well-known story that gives Wiesner's version an added interest.

Wiesner differentiates between the pigs of the fairy tale and his own 'escaped' pigs in the way in which they are drawn. This is most clearly seen when the second pig escapes; the rear of the pig still in the original fairy tale is a cartoon pig, while the front-part of the pig, the part that has escaped from the story, is drawn much more realistically. This distinction is further demonstrated in Wiesner's use of both lettering and speech bubbles. The first pig's exclamation at being blown out of the story is in a speech bubble, as are all other instances of speech outside the traditional storylines, and these are separate from the lettering of the original storylines, which continue uninterrupted despite the characters' departure from the pages. These differences combine to establish the differences between the 'framed world' of the original fairy tale pages, the 'unframed world' into which the pigs escape, and even our own 'outside world'. Both the child reader and the adult reader might see this possibility of escape as a new and exciting way to engage with the text.

In a similar way, Browne makes use of different fonts in Voices in the Park to signify different narrators. Each of the four voices has their own font that reflects that voice's personality. 'First Voice', Charles' mother, an upper-class lady who speaks formally, uses a large font similar to Times New Roman that is rather traditional and quite delicate in comparison to that used for 'Second Voice'. Smudge's dad uses a much heavier font, also in a large size, that appears more casual yet maintains strength in its boldness. Both of the fonts used to depict the children's voices are similar to those used by their respective parents, but on a smaller scale. Charles' text is formal and appears to convey his loneliness, while Smudge's text is a relaxed, childlike font that conveys a feeling of cheerfulness. The obvious differences between the fonts used for the four voices distinguish between the characters of those four voices, and the reader/viewer can surmise certain personality traits from these fonts. The fonts also enhance the theme of social relations that develops throughout the story, with suggestions in the First Voice becoming clearer in the Second Voice. In my opinion, this would appeal to a child reader/viewer and help them to engage more with the text however, I don't believe that it would necessarily have such an effect on an adult reader.

Postmodern picturebooks have had, and continue to have a significant impact on the process of reading; children are encouraged to reflect on what they are reading, how the text and images interact with each other, they are given opportunities to notice intertextual references, and inspired to involve themselves in the stories they are reading. In my opinion, postmodern picturebooks appeal to the current generation of 'cyber kids' because readers are encouraged to interact with the story in a similar way to computer gaming, while the opportunities for intertextuality and parody in postmodern picturebooks provide another level for adults to enjoy. In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "Good children's literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child". (WorldofQuotes.com)

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