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Issues in Childrens Literature Education Comparative Essay bu Abi Woldhuis

Onions Without The Tears: layers and implications of postmodern picture books
We live in a time of rapid change which permeates all aspects of life. Whilst this change can be exciting bringing progression and new experiences, it can also be one where we need to ensure that we train our children to cope with the implications of that change. In the world of literacy, change, too, is apparent. Bull writes that the concept of literacy is fluid as it affected by social and cultural factors. (2002 , Crossing the Boundaries, p. 50) The post modern picture book is the ideal way in which to teach children the necessary skills they require to deal with the dynamic nature of literacy, the evolution of the picture book has produced narratives where the interplay of the illustrative and written texts has moved beyond a supportive role to one where new texts are created through the continuous interplay of the visual and graphic images (Bull, 2002, p.50). The visual aspects of picture books need to be treated in the same manner as you would the text as the two work together to create layered meanings, of which is up to the reader and their own narrative literacy to determine the meaning they extract.

The debate over use of the postmodern picture book in the junior classroom is topical. Much discussion ensues about childrens readiness and ability to cope with the different devices and characteristics associated with post modern picture books. Many complex devices are used to achieve layered meaning within postmodern picture books. Anstey writes that the postmodern picture book challenges the reader on a number of levels Author and Illustrator have consciously employed a range of devices which are designed to interrupt reader expectation and produce multiple meanings and readings of the book. (Anstey, 2002, p. 93) The point is also made that that this style of picture book now appeals to a wider range of people on a variety of levels, sophistication and abilities.making the job of teaching it more complex and requiring the teacher be fully rehearsed in the associated metafictive devices before engaging students in the study of new literacies of this nature.

Pantaleo characterises metafictive devices used in postmodern picture books as that which distance readers from texts and draw their attention to the artifice of fiction, and position them in a more interactive and interpretive role as readers. Metafictive texts in their portrayal of alternative discourse, linguistic and visual structures and devices provide certain types of reading lessons (Meek, 1988) for readers about the construction of narratives by authors and illustrators, and about the construction of narratives by authors and illustrators. (Pantaleo, 2005, p.212). Authors and illustrators who create post modern picture books and utilize metafictive devices engage the students at a higher level and remove the reader out of the linear methods by which they treat narratives.

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Students are encouraged to examine texts in the context of critical literacy skills in order to create meaning from the complex devices used in postmodern picture books. Freebody and Luke (1990) propose that for students to cope with the new literacies they face, including postmodern picture books, the are required to be proficient in processes involve the Four Resource Model of reading coding practice (code breaking), semantic practice (meaning maker), pragmatic practice (text-user) and critical practice (text-analysis). Postmodern picture books provide an avenue through which these skills can be taught and developed but others such as Slattery (2005), question the readiness of students to engage in these complex dealings with literature/narratives.

Slattery (2005) questions the complexity of skills required for students to analyse the cultural and social influences surrounding post modern texts. In addition he proposes that the critical analysis skills that are required to manipulate the post modern texts being studied are way beyond what students of school age possess. Slattery argues that many students are entering university level study with inferior reading, spelling and comprehension skills. Under this guise he states that it is lunacy to engulf them in the complex working associated with post modern picture books. There is a lot to be said about releasing the imagination to enjoy stories and narratives on face value without having to test everything with a suspicion and skepticism

There are many forms of metaficitve and post modern devices available to authors and illustrators. Choices need to be made about which techniques are employed within a picture book to amplify the fictional status and self conscious nature of the text and to distance readers from text, often frustrating traditional reading expectations and practices and positioning readers in more active interpretive roles (Pantaleo, 2005, p. 214). There are many types of metafictive devices available but they generally include multistranded narratives, multiple narrators, non-linear and non-sequential plots, narrators who address the reader or comment on their own narrations, narrative and illustrative framing devices, intertextualities, and parodic appropriations (Pantaleo, 2005, p. 214).

In addition, narratives can be presented in many different ways by using contradictions, multiple meanings or through a pastiche of illustrative styles (Bull, 2002). The myriad of techniques available to authors and illustrators are as limitless as ones imagination. Each technique challenges the reader in an individual way it is helpful to look at some examples of post modern picture books in order to address the some of the various techniques and the effect they have on the reader and pedagogy.

The two picture books to be discussed here are The Shape Game by Anthony Browne (2003) and The Great Escape from City Zoo by Tohby Riddle (1997). These books are very different from each other yet share the genre of post modern picture book. Both books have multiple narratives running through them, some through the text and others being told through the illustrations. Multiple readings of both books is beneficial to discover the layered stories and meanings in each. Whilst both books can be read at a surface level, the depth lays in the searching for non apparent meanings.

Most obviously, the absence of colour in the Great Escape (Riddle 1997) focuses the readers attention to specific details. The use of colour, heaviness of line, shading and detail create mood. Riddle cleverly uses these Abigail Woldhuis Page 2

features in clouds pictured on nearly every page. The absence of clouds on any one page is used to either reflect freedom with in the story line or to refocus the readers attention to a particular detail. There is an absence of clouds on a page where all the animals are in a restaurant and feeling like they were about to be caught at any moment. The focus is on the lonely, solemn feeling of the animals, the simplicity of the illustration forces you to look at the expression of the animals and share in the heaviness of their hearts. The clouds along the journey reflect the feelings of the animals in the book. At the start of the book where the animals are plotting their escape, the clouds have height, are white and carefree. This is quickly contrasted with the clouds becoming tinged with grey, are tall and ominous, giving the reader the feeling of impending danger and fear. When the animals finally make it to the hill country and build themselves a hide out, their freedom and excitement is expressed in the clouds which are dotted around the sky in round, fluffy shapes (with very little gray shading) which are reminiscent of balloons at a celebration. The use of black and white symbolizes trust despite the actual story line.

The Shape Game (Browne 2003) on the other hand, introduces colour progressively to express the story of a disconnected family coming together through a common experience. The first illustration in the book, in bright colours, depicts the author introducing himself to us recounting one of his childhood memories of visiting the art gallery for his mothers birthday. The initial illustrations from this point are very drab, transporting the reader back to that day. The family are painted in sepia like tones reflecting their negative mood. As with The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997), Browne uses tone to create a heavy atmosphere with little happiness in it. Browne gradually adds colour to each of the family members as they progress through their outing to show their mood changing and becoming more positive and interested in the art they are viewing. The Mother is the first to warm in colour as she enjoys the outing. Browne himself, then starts to lose his apprehension about the outing as he understands the art work better. As each family member finds an art work they can relate to, they are suddenly transformed into colour. The reader is affected considerably through the introduction of colour. The story ends with the family walking through the city again but this time the colours are bright and the mood is cheerful. Both authors/illustrators have achieved changes in mood through very different devices.

These highly visually contrasts make the studying of these two picture books a sound starting place for challenging childrens code breaking skills. Using a process of teacher/student conferencing and careful questioning allows students to discover the devices and strategies employed by the authors. Testing these new discoveries against the narrative allows the children to engage in critical analysis and semantic practices. Starting at a simplistic base allows the students to build their literary narrative skills to cope with more complex analysis later.

Whilst The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) uses anthropomorphism very obviously with the animals walking upright, working in jobs as humans do, wearing clothes, living in houses in order to assimilate and not be noticed. Riddle creates an obvious uneasiness within the animals living in this state. They are depicted without shoes and whilst the narrative describes them as trying to be inconspicuous, they are obviously conspicuous by being placed in the foreground of most pictures, drawn in light shades (to contrast them with the background) and drawn taller than most other characters. The use of smooth curved lines creates juxtaposition to the very linear surroundings of buildings, streets, mountains. Browne employs a contrasting technique of anthropomorphism by introducing an almost ape like quality to his human characters. Perhaps this is to create continuity through all his books so that young readers feel they already have a relationship with

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the characters from prior reading experiences of Brownes books encouraging readers to make use of pragmatic practices.

As with The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997), Browne keeps the characters very much in the readers main view by keeping them in the foreground of most pictures. Where Riddle uses contrast of line to focus on his characters, Browne uses contrast of colour of characters to the brightness of the real pictures in the art gallery. Both authors also make use of view to create links back to the narrative. In The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) the reader generally watches from the same view point as if they were watching a movie. Occasionally an aerial view is used to create perspectives associated with being chased or close ups are used to focus attention on significant detail, for example, layered meaning and intertextuality of the flamingo being sighted as the Lochness monster or the classic 60s front yard statue. The Shape Game (Browne 2003) uses just two perspectives either that the reader is standing behind the character, seeing what they are seeing at the gallery (aided by the use of borders around the illustration to define which perpective we are using) or the changing of the view to the characters being immersed in the very paintings they are studying (with the pictures spilling over the edges of the page to define the imagination of the family having no limits). Students can compare these semantic and critical practices to come to conclusions about the affect they have on the text.

Intertextuality and a pastiche of illustrative styles is used in both picture books but to varying degrees. The Shape Game (Browne 2003) makes prolific use of intertextuality with its illustrations. As the family in the story visit an art gallery, Browne labels the actual art works being viewed to assist the reader in recognising the use of intertextuality. There are 8 well known art works examined in this book, all of which use the device of disrupting traditional time and space to make comparisons to the familys life. A positive side effect is through heightening the readers awareness of hidden meaning, the reader can find countless examples of hidden pictures in the tiny details in the different illustrations. Bolder still, Browne dedicates a page to an artistic analysis of the picture by Augustus Egg Past and Present No.1 By being so candid in his use of this technique, The Shape Game (Browne 2003) becomes an excellent scaffolding tool for introducing students to the devices in postmodern picture books (code breaking, semantic and pragmatic practices). It is as if Browne is teaching us how to analyse his book and the famous art works in it. It also assists teachers who may not be well versed in artistic analysis themselves or may not have a rich background in recognizing famous art works to give an exemplar of how to critically analyse the illustrative text.

More subtly, Riddle makes use of intertextuality through illustrations. By incorporating into his illustrations representations of stylized New York streets and diners, a movie screening of King Kong, art gallery with works of art by American artists and steel workers of the 1930s, Riddle creates an avenue also by which layered meaning can be derived. Whilst Browne is very directive in his use of intertextuality, Riddles use is more understated, but none less significant. Each book can be used effectively to teach meaning through critically analyzing the visual text and comparing it to the narrative depending on the exposure previously experienced by the readers at hand.

Both books make use of multiple readings, depending on the appropriateness of the audience. The Shape Game (Browne 2003) tells several stories one of a boys recollections of his childhood, one of a family restoring their relationships through an outing together and yet another of the history in various art works. Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) has stories of animals escaping from a zoo and their associated journey, another of Abigail Woldhuis Page 4

daring to be different and make it on your own and still another which looks at history through some of Americas icons. Both books take on historical, social and inter-relational subjects. How far the teacher wants to use these layered meanings is dependent on the narrative literacy skills of the class and the level of exposure to post modern picture books. Creating mind maps of how the ideas, illustrations and text interconnect can assist students with developing concepts about post modern texts.

The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) uses a fairly traditional layout style which makes it a great book to use to introduce students to the notions of contesting discourse (semantic and critical practices). The reader is not distracted from complex layout issues but can rather engage in semantic making and understanding critical processes (Freebody and Luke, 1990) through contesting discourses. A clear example of this is where the animals are in disguise watching a movie (looking very conspicuous due to their height and outline) and the text simply says -so they could blend in. For a younger reader this would need to be deconstructed and explicitly taught. In stark contrast, Browne uses unusual layouts and unconventional forms of illustration (spot the difference page, diagram of how to analyse an art work, transforming characters into paintings) to challenge the reader in new ways and offer new information after multiple readings and assessment. The Shape Game (Browne 2003) challenges the reader to look at the coding practices used in the book. In a classroom, once the coding practices in this book are understood, the further applications are many. So much of The Shape Game (Browne 2003) leaves itself open to further analysis on social, historical and cultural levels, thus allowing a teacher to develop pragmatic, semantic and critical practices in the students.

Readers of The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) will need to make sense of the indeterminacies in this text. The reader is left wondering what did happen to the flamingo in the end? How did turtle manage to fall over, and flamingo be outside without getting caught? Questions are left unanswered and whilst some clues are given within the illustrations, it is up to the reader to find closure or be at peace with the result. In contrast, the indeterminacies in The Shape Game (Browne 2003) exist but are fewer and more subtle, yet more ridiculous. Readers of Brownes book may be encouraged in the classroom to look critically at the page where Dad is transported into the picture of The Boyhood of Raleigh. The joke about sausages and the illustration inundated with sausages enhances this. The links between the text and the illustration are there but need to be developed within a learner through deconstructing the text and illustrations.

A marked difference between the two books is in the way narrative is used. The Great Escape from City Zoo (Riddle 1997) is written solely in the third person. This allows the reader to hear the story from the perspective of the narrator. The narrator can then give extra information about the characters that they cannot see themselves. The Shape Game (Browne 2003) on the other hand is written in the first person form and as a recount. This allows the reader to adopt the authors perspective and view the rest of the family from his point of view. Whilst both stories are equally engaging, the effect of the two types of narrative allow the reader to participate in the journey in one book and observe in other.

If students are to engage students in multiliteracies and postmodern texts, they need to equipped with the necessary analytical skills to do so. Readers need to be able to analyse what they read - both in the visual and narrative text. They need to consider how she/he is being constructed in relation to the text, and think about the implications of the origins of the text, and the reason it has been written. The reader must be able to identify gaps and silences in the text as well as analyse what is present (Anstey, 2002, p. 91). Incorporating all facets of the Four Resource model in this process is essential. Abigail Woldhuis Page 5

Interactions with children in light of multiliteracies have shown that children are capable of handling the complex issues associated with postmodern texts (Nodelman, 2002) and to assume they are incapable is limiting them from reaching their potential. The pedagogy surrounding how these texts are to be dealt with however, needs to be carefully structured. A noteworthy approach may be to introduce children to stories using common story patterns in a sequence that moved from the most conventional to the most divergent from conventions, in the context of a discussion about patterns and divergences (Nodelman, 2002, p.14 ). Arizpe and Styles (2002) found evidence that listening to and seeking opinions of other readers can assist their understanding when used in well guided group discussions and teacher-led circles. Childrens critical skills are developed positively in a structured and scaffolded manner. These techniques are supported by the results in their recent study which demonstrated the crucial role of the teacher as someone who asks significant questions and lead the readers to notice certain details, to ask their own questions and to answer them individually or collaboratively. There is a need to introduce language for them to talk about both the visual and narrative elements. (Arizpe and Styles, 2002, p. 46)

It is important that when studying new literacies using the Four Reading Model that we do not instill in our children a tradition of treating books with suspicion and overly critical eyes. Whilst change is constant, teachers need to remain open minded and create a balance of experiences to equip students with the skills to cope with those changes. To teach students to analyse every piece of literature they come across by testing for metafictive devices and associated strategies would not be to educate at all, but rather, to indoctrinate and stifle creativity and imagination. Multiliteracies and postmodern picture books should be enjoyed for the experiences, emotions, journey, challenges and experiences that they bring through just reading them as well as looking for the jewels that lay beneath the surface.

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Appendix: picture book summary


Browne, A. (2003). The Shape Game. Sydney: Random House. A humorous story of a family who visit the Art Gallery for their Mums birthday outing. The Father and two sons are very reluctant about the experience and initially poke fun at the experience. The family starts to warm up as they make discoveries about art and relate it to their own experiences. The family discovers they have an appreciation for art and leave the gallery richer for the experience and close to each other. The book also gives an insight into the authors own journey into illustrating through a childhood activity he loved called The Shape Game. The Shape Game uses carefully designed illustrations to support and extend the narrative.

Riddle, T. (1997). The great escape from city zoo. Sydney: Harper Collins. A story of an elephant, ant-eater, flamingo and turtle who escape the city zoo in search for a better life. The group try to remain inconspicuous and survive on the outside. All, but one, are caught by the persistent zoo keepers and return heroes to the zoo. The book is illustrated in black and white and incorporates many famous icons hidden in its pictures. A simple story line with engaging illustrations which evoke humour and challenge the readers perception of events.

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References:
Anstey, M. (2002). More than cracking the code: postmodern picture books and new literacies. In G. Bull and M. Anstey (Eds.) Crossing the boundaries, (pp. 87-105). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education. Arizpe,E. and Styles, M. (2002). On a walk with Lily and Satoshi Kitamura: how children link words and pictures along the way. In G. Bull and M. Anstey (Eds.) Crossing the boundaries, (pp. 49-64). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education. Bull, G. (2002). The Postmodern picture book: its place in post-literate pedagogy. In G. Bull and M. Anstey (Eds.) Crossing the boundaries, (pp. 49-64). Frenchs Forest: Pearson Education. Bull, G & Anstey, M (eds.) 2002, Crossing the boundaries, Pearson Education Australia, Frenchs Forest NSW. Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990). Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: Australian Journal of TESOL, 5(7), 7-16. Pantaleo, S. (2004) Young children interpret the metafictive in Anthony Browne's Voices in the Park. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 4 (2), 211-233. Slattery, L. (2005, July 23). Fading Theory Has No Place In Schools. The Australian. p. 010 Slattery, L. (2005, July 23). This Little Pig Goes Post Modernist. The Australian. p. 010 Slattery, L. (2005, July 23). Words Without Meaning. The Australian. p. 010 Browne, A. (2003). The Shape Game. Sydney: Random House. Riddle, T. (1997). The great escape from city zoo. Sydney: Harper Collins.

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