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How we read images

One of the images in the fairy tale slide show on the last page was from the illustrator Molly Bang. In this video, graphic design instructor, Jessie Tran, will take you through the images of Bang’s book Picture This: How Pictures Work and the creation of a visual Little Red Riding Hood variation.

The overall composition of a picture book is just as important as any single illustration.

How images and texts work together within that composition helps us to read the images in more complex ways. We are reading with a visual vocabulary. Some of what gives us clues about what is being communicated are:

  • Framing – Does the picture exist as a separate framed piece away from the text, perhaps putting us at a distance? Does the illustration go to the edge of the page without a frame? Does this make the reader feel that they are part of the illustration or that it is more casual?
  • Line – As in the video above: Horizontal lines can indicate calmness and stability. Vertical lines can be used to indicate energy or barriers. Diagonal lines can indicate instability or even danger. Curvy lines indicate comfort and softness.
  • Page Composition: Where is our eye drawn toward? What is being given preference visually?
  • Color: The palette of a picturebook helps us to read emotion.

With illustration, we are also often reading a depiction of visual body language in the characters as well.

In a picture book, the illustrations might be symmetrical meaning that the text and images are a match – for example, Dr. Seuss’s One Fish, Two Fish, Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon, or here, in Ezra Jack’s Keats The Snowy Day.

In many cases, illustrations are complementary or enhancing, meaning that they reflect the text, but that by reading the image we gain something new. Take a look at this image from Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

When we read the image we see that Peter is not exactly listening, setting up the rest of the story.

Maurice Sendak uses a similar approach in Where the Wild Things Are.

Notice how in the first few pages, we learn what kind of mischief Max is up to. As the story goes on Sendak changes the composition of the images to the text and they interact in a different way.

Illustrations and text can also appear in counterpoint or even be contradictory. Sometimes we call this parallel storytelling. In this book, Phoebe Gilman’s Something from Nothing see if you can follow the story of the mice under the floor.

The text never acknowledges the mice, but we see that they have their own story.

Sometimes the illustrations can fully contradict the story as in Satoshi Kitamura’s Lily Takes A Walk.

What story is REALLY happening here?

Respond: Think about one of your favorite picture books (maybe the one you read) what can you say about the illustrations? How do they interact with the text? What kind of visual vocabulary is the illustrator using?

18 thoughts on “How we read images

  1. my favorite book was Clifford the Big Red Dog.The book repeated a small set of vocabulary words over and over.the book have a very colorful illustration.Clifford have situations that children are able to relate to their own lives such as attending school, learning manners, the books teach readers to recognize words associated with the letters of the alphabet.

  2. My favorite picture book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, illustrated by Eric Carle. he used a collage technique for illustration. In this book, you can see a combination of verbal texts and visual images next to each other. The pictures are placed under or next to the written text, making young readers feel part of the illustration. These images reflect the text, in which children can easily make sense of the written text. Also, the caterpillar design is realistic and colorful, which helps children understand the caterpillar’s development. This book includes unusual elements such as holes in the pages, and it also uses bright colors and formal techniques like finger painting and overlapping paper cutouts.

  3. One of my favorites is Corduroy because I love terry bears always felt that they are warm and soft the illustrations in this book and nice especially when Lisa walked inside the store and there are all kinds of toys but, how the bear stands out. these images reflex text and make it easier for children to understand also the color brown stands out next to all the other toys. This book can teach children the value of unconditional friendship as Corduroy is able to love and be loved despite flaws.

  4. I would like to choose”One Winter’s Day” published by Good Books as one of my favorite book. This is a delightful story about sharing with others, with soft flocking wherever Little Hedgehog’s mittens, hat, and scarf appear. During the course of reading, you will develop a feeling of warmth and your heart will turn clear and innocent again.
    In my opinion, writing and composition is a very private matter. Even though later works were sold and sold overseas, for writers, it might be just a secret and tortuous way of telling personal thoughts. No matter how the later readers disassemble and analyze the works, they are also bystanders after all. When writing the book, the author opened the door of the private garden to show everyone the brocade and blooming flowers, but all the soil and fertilizer under it were covered. That’s what makes me feel charming!

  5. One of my favorite picture books is ” Are You My Mother” by P. D. Eastman. The illustrations are go along with the story. You can tell a lot from the pictures , there is movement, emotion, like when the egg hatched. Everting is more vivid. This work well with children who cant not read yet, and pictures can guide a long the entire book.

  6. The children’s book that I read was the rainbow fish, the colors and sparkles on the rainbow fish himself were probably the things that was the most eye-catching. The different beautiful shades of blue combined with the sparkles just made it so you didn’t want to look away. The author used words that focused on the beauty of the fishes scales like “sparkly” and “shimmery”

  7. I have to choose Where the wild things are. It is my go to even after having my kids, we all feel like max sometimes and the characters each have their own personality like real people do. It also gives you so many visual ques and keeps you interested throughout the entire book.

  8. One of my favorite picture books has to be The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. The illustrations tell the story and emotion of the text as much as written words do in my opinion. Much of the emotion, drama, and message of the book is gleaned from what has been illustrated. The visual language primarily depicts the passage of time, with both the tree and the boy growing and changing in their wants, needs, and physical form.

  9. One of my favorite picture books was rainbow fish. I remember reading the book and being obsessed with all the bright illustrations. They added so much to the story and you felt like you were a part of the book. In my school, there used to be a painting of rainbow fish in one of the classrooms and that us another reason I was so interested in it. The images add a lot to the story.

  10. My favorite picture book as a child was the Three Little Pigs. The pictures were very appealing to me because they showed three pig brothers building their homes, with great detail. I enjoyed the reputation of the similar homes they each built and the wolf blowing it away. I didn’t think I would have enjoyed the book as much if it didn’t have any pictures. Picture books are great for children because if they still can’t read they can look at the images and understand what’s going on in the story because that’s what illustrators for children’s books try to accomplish.

  11. One of my favorites books growing up was “Brown bear, Brown bear what do you see” by Bill Martin and illustrated by Eric Carle. The reason why this was my favorite book to read and look at is because of the beautiful artwork of all the different animals within the story. There was a red bird, purple cat, white dog, orange fish and many more. Believe it or not, this was one way how I learned my colors as well. The way they interacted with the text was they connected with each other. For example, the line says “Brown bear, Brown bear what do you see ? … I see a RED bird looking at me.” And on the following page, there would be a RED BRID corresponding to the color that was written in text

  12. My favorite children’s book is “Moon Child” by Nadia Krilanovich, Illustrations by Elizabeth Sayles. It’s a very calming and gentle bedtime book that the pastel makes a perfect match to create the cuddling atmosphere of the story. The same color and the same tone is used for the text as the moon throughout the book except for the highlight scene which is when black text says “I am a moon child.” on the moon. It’s like the text is also illuminating gently like the moon. For this, I think it’s well-designed and pretty much successful to create a cozy night. I imagine that a child would get the feeling of warmth and relief that the night is not scary and gently be guided to fall asleep at ease.

  13. My favorite picture book Is ‘The very hungry Caterpillar’ which was illustrated by Eric Carle. The illustrations in this book are beautiful and very attention grabbing. I think this is because the illustrator would use elements such as various colors, collage, and different holes in the book to correspond with the story. The illustrator makes you feel as if you are a part of the story because every time you flip to the next page you reveal what has been done by the main character in the story.

  14. My favorite book as a child was “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” by Laura Numeroff as the book was a simple read but the visual especially of the main character who is a mouse was drawn so cute, as the colors scheme was bright and gave off happy energy and made you intrigued. The mouse makes you wish you had a pet mouse to give a cookie took and Iloved how basic the drawings were so you didnt have to look atthe picture for a couple of minutes to understand what the author was saying about the mouse.

  15. The story of Amelia Bedilia always gave hilarious words and descriptions of what Amelia would do in the illustrations. The sense of color made the story more interesting and funny to read along with. Its pictures would resign with the text and the funny quotes she would say as the illustrator actually conveyed the pictures in the book.

  16. One of my favorite books that I really loved getting read to growing up is A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon. It was a perfect book with a beautiful message about being your self and I loved the illustrations. The illustrations were so lively and bright, Especially all of the different colors she turned into to. The illustration went exactly with the plot and felt like a movie while reading or getting read to. I believe this story really showed how important illustration is for stories to be enjoyed more.

  17. Ferdinand is my favorite children’s book has subtle yet very impressionable. When I remember reading it as a child, the book’s images were draw in a glossy black ink. The book is telling of his expressions very well, each drawing was perfectly aligned for example when he got stung by a bee the drawing for it was displayed perfectly for is expression. When all the bulls would bump there heads it showed multiple ones with more aggression in their faces. Small instances of personification as I recall, were used.

  18. My favorite picture book is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, illustrated by Eric Carle. I really liked the illustration because when I was teaching and was reading this book they really interacted with the images drawn on and really connected with the book through the illustration.

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