English 301

Study Guide for Picture Books and Nursery Rhymes

Dr. Tina L. Hanlon

Associate Professor of English
Ferrum College
thanlon@ferrum.edu

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See assignments in Angel Calendar for this class.

Optional recommended readings:

Questions to Consider

1. How many of the nursery rhyme selections were you familiar with from childhood? Are some of the versions in the class anthology or others you've read this semester different from ones you know?  What connections do you see among different versions, often from different countries, of related rhymes?

2.  Do you see common themes in the nursery rhymes? Are some of them “nonsense”?

3.  What patterns or effects of sound are commonly found in nursery rhymes and make them easy to remember? What is the relationship between sound and sense, or content?  Do sound patterns seem more important than they are in other poetry?

4. Do you see themes and images that suggest the original rhymes were not just for children?  Are there traditional rhymes you would not read to children today? Why? Are you familiar with modernized or modern satiric versions of nursery rhymes?  What do you think of editions that change the traditional rhymes to serve a social, political, or religious purpose? (E.g., in The World that Jack Built by Ruth Brown, Jack built a polluting factory.)

5. Does your familiarity with nursery rhymes derive mainly from oral tradition, or do you associate them with particular picture book editions? How do illustrations by different artists affect the meaning or impact of well-known poems (or folktales, or other classic texts)?

6. What types of alphabet books and counting books have you observed? How do words/numbers and pictures work together in these books? Do they do more than teach the alphabet or counting?

7. Of what significance is the size or shape of picture books? Potter’s original small books and Sendak’s Nutshell Library have been very popular with young children for decades.  Large formats are also popular in picture books (e.g., Dr. Seuss, Madeline books).  Do horizontal or vertical formats work better for certain types of texts?  Should editions of picture books be published and sold that vary from the original size and shape?  Do you know of other books for which size, shape, structure, or format are especially important?

8. What difference does it make for an artist to illustrate a text written by someone else, and his or her own text? (Sendak and many others have done both.)

9. Remember, when you look at older picture books, that printing technology has greatly affected what is possible and feasible to print in books for the mass market.  Do you see trends in book illustration that may have been affected by technology?  Can you see advantages and disadvantages in the increased availability of color illustrations, paperback books and other inexpensive reproductions of books?

10. Are picture books only for children?  Are they only, or mainly, for preschool and primary grade children?  How can they be used in higher grades, or enjoyed by older individuals?

11. What do you see as the essential ingredients of a “true picture book”?  How does the function of the illustrations, and their relationship to the text, differ in illustrated books as compared to picture books?  What do you think of Sendak’s 1970 comment that it is “offensive” and “insane” to publish illustrated versions of adult novels? (See Riverside 1094.)

12. Look for examples in which elements of character, plot, setting, or point of view that are not revealed in words are portrayed through pictures.  What details or scenes from the text has the illustrator chosen not to depict?  What is the difference between perceiving various details through words and through pictures?  How is the flow of the story (or progression of concepts or impressions if it is not a narrative) affected by the placement of pictures?  In picture books with a substantial story line, are the pictures or the words the first to indicate what is happening in the plot, or do they work together on the same two-page spread at about the same pace?

13. How do wordless books convey character, setting, point of view, tone, theme or plot?  Are wordless picture books just for very young children?  Why has the author chosen to put words on some pages and not others in picture books like David Wiesner’s Tuesday (Caldecott winner, 1992) or The Knight and the Dragon by Tomi de Paola? (Hanlon has both; our lib. has K&D.)

14. How is action conveyed in picture books?  Do different individuals, including children of different ages, read books and the actions they depict differently from the usual left to right and top to bottom?  Perry Nodelman (in Words about Pictures) observes that action usually progresses from left to right, and pictures in which characters face left, or the picture is oriented toward the left, often indicate some interruption or obstacle in the action.

15. Does amount of white space, use of borders or no borders, placement of text (in boxes, superimposed on pictures, placed in different parts of pages), variations in size of pictures or words, or use of pictures overflowing outlined borders contribute to the meaning of the book? (Notice how Sendak manipulates these elements.)

16. How is perspective conveyed or varied in pictures as well as text? Do we get a child’s-eye view, or animal’s-eye view in some pictures? If the illustrator shows certain characters looking straight out at us from the page, what is the significance of their gazing at us?


September 16, 2008

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