Children's Literature

Instructor: Chi-Fen Emily Chen, Ph.D. 陳其芬

Department of English, National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, Taiwan


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Picture Books

 Please read Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 from Russell, D. L. (2009). Literature for children: a short introduction.

Introduction Types Storytelling Elements Artistic Elements Design Media Styles Examples

Artistic Elements

A.  Line

  • Lines define objects, but lines can also suggest movement, distance, and even feeling.

  • Curves and circular lines suggest warmth, coziness, and security.

  • Diagonal and zigzagging lines suggest action, excitement and rapid movement.

  • Horizontal lines suggest calm and stability. Vertical lines suggest height and distance.

  • Example: A Giraffe and a Half” written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein (1964).

B.   Shape

  • Shapes can be evaluated for their simplicity or complexity, their rigidity (as in geometric shapes) or suppleness (as in organic shapes), and their size.

  • Rounded shapes may suggest comfort, security, and stability. Squarish, angular shapes may elicit more excitable responses, agitation, alarm, and confusion.

  • The bigger a shape is in the picture, the more important it is.

  • Examples:

  • Madeline” written and illustrated by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939)

  • Harold and the Purple Crayon” written and illustrated by Crockett Johnson (1955)

C.  Space

  • Space is actually what draws our attention to objects on the page.

  • The lack of open space on a page may contribute to a claustrophobic or uneasy feeling or perhaps confusion or chaos.

  • The generous use of space in a picture suggests quiet serenity, but it may also imply emptiness, loneliness, or isolation.

  • Space can also create the illusion of distance. 

  • Example: “The Giving Tree” written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein (1964)

D.  Color

  • Color can be observed for its hue, lightness, and saturation (intense or pale).

  • Red and yellow are warm or hot colors and often suggest warmth, cheerfulness, or excitement. However, red can also signify danger and yellow cowardice or fear.

  • Blue and green are cool or cold colors and often suggests calm, serenity, or renewal. However, blue can also signify depression and green envy or illness.

  • Purple can indicate royalty or mystery.

  • The use of black and white (both photography and pencil and ink drawings) is making a comeback. Young children seem to enjoy black and white just as much as color.

  • Examples:

  • Goodnight Moon” written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947)

  • Leo the Late Bloomer” written by Robert Kraus and illustrated by Jose Aruego (1971)

 E.  Texture

  • The impression of how a pictured object feels is its texture. Textures may be rough or slick, firm or spongy, hard or soft, jagged or smooth. Texture gives a flat surface (the paper) the characteristics of a three-dimensional surface.

  • Textual effects generally offer a greater sense of reality to a picture.

  • Less realistic styles may make use of texture to enrich the visual experience and to stimulate the viewer’s imagination.

  • Texture is achieved through the skillful use of the medium – paint layers, brush strokes, pencil marks, and so on.

  • Examples:

  • Where The Wild Things Are” written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1963)

  • George Shrinks” written and illustrated by William Joyce (1985)

F.  Composition

  • The composition of an illustration refers to the arrangement of the visual elements in the picture. The artist decides on proportion, balance, harmony, and disharmony within the various elements to produce the desired visual impact.

  • Composition is important to the narrative quality of the picture as well as to its emotional impact.

  • A very important concern of composition is the organization of the shapes. Grouping many large shapes may suggest stability, enclosure, or confinement, or perhaps awkwardness. On the other hand, lighter, delicate shapes more loosely grouped may suggest movement, grace, and freedom.

  • Examples:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit” written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter (1902)

  • George Shrinks” written and illustrated by William Joyce (1985)

G.  Perspective (Point of View)

  • The perspective refers to the vantage point from which we see the object on the page. That is, from what angle the picture is to be viewed.

  • The closer we appear to be to the action, the more engaged we are likely to be. The farther away we seem to be, the more detached we are.

  • The artist may make us see and think about things in specific ways by illustrating events from a worm’s-eye view, a small child’s perspective, a bird’s-eye view, or an unreal angle.

  • Most picture books give us the “middle shot”. We see few close-ups and few panoramic views.

  • A picture book has only a limited number of “shots” (the typical picture book has approximately 32 pages) and the artist must compromise on the variety of perspectives.

  • Examples:

  • "Millions of Cats" written and illustrated by Wanda Gág (1928)

  • In the Attic” written by Hiawyn Oram and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (1988).

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