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

Storytelling Elements

Plot      Character       Theme      Style      Tone

A.  Plot

  • The plots of picture storybooks tend to be simple and fast-paced.

  • They often rely on repetitive patterns that are suited to the rhythmic nature of the picture-book design.

  • The illustrations often assist the development of plots in the storytelling.

  • Examples:

  • “Goodnight Moon” written by Margaret Wise Brown and illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947) – a classic bedtime story intended for young children.

  • “Mr. Gumpy’s Outing” written and illustrated by John Burningham (1970) – a simple, delightful story full of repetitive patterns, which won the Kate Greenaway Medal (1970).

B.  Character

  • Characterization in picture books is simple.

  • Characters tend to be identified by clearly outlined traits.

  • Protagonists are most often young children or animals (who exhibit childlike qualities).

  • Character motivation is usually singular.

  • Examples:

  • “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter (1902) – a classic modern picture storybook in U.K.

  • “The Snowy Day” written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats (1962) – one of the first picture books with a minority character as the protagonist that won the Caldecott Medal.

C.  Theme

  • Picture-book themes tend to be sharply focused, i.e., a single them clearly dominates a book.

  • The range of themes is virtually unlimited.

D.  Style

  • Words in picture books are carefully chosen (picture books average about 2,000 words).

  • Many picture storybooks rely heavily on dialogue, which can be great fun to read aloud. 

  • They contain refrains and repetitive patterns.

  • They often contain made-up words or play with words.

  • Examples:

  • “The Cat in the Hat” written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss (1957) – an amusing, nonsense story full of word play.

  • “Guess How Much I Love You” written by Sam Mc Bratney and illustrated by Anita Jeram (1994) – a touching story showing a great love between a father and a child through dialogues.

E.  Tone

  • Many picture books are comic in tone, sometimes joyfully slapstick, and sometimes the subtle, quiet humor.  

  • Excitement and suspense are often found in picture storybooks.

  • Examples:

  • “Caps for Sale” told and illustrated by Esphyr Slobodkina (1947) – a folktale full of delightful repetition and humor.

  • “Where The Wild Things Are” written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak (1963) – a boy’s imaginative adventure.

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