This blog has been inspired by reflection on the keyword, ‘NARRATIVE’, with specific reference to children’s illustration.

In it, I will explore how images can be used to tell a story independently of the written word or overly textual clues.

I am interested in creating and researching meaningful books that can be read by everyone but may not necessarily be translated the same way.  I will examine the idea that the more words one uses, the less freedom the viewer is given to interpret a series of pictures, interactions and symbols.

Words and text do have a part to play, but my curiosity lies in the space where words are pared down and imagery is used to spark the imagination and encourage the reader to create a story: just like giving a child a play set with relevant pieces and letting them put together a scene that suits their own needs; a scene that can change depending on their age, prior knowledge, emotional state, or other external factors that are in flux. Their starting point or grasp of the illustration is individual to them and can change, develop and grow, as they do.

For the purposes of this research I will be looking at fictive works, as factual books are not as open for interpretation.

As a person who takes a holistic approach to most things, the blog is not being created in chronological order. My research branches out from the start and comes together at the end. Although the posts are marked and dated, they have all been revisited and edited in a non-linear way. I’ve explained my working process in a reflective post to give some context.

The questions I am asking as I create this blog are:

What are some of the applications of visual narrative, and is it an effective  means of storytelling?

Who is consistently creating this type of work?

Is there a unifying element of style?

Do some compositions work especially well?

Where does this type of storytelling sit historically?

How does this affect my own practice?





In my statement, I made the point that I’m more interested in conversation and interactions than narrative. That’s true. However, both of those things aid in forming a narrative and can be used to add layers and texture to a story. I’d like to look at a range of attributes that can be brought together to create something that is meaningful to children of different abilities.


A spoken or written account of connected events; a story.



Critical Analysis

Does Anthony Browne’s ‘Little Beauty’ Facilitate an Escape From Moral Concepts For Children


During the course of my research, I’ve become more interested in the idea of picture books exploring the full spectrum of human behaviours and daily life as it is, rather than an idealistic version of childhood that, although charming, is not always possible to relate to. Karen Murris (PhD) is an Associate Professor at the School of Education in Cape Town (UCT). Amongst her research interests is philosophy with children (P4C), and as a pioneer of using picture books for P4C, she assisted in the implementation of the system for teacher education of P4C in the United Kingdom. In her 2015 paper, ‘Posthumanism, Philosophy for Children, and Anthony Browne’s “Little Beauty“‘, she argues that sophisticated aesthetics within picture books can be used to encourage free thinking and contradict binary opposites such as human/animal or real/fictional, thus encouraging a posthumanist and rational way of thinking, rather than a conformist approach to right and wrong. She uses Anthony Browne’s Little Beauty (2008) to support her argument throughout.


P4C is a construct that allows children of a particular age group to recognise philosophical problems as problems, and then discuss those problems using essential philosophical language. Posthumanism questions the concept of ‘human’ and exceptionalism, instead putting forward the notion that we are all part of a system that requires integration with other systems; that could be machines, animals, technology or any other form of intelligence or sentience. Murris refers to Browne without labelling him as a posthumanist, but does allude to it on occasion.


In her paper, Murris discusses Little Beauty as a philosophical, posthumanistic tool rather than the atypical picture book that most would assume it to be. There are a number of reasons that this particular book can be used and viewed as such including, according to Murris, a ‘deliberate blurring’ of binary opposites such as ‘working class/upper class, animal/human, young/adult, real/fantasy’.

She claims that Browne creates contradictions within the book in a number of ways, including mixing art styles ranging from fully detailed scenes to sketches, which further separates the child from their pre-defined position as a learner, looking for moral guidance, to an intelligent person capable of reading the book and making their own decisions about moral dilemmas within the story. She goes on to say that teaching professionals and educators often feel the need to give a child an answer that is ‘right’, and this is problematic because ‘right’ varies between cultures and individuals, and can be prescriptive. I believe that offering moral interpretations of stories can interfere with a self-developed, ethical approach to decision making, but a study carried out by Shannon et al. in 1988 opposes this idea.¹ It found that elementary age pupils may not place themselves in the role of the protagonist in a moral tale. This means that they would not necessarily think pragmatically about any moral dilemmas or decisions that are made by the main character. This is not to say that the children who have participated in P4C wouldn’t do so, but it is a notable point.

Murris argues that a theoretical framework that allows room for interpretation and individual responses to such a picture book would offer educators the chance to explore posthuman ethics, and proposes that this method would encourage students to ask their own questions about the narrative, whilst recognising, and questioning, binary opposites for themselves. However, studies and research as carried out by Wellman et al. (2001) into theory of mind in children suggest that this cognitive ability does not start to develop until after the age of four and continues to do so into adolescence and adulthood.²

The story of Little Beauty is based on Browne’s misremembrance of two real accounts that he had heard previously, and is about a lonely gorilla in a zoo. The gorilla uses sign language to ask the zoo keepers for a friend, and they duly bring a kitten (Little Beauty) for him, and they become close. Whilst watching King Kong (1933) on TV, gorilla becomes angry and smashes up the TV³. When the zoo keepers threaten to take Little Beauty away, the kitten takes the blame and they all laugh about it, thus resolving the situation. Although this ending has been the source of debate, it offers a moral dilemma that is solved based on feelings and does present us with the question: what is the right thing to do? And what does right actually mean in this context? As pointed out by Wellman et al. (ibid), in relation to the theory of mind, the desired outcome could be expecting too much of the intended audience.

Browne’s choice of characters and the obvious allusion to Beauty and the Beast (1991) are interesting to Murris, as is the choice to omit information that is then conveyed via a series of semiotical devices within the text.4 She notes that this technique of using pictures to tell as much of the story as the words is profound, and refers us to a quote from Browne in his 2011 autobiography, Playing The Shape Game, where he acknowledges his purposeful use of this ontological technique, stating that he likes to “tell as much of the story, and communicate things that the words do not…I like to include differences
and gaps…imagination”


Little Beauty does offer the child an avenue of escapism from the didactic methods of some children’s books that favour a moral standpoint, or attempt to portray right and wrong, or other binary opposites as Murris states. However, whether or not the child would be able to escape these concepts without previous P4C participation is doubtful, especially in younger children, as evidenced by the 2002 research of Wellman et al. The introduction of P4C into the curriculum would offer more children the chance to explore philosophy and posthumanism, and to comprehend the idea of moral concepts, and therefore perhaps furnish them with knowledge of how to escape and challenge these moral concepts when encountered.


¹SHANNON, P. et al. ‘(1988).An investigation of children’s ability to comprehend character motives’ Am. Educ. Res. J. 25.p. 441-462.
²WELLMAN, H. et al. (2001). Meta-analysis of theory of mind development: the truth about false belief. Child Dev. 72.p. 655-684.
³King Kong. (1933). [film] Directed by M. Cooper and E. Schoedsack. United States: RKO Radio Pictures.
4Beauty and the Beast. (1991). [DVD] Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment.


BROWNE, A. (2008). Little Beauty. London: Walker Books.

BROWNE, A. & BROWNE, J. (2011) Playing the Shape Game. London: Doubledays Children.

LEGRANDEUR, K. (2014) ‘What is the difference between posthumanism and transhumanism?’.https://ieet.org/index.php/IEET2/more/lagrandeur20140729 [Online] Accessed: 07/12/17.

MURRIS, K. (2015) ‘Posthumanism, Philosophy for Children, and Anthony Browne’s “Little Beauty“‘. Bookbird. 53 (2).p. 61-62

SHANNON, P. et al. (1988). in PELLETIER, J. &  BEATTY, R. (2015) ‘Children’s understanding of Aesop’s fables: relations to reading comprehension and theory of mind’.  Frontiers in Psychology.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01448/full [Online] Accessed: 08/12/17

WELLMAN, H. et al. (2001) in PELLETIER, J. &  BEATTY, R. (2015) ‘Children’s understanding of Aesop’s fables: relations to reading comprehension and theory of mind’.  Frontiers in Psychology.  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01448/full [Online] Accessed: 08/12/17


Cartography I: Mapping narrative cartography

Caquard discusses issues surrounding emerging technologies, and how modern geographical tagging of places is being used to create a narrative that is being built, both via individual input and experiences, and in a ‘hive mind’ way. Using technology such as Google Maps, a place on a map can now be given a character, good or bad, that influences how people react emotionally to it. He goes on to talk about ‘story maps’ and the growing relationship between maps and narratives. He points out that making the connection between maps and narratives is not a new thing, and maps have been entwined with the arts historically. Examining the relationship between contemporary art and narrative cartography, Caquard looks at ways in which artists are combining the two, such as creating art and drawing directly onto maps that record your journey by taking specific routes and adding notes, fictional or otherwise, as they go, as a way to engage communities.

CAQUARD, S. (2013). ‘Cartography I: Mapping narrative cartography’. Progress in Human Geography. 37 (1).p. 135-144.

Designing Tactile Illustrated Books

Tactile picture books are notoriously expensive to produce, therefore, the range that are available need to have mass market appeal. Many of these books are produced in house by trade publishers who can keep costs down by using their own designers. This article discusses and highlights the need for specially designed books for blind children, instead of expecting that these books will suffice. Claudet shows a very meaningful example of how a blind child draws a picture and calls it a ‘haptic icon’. The examples used to illustrate this show us that a person who cannot see, draws their experience instead. This is important because it helps us to understand that people who don’t have sight still see the world, but through a medium different to sight.

CLAUDET, P. (2014). Designing Tactile Illustrated Books. [Online] Nfb.org. Available at: https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir14/jbir040101.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2017].


The Role of Illustrations During Children’s Reading

This article puts forward the suggestion that adapted texts where illustrations have been condensed and re-sited are not as effective as authentic texts in aiding reading. The belief is that these only suffice to confuse children as they need to see the illustration and text working together to aid their development and understanding. Adapted texts such as anthologies often move illustrations around or take them out of context and don’t offer the visual clues that were so important in the authentic versions. If a child doesn’t understand a word in the text, she looks to the accompanying illustrations to find a reassurance or answers. This was explored in a study that used gaze tracking and recall while 2 groups of 3 children were given different versions of the same book.

Feathers, K.M. & Arya, P. (2012). ‘The Role of Illustrations During Children’s Reading’. Journal of Children’s Literature. 38 (1). p. 36.

Magritte and Cultural Capital: The Surreal World of Anthony Browne

An article that argues the connection and meaning of the relationship between Anthony Browne’s picture books and the work of Magritte as a Surrealist painter, and art in general. Hateley questions the notion of Browne as a Surrealist children’s illustrator and even if there can be such a classification. The Surrealist movement is based on revisiting childhood and Hateley asserts that this can’t be forced upon children already in that state. Labelling Browne’s use of the references as ‘bourgeois appropriation’ of the work, she also asks how this fits together from a cultural perspective. Browne is making art as a commercial illustrator, capitalising on these references, collecting awards and accolades, whereas Magritte and the Surrealists were Socialists.

HATELEY, E. (2009). ‘Magritte and Cultural Capital: The Surreal World of Anthony Browne’. The Lion and the Unicorn. 33 (3). p. 324-348.

‘I Am Scared Too’: Children’s Literature for an Ethics beyond Moral Concepts

This article is concerned with dogmatism and how the confines of having a set idea of, or code to follow when it comes to moral thinking, virtues and vices is flawed. Looking at children’s literature, Johansson questions who defines what the moral concept within any piece of literature is. Looking at moral discourse, Johansson uses a Scandinavian picture book, ‘Garmann’s Summer’ (Hole, S. 2008), to illustrate how these moral concepts are subjective. Johansson asserts that he is not proposing a solution to children’s fears, but but using the book to demonstrate how allowing moral thinking to take place instead of presenting moral concepts is a more useful tool for children experiencing worry or fear. Interesting comparisons are made between the original version of the book and how it is held up as a beacon of good thinking in Scandinavia, and its translated counterparts, and discussion surrounding whether it should even be considered as a children’s book in the US.

JOHANSSON, V. (2013). ”I Am Scared Too’: Children’s Literature for an Ethics beyond Moral Concepts’. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 47 (4) .p. 80.

Peter Rabbit in the Garden of Terror: Patronizing the Reader in Picturebook Translation

This article compares the translation of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ from English to Finnish. Ketola argues that the translator has essentially patronised the reader by taking away any room for individual interpretation. The Finnish version concentrates on Peter’s fear and, it could be argued, changes the story to a didactic version, written to frighten children into good behaviour.

Whilst this interpretation wasn’t an unusual conclusion, it became only one of a number of possibilities after Potter’s personal journal was discovered. This showed potter to be of a rebellious nature and instead of holding Peter Rabbit up as a cautionary tale, she was encouraging her young audience to take risks. Due to the focus the translator has placed on fear, and on Mr. McGregor being a ‘bogeyman’, these newer theories have been made irrelevant in the Finnish version as the readers have already been presented with concrete details of the situation, and how Peter feels about what he’s doing.

KETOLA, A. (2017). ‘Peter Rabbit in the Garden of Terror: Patronizing the Reader in Picturebook Translation’. Bookbird. 55 (3). p. 12.

Suzy Lee’s Adventures in Picture Book Land

An in depth look at the values of Korean artist Suzy Lee’s work, in particular her pieces with wordless narratives. The most well-known of these, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (2002) is a mixture of charcoal drawings – Lee’s preferred medium – and photography, is used as an example of the book as a physical object, rather than just a collection of words and pictures. According to the article, Lee does not consider herself to be a picture book author-illustrator and prefers the title ‘book artist’. Referring to one of Lee’s other titles, ‘Shadow’ (part of the Border Trilogy along with ‘Mirror’ and ‘Wave’), Lee utilises the gutter of the spreads as a division between what is real and what is fantasy to great effect. This division and blurring of the lines between fantasy and reality are a recurring theme in Lee’s work, oftentimes she uses black and white imagery to represent the latter, or, in the case of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, she used a blurring between photographic depiction and illustrative, with the white rabbit starting out as an illustration but ending as a photographic depiction, and vice versa for the girl.

Lee, S. (2016). ‘Suzy Lee’s Adventures in Picture book Land’. Bookbird. 54 (4). p. 17.

A picture book primer:understanding and using picture books

A book that explores the fundamentals of what makes a picture book. Essentially Matulka breaks down the whole into its constituent parts and looks at each in detail, including the design of the book and paratexts, rather than focusing solely on the unification of story and illustrations. She goes on to point out the importance of the differences between format and genre in the field, and why those differences are important to understand to truly identify and classify the books by their content rather than their shape, size or other physical attributes.

Looking specifically at the art within the books, she discusses the roles of illustration and offers explanation of important considerations such as visual interest, narrative structures and character development.

MATULKA, D.I. (2008). A picture book primer: understanding and using picture books. London: Libraries Unlimited.

What Is ‘Chinese Narrative Illustration’?

This article is centred on defining the underpinning characteristics of Chinese Narrative Illustration. Art historians have used John Hay’s definition where he split the art into three areas; moral, literary, and genre. Although this helps to identify obvious similarities in pieces, it doesn’t  account for the outliers and overlaps. This presents difficulties as Chinese culture and classification of art doesn’t really allow for this strand of art as a separate genre. Trying to apply Western classifications could be seen as culturally insensitive, but to be able to study and understand what makes this art style unique, Murray presents a list of considerations that it conforms to so we can better understand these works that are often difficult to classify. These ask questions and examine the pieces based on the story, function and presentation of the work.

Murray, J. K. (1998). ‘What Is ‘Chinese Narrative Illustration’?’ The Art Bulletin. 80 (4). p. 602–615.

Narrative in young children’s digital art-making

This UK study examines how, when presented with a range of digital art tools, four and five year old children create their own visual narratives. Although research into children’s art-making is well documented in terms of physical paper based art, this is not the case for digital methods. Although these are similar, this study asserts that they have distinct characteristics and semiotics.
Acknowledging the impact and widespread use of technology by children in the UK, Connelly & Wild point out the delay to integrate those resources that researchers have noted when assessing the use of technology in classrooms for younger children. Where technology is used, there is a focus only on the didactic qualities rather than for expressive arts purposes. They go on to point out that digital art making for self expression has properties that could be overlooked if children aren’t presented with opportunities to use it. Interestingly, the study found that, unlike paper based work, the speed at which items can be added in a digital paint program suggest that children’s oral narratives don’t always precede their visual art; the words and pictures unfold together. It also suggest that the use of ready made art representations (such as a generic car) aid children to create these images rapidly and therefore speed up their supporting oral narrative.

SAKR, M., CONNELLY, V. & WILD, M. (2016). ‘Narrative in young children’s digital art-making’. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. 16 (3). p. 289-310.

Continuous Narrative In Picture Books

This blog post discusses and shows examples of the various applications of continuous narrative within children’s books. Continuous narrative is a scene that displays more than one version of the character, or scene, within the same frame. The blog offers many images of this type of narrative in action throughout, as well as descriptions of the other types of narrative illustration that can be employed. Noting the similarities between continuous narrative and sequential narrative, the author argues that the only difference is that sequential narrative contains the actions within separate frames to help the viewer to discern where one action stops and another starts.

SLAP HAPPY LARRY. (2017). Continuous Narrative In Picture Books. [Online] Available at: http://www.slaphappylarry.com/continuous-narrative-picture-book-illustration/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

English Children’s Literature: Modern Trends In Themes And Narrative Strategies

This article acts as summary of research into the role of darker themes in children’s literature, debated in 2014 as part of the Canon Constitution and Canon Change in Children’s Literature conference held in Germany. Smalko discusses the didactic responsibilities of children’s books, and other equivalent sources, in the role as comforters during their audience’s own difficulties and navigating their way through wider worldwide struggles. Smalko argues that introducing these themes via literature is a good opportunity for parents and carers to broach difficult themes with children and to help them develop their own ideas and opinions, and, rather than violent themes promoting violence, helps them cope better with the increasingly violent world that we live in. She goes on to question the current criticism of violence in children’s literature and points out the historical context of violence within stories,fables and tales, and how it’s always been a recurring theme; whilst unpleasant, violence is an important aspect of the world our children belong to. Questioning narrative structures, the suggestion is made that today’s children are more than equipped to deal with short narratives that do not involve the accepted form of beginning, middle and end.

SMALKO, L. (2017). English children’s literature: modern trends in themes and narrative strategies. [online] Esnuir.eenu.edu.ua. Available at: http://www.esnuir.eenu.edu.ua/handle/123456789/11059 [Accessed 13 Nov. 2017].

thebirdking.blogspot.co.uk [Shaun Tan’s Personal Blog]

This blog has information about Shaun Tan’s work, projects, shows and books. Illustrations and paintings are available to see in various stages of completion. This blog in parts describes how and why Tan creates his images and what medium he uses to do so. There are examples of sketches that haven’t made it into popular books that Tan has been involved in, such as ‘The Arrival’. There is a sketch from that book where he explains that the emphasis on Chinese dragons in the background was wrong and why it wasn’t used, in a short succinct post that pins down the basic wants he had for a piece and why it didn’t fit. It also gives information about the artist in an informal way that allows the reader to better get to know his working practices and background.

TAN, S. (2017). The Bird King. [online] Thebirdking.blogspot.co.uk. Available at: http://thebirdking.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/ [Accessed 3 Dec. 2017].

The Drama of Potentiality in Metafictive Picturebooks: Engaging Pictorialization in Shortcut, Ooh-la-la, and Voices in the Park (with Occasional Assistance from A. Wolf’s True Story)

This article looks at picture books that use different methods of narration to involve the reader in a way that encourages them to fill in the blanks, and make their own deductions based on what they can see, and by using their own prior knowledge of situations and tales, in some cases they’re essentially solving well disguised puzzles to make their way through the text. The non-linearity of the selection of books Wyile has chosen comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it is a mixture of type, referred to as calligrams, that assigns each character its own typeface. This means we can recognise who said what without a literal definition in the form of a speech bubble or a figurative reference.

Allegiance can be encouraged and dissuaded by presenting characters thoughts and personalities, thus encouraging the reader to form a narrative but never dictating one. This can be achieved by employing a narrator within the book to present the facts. The ‘drama of potentiality’ that Wyile refers to in the title of the article occurs when words and pictures have both subjective and objective elements that, when combined, offer a multitude of outcomes that depend on the reader.

WYILE, A.S. (2006) ‘The Drama of Potentiality in Metafictive Picturebooks: Engaging Pictorialization in Shortcut, Ooh-la-la, and Voices in the Park (with Occasional Assistance from A. Wolf’s True Story’. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly (Winnipeg). 31 (2). p. 176.