One Size Does Not Fit All: Initial Thoughts On Narrative

Narrative is a broad word but it encompasses the areas that interest me within illustration.  My primary focus and exploration will be centred on the different ways in which narrative is conveyed and carried along by image, and by using a range of contributory factors how narrative can be construed differently by children of different abilities.

Sequential images are what I’ve been conforming to in my work to date. That seems to be the universal standard for picture books that are trying to convey a story whilst retaining their sale-ability. The impact of this was explored during a study (Feathers & Arya, 2012 ) where an adapted text was presented to children to gauge just how far accompanying illustrations aid a child’s recall and understanding of details. The findings of that study suggest that it has a negative impact when we do this and therefore illustrations should be generous and varied rather than scant and repetitive. When a difficult or unknown word is introduced in the text, a child will use the visual clues within the illustration to make a choice on what they think the word means. This makes it essential in didactic picture books to include diverse compositions and recognisable objects, especially when they are unusual or it is unlikely that a young child has encountered an item before.

My other areas of interest are sensory impaired readers and keeping my work truly inclusive and promoting equality for all, without just focusing on the issues that surround protected characteristics. I don’t want to draw a family with a gay parent just because the book focuses on issues that are relevant to that demographic. I want to illustrate and promote inclusive mainstream picture books without an agenda.

CBeebies, Pablo, 2016

My initial thoughts were to investigate picture books with an unusual way of story telling. I came across an article called ‘Alice And Her Friend’ (Nishino. et al., 2016) where the writers made a book specifically for visually impaired children. I was interested by the concept but it could have been executed differently for better results and the expert analysis pointed out a number of ways the book could have been expanded to be truly inclusive and to function more effectively (most interestingly, through the use of an eye-ring or other similar developing technologies). It was also noted that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all category.

Children’s TV shows such as ‘Pablo’ (CBeebies, 2017) attempt to show life through the eyes of those on the autism spectrum and would be useful investigative tools for this research. Again, research keeps bringing back cautionary advice that points out how all children with one disorder should not be treated the same.

As I processed that information and did some further reading, I was struck by the fact that this is the case for all impairments. And true inclusivity does not mean designing a different set of books, it means being able to all use the same books but maybe in a different way.

I reached out to a friend who works with adults with hearing impairments and discussed the idea briefly. She made the point that anything that can aid communication would be a welcome development in the field.

At this point, I became concerned that I was veering a little too far outside the realms of illustration itself and after speaking to my lecturer, have decided to narrow my area down a little more whilst still keeping broad inclusivity in mind.

I’ve been playing with an idea for a particular picture book for a number of years but have had trouble pinning down where to take it. I believe that as a this will be the underpinning seed that I’ll develop later on.

The concept is that a clump of ants who all look the same from a distance aren’t quite what they seem. Close inspection reveals major differences, conversations and personalities. There will be multiple narratives unfolding throughout. I will attempt to use contrast, language and haptic feedback to try and structure the illustrations into a narrative that can broadly work for all.

At this stage, my focus is narrative. I like to use interactions within my illustrations to carry a story along. Up to now I’ve done that mainly through background happenings and facial expressions but I know there are more effective ways I can do that and I’m hoping that this blog will really help me to identify and integrate other ways into my work to give a richer and more holistically inclusive feel.


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

NISHINO, H. et al. (2016), ‘Alice and Her Friend: A Black “Picture Book” of Multisensory Interaction for Visually-Impaired Children.’ ACM. p. 1

One Reply to “One Size Does Not Fit All: Initial Thoughts On Narrative”

  1. I love this statement, “inclusivity does not mean designing a different set of books, it means being able to all use the same books but maybe in a different way”. This post gives me a lot of food for thought; things that take me back to educational environments. I have worked in mainstream education as a classroom teacher for primary up to sixth-form level. Using text without illustration is unthinkable in those settings. However, you have made me reconsider what form that illustration should take and what the rationale could be.

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