Postmodern picture-books: To what extent do they interplay between text, image and child’s knowledge of other texts?

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  Sharon Goodman writes that postmodern picture-books refer to those that employ some, or all, of a ‘loose cluster’ of characteristics; including ‘play’ with words and images, ‘transgression’ from the norm and ‘irony’ (Goodman, 2009, p.235). Postmodern picture-books will also break conventions, challenge authority and demonstrate a ‘knowingness’ of themselves as texts, for example, in the treatment of ‘the book as an artefact’ (Goodman, 2009, pp.235-6). Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park and Tony Ross’s The Happy Rag meet Goodman’s criteria for a postmodern picture-book in similar ways. Both are stories that use interplay between text and image to suggest ‘alternative meanings’ to those immediately represented in the text (Goodman, 2009, p.235). This essay will discuss in particular the extent to which these two books rely on a child reader’s understanding of and from the ‘intertextuality’ present in both books (Squires, 2009, p.276).

  Ultimately, the extent to which ‘postmodern picture-books… rely on a child’s knowledge of other texts’ depends heavily on a child’s ability to recognise and respond to this kind of interplay. Both Anthony Browne and Tony Ross layer their illustrations with clues, from their use colour and line to references to their own previous works and the works of others within their illustrations. Ultimately to say that a postmodern picture book relies on a child’s ‘knowledge of other texts’ oversimplifies the way in which a child’s ability to fully appreciate them will call on their knowledge of the conventions of children’s literature. Postmodern picture-books often call on a child’s knowledge of contemporary issues and cultural conflicts, as in Voices in the Park, in which the author comments on class, wealth and social attitudes through the conflict between his different voices, and the interplay between the text and illustrations. However, ultimately it is true too say that the popular postmodernpicture-books used as examples draw heavily on a ‘child’s knowledge of other texts’; of literary conventions, of modern technology, of famous works of art, and of contemporary social conflicts.

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