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Postmodern Picture Books

A Genre Study
Kirsten M. Rusinak

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Previous picture books Defining postmodernism Characteristics Timeliness Examples Research conclusions and advocacy Teaching implications Book list

Previous picture books

A fast, action oriented journey Linear text and illustrations Clearly articulated beginning, middle, and end Conflict is completely and optimistically resolved Characters return to the safety of home General tone of naivete Note: Traditional picture books are still appealing to children, postmodern picture books simply expand the many possible definitions of a picture book.

(Goldstone, 2001)

Postmodernism: A Definition

as reaction, as denial, as residue, or as intensification of modernism (Flieger 28) Modernism:

A reaction to expanding industrialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The deconstruction of the grand narratives of religion and The Enlightenment. An emphasis on meaning through individuality.

Six Characteristics of Postmodern Picture Books:

Blurring the distinctions between popular and high culture, the categories of traditional literary genres, and the boundaries among author, narrator, and reader. Subversion of literary traditions and conventions and undermining the traditional distinction between the story and the outside real world. Intertextuality is made explicit and manifold, often taking the form of pastiche, a wry, layered blend of texts from many sources. Multiplicity of meanings, so that there are multiple pathways through the narrative, a high degree of ambiguity, and non-resolution or open-ended endings. Playfulness, in which readers are invited to treat the text as semiotic playground Self-referentiality, which refuses to allow readers to have a vicarious livedthrough experience, offering instead a metafictive stance by drawing attention to the text as a text rather than as a secondary world (Benton).

(Sipe & McGuire, 2008, p.3)


Childrens books change with the culture around them. Understanding postmodern picture books helps children make sense of a complex world. (Goldstone, 2001) Postmodern phenomena to which children are already exposed: Television Hypertext Information is linked together User creates path through interrelated material Textbooks and Non-fiction trade books Order in which graphs, margins, and highlighted vocabulary is read is up to readers discretion (Goldstone, 2001)

21st Century Viewpoint

All texts are consciously constructed and have particular social, cultural, political, and economic purposes; text comes in a variety of representational forms incorporating a range of grammars and semiotic systems; the reader or viewer may need to draw upon several grammars and semiotic systems in order to process some texts; changes in society and technology will continue to challenge and change texts and their representational forms; there may be more than one way of reading or viewing a text depending on a range of contextual (social, cultural, economic, or political factors); and there is a need to consider the possible meanings of a text and how it is constructing the reader and the world of the reader.

(Antsey & Bull 2006, p. 3-4)

Meta-fictive Examples

Black and White by David Macaulay Open Me Im a Dog! by Art Spiegelman Snow White in New York by Fiona French The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka The Three Pigs by David Wiesner Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne

*click on the hyperlinks to look inside each book!

According to research

readers with a higher level of tolerance of ambiguity can comprehend metafictive elements (Serafini) texts with meta-fictive devices can provide the kinds of reading experiences that develop readers abilities to critically analyze, construct and deconstruct an array of texts and representational forms that incorporate a range of linguistic, discursive, and semiotic systems (Pantaleo, 2004, p.17).

Teaching/Reading Implications

Teachers and reading specialists should be aware of the structural changes and then alert students to the new codes and signals. (Goldstone, 2001) Teachers need to become more aware of illustrative techniques and media. (Serafini) Reading should not be viewed as an identification process, but rather an investigation process (Serafini)

Suggested Child Friendly Vocabulary

Jungle gym stories Question mark stories Author and me stories Picture jokes Multiple voices What is real? stories

(Goldstone, 2001)

Example Comprehension Questions

Can the students find more than one story in the book? Is there another story lurking in the borders, in the pictures? How do the two stories interrelate? Do characters move from one to another? What does this do to the story? Is there anything camoflauged or hidden from view? Is there anything hidden from the characters that the readers know about? How does this make the students feel? How does this affect the story? Do the characters talk about the book, the pages or the process of making the book? Do the characters play with the pages of the book? What is real in this story? Are there any holes in the story? What is missingthe setting? The problem? The ending? How can we fix it?

(Goldstone, 2001)

Postmodern Picture Book List

Ahlberg, J., & Ahlberg A. (1986). The jolly postman or other people's letters. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. Baille, A. (1998). Drac and the gremlin. Melbourne, Vic: Viking Kestrel. Baille, A. (1996). DragonQuest. Gosford, NSW: Scholastic. Banyai, I. (1995). Zoom. New York: Viking. Banyai, I.(1995). Re-Zoom. New York: Viking. Base, G. (1996). The discovery of dragons. Australia: Viking Browne, A. (1990). Changes. London: Julia MacRae Browne, A. (1991). Willys pictures. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick. Browne, A. (1997). Willy the dreamer. London: Walker Books. Browne, A. (1977). A walk in the park. London: Hamish Hamilton Children's Books. Browne, A. (1977). Through the magic mirror. New York: Greenwillow Books. Browne, A. (1983). Gorilla. London: Julia MacRae Books. Browne, A. (1986). Piggybook. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Browne, A. (1992). Zoo. New York: Knopf. Browne, A. (1997). The tunnel. London: Walker Books. Browne. A. (1998). Voices in the park. New York: DK. Burninham, J. (1977). Come away from the water, Shirley. London: Johnathon Cape. Burningham, J.(1978). Time to get out of the bath, Shirley. London: Jonathan Cape. Child, L. (2000). Beware of the storybook wolves. New York: Scholastic. Child, L. (2002). Who's afraid of the big bad book? New York: Hyperion.

Book List (cont.)

Crew, G. (1997). Tagged. Adelaide, SA: Era Publications. Crew, G. (1997). The viewer. Melbourn, Vic.: Lothian. Drescher, H. (1983). Simon's book. San Francisco: MacAdam/Cage Children's Books. Garland, M.. (1995). Dinner at Margritte's. New York: Dutton Children's Books. Gravett, E. (2006). Wolves. New York: Simon and Schuster. Jeffers, O. (2006). The incredible book eating boy. New York: Philomel Books. Jonas, A. (1987). Reflections. New York: Greenwillow. Jonas, A. (1983). Round trip. New York: Greenwillow. Lendler, I. (2005). An undone fairy tale. New York: Simon & Schuster. Macauley, D. (1987). Why the chicken crossed the road. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Macauley, D. (1990). Black and white. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Macauley, D. (1995). Shortcut. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Mann, P. (1995). The frog princess?. London: ABC Books. Marsden, J. (1998). The rabbits. Melbourne, Vic.: Lothian. McGuire, R. (1997). What's wrong with this book? New York: Viking. Muntean, M. (2006). Do not open this book! New York: Scholastic. Say, A. (2002). Home of the brave. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Scieszka, J. (1991). The frog prince continued. London: Viking. Scieszka, J. (1992). The stinky cheese man and other fairly stupid tales. New York: Viking. Scieszka, J. (1989). The true story of the three little pigs. Melbourne, Vic.: Puffin. Sis, P. (1996). Starry messenger. New York: Frances Foster. Spiegelman, A. (1997). Open me Im a dog! Joanna Cotler Books. Thompson, C. (1993). Looking for Atlantis. New York: Knopf Van Allsburg, C. (1995). Bad day at Riverbend. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Weisner, D. (1991). Tuesday. New York: Clarion. Weisner, D. (2001). The three pigs. New York: Houghton Mifflin. Willard, N. (1991). Pish, posh, said Hieronymus Bosch. Ill. L. & D. Dillon. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Wood, A. (1996). Bright and early Thursday evening. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace


Amazon.com. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/ Antsey, M. & Bull G. (2006). Teaching and learning multiliteracies: Changing times, changing literacies. Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Antsey, M. (2002) Its not all black and white: Postmodern picturebooks and new literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(6). Goldstone, B. P. (2001). Whaz up with our books? Changing picture book codes and teaching implications. Reading Teacher, 55(4), 362 Google Books. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/ ONeil, K. (2010). Once Upon Today: Teaching for Social Justice with Postmodern Picturebooks. Children's Literature In Education, 41(1), 40-51. doi:10.1007/s10583009-9097-9 Serafini, F. Postmodern childrens picturebooks. Frankserafini.com. Retrieved from http://www.frankserafini.com/BooklistsPDF/PMbooks.pdf Serafini, F. Voices in the park, voices in the classroom: Readers responding to postmodern picture books. Frankserafini.com. Retrieved from http://www.frankserafini.com/PubArticles/Voices.htm Sipe, L. & Pantaleo S. (2008). Postmodern picturebooks: play, parody, and selfreferentiality. London: Routledge.