The Art of the Picturebook

Authored by: Lawrence R. Sipe

Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  April  2011

Print ISBN: 9780415965057
eBook ISBN: 9780203843543
Adobe ISBN: 9781136913570


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Picturebooks blend words and illustrations. The two dance together, in what Maurice Sendak once famously called the “seamless” style of these two modes of expression. Lawrence Sipe—who specializes in the analysis of this genre—has specifically chosen to highlight the relationship by using picturebook as one word rather than two, for it is the combination of art and language that together create the aesthetic object. Still, he argues that the picturebook is ever transforming, drawing in other visual and written genres from the comic book to the novel. And like all transformations, each decision—from the peritextual features to the drama that occurs at the turn of the page—is freighted with ideological and sociocultural implications. Caldecott award-winning artists, Chris Raschka and David Wiesner, echo Sipe’s argument with detailed insights into their own creative processes, including their often surprising results as they work with gutters, end pages, and margins to best tell their stories.

“Sequential art,” to use Will Eisner’s (1985) term, is nothing new. Think of Hogarth’s (1735) popular series of eight prints limning the rise and demise of a headstrong and greedy young man, A Rake’s Progress, and you will see that the idea of a series of visual images connected together by a narrative thread is not something that originated recently. Indeed, we can trace this idea much further back to ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman murals, Chinese and Japanese scroll paintings, and to medieval art such as the Bayeaux tapestries and stained glass windows. Some (Kiefer, 2008) argue that we can go even further back, to prehistoric sequential cave paintings. Often, these earlier pieces of art rely almost exclusively on visual images; Hogarth’s series has no words except for the titles of the images.

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