Picture Books: What We Fail To See

by Wenndy Pray

A Children's Book Analysis On the Correlation Between Purposeful Illustrations and Effective Story Elements

Martina The Beautiful Cockroach

Retold by Carmen Agra Deedy

Illustrated by Michael Austin

In this humorous tale about a cockroach forced to run the gauntlet of suitors in search for the perfect mate, Austin's artistic contribution furthers the story's plot and engulfs the reader through the use of texture in his art. When Martina's grandmother suggests coffee be accidentally spilt on each suitor's foot, Martina's extreme hesitation is portrayed through the texture and detail of the images. In turn, each suitor's reaction is also perfectly encompassed with how Austin conveys the emotion in the drawings and color saturation. These elements cause the images to leap from the page making them plapable. The technique engages the reader on multiple levels. In addition, the size of the book's pages lend themselves to spread the images and include details like facial expressions, character reactions, and setting presentation.

In making the images tactile and inviting, it can be said that Deedy's retold tale is complemented by the illustrations that Austin provides. The vivid colors and designs portray the elements of the story so well, that young readers can interpret its trajectory, conflict, and plot. Interestingly enough, one would expect that Martina be brown as an average cockroach, but Austin's symbolic choice of green also enlightens the more refined reader to Martina's aspirations and hope for the perfect suitor. Austin's art also conveys how overwhelmed Martina is by the ordeal. For example, her first suitor, Don Gallo, covers half of the page and towers over the delicate Martina. The iconic characteristic of the loud rooster is evident through his exaggerated reaction. Don Gallo's portrayal on the page demonstrates his demeanor when he's appalled and retreats and disgust. The same choice in illustration layout and design continues with the other suitors as well. The realistic approach brings the characters to life. The illustrations not only compliment the events, but also perpetuate the feeling of suspense and validation that follow Martina when and after she encounters each suitor. Austin's choice of layout and design for his illustrations complement this excellent story well.

Deedy, C., & Austin, M. (2007). Martina, the beautiful cockroach: A Cuban folktale. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.

The Legend Of The Bluebonnet: An Old Tale of Texas

Retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

This folktale narrates the birth of the bluebonnet in Texas. As a native folktale, dePaola incorporates a solemn, reverent design using lines. It can be argued that her use of lines transmits a sense of respect in the story. The drawings are representative of the Native American Indian and emanate a sense of appreciation as well as what could be perceived as a time of solitude and desperation during a time of famine. The main character, She-Who-Is-Alone, must decide to sacrifice the one thing that means the world to her to save her people. The use of lines carefully displays the burden she bears when she realizes the difficult choice she must make. As the story unfolds, She-Who-Is-Alone remembers her lost relatives. The reader can see the spirits of her loved ones in the sky or in her memory. They seem to be a floating apparition because of the use of lines. The spirits move across the sky in a moment of clarity or remembrance. The use of lines preserves how the Comanche lived. From the dress, the characters' hair, the horizon, and finally, the rain in one of the final scenes, dePaola presents a masterpiece of the time. A perfect example of this is when the village is drawn in unison as they await word from the shaman. The tribes people always together, in line, in a ritualistic fashion. The main character is also always drawn with strong profile lines. Whenever the character reaches a moment of spiritual depth, they seem to break the confines of the lines. A descriptive example of this is when She-Who-Is-Alone thrusts the ashes of her burnt doll into the winds. DePaola's strokes in the young girl's hair and in the fringes of her dress show the winds powerful effect on the moment and on the character.

The author's work also exemplifies the manipulation of setting in this story. The unforgiving famine in the land has taken everything from She-Who-Is-Alone. She's destitute because of the suffering the people have endured thus far. Unfortunately for her, she is left with nothing but this warrior doll her family left her. The conflict in this compelling story is between the girl and the weather. One can almost come to the conclusion that it isn't the spirits that require a sacrifice, but the famine itself. What makes this story so poignant is how the this young lady transcends the idea of belonging and not only sacrifices her doll, but her peace of mind, her sense of loyalty. In the climactic scene where she disperses the ashes, She-Who-Is-Alone is one with the wind and the elements. She and the setting converge in the crux of the story. There is a manifestation of the setting and it is at this point where it solidifies its place in the story. It is in this particular scene where She-Who-Is-Alone transforms. It is where selflessness prevails.

DePaola, T. (1996). The legend of the bluebonnet: An old tale of Texas. New York: Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers.


Written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Olivia is a true work of art. As simplistic as its drawings may seem, Falconer includes an aspect of Olivia through the use of one color: red. Red symbolizes passion, danger, love, and Olivia embodies all of these things. Falconer's use of red accentuates Olivia's lovable personality and enables her to camp near and dear to the reader's heart. This little pig's active lifestyle even wears the reader out. Through the dedication of the book, it is evident that Falconer was inspired to create such a vibrant character by one of his children. Olivia is also the only vibrant member of her family. She's the only one wearing a bright red top in her family portrait. The use of red in her wardrobe also encapsulates her vibrant youth and energy. When she has to try absolutely everything in her wardrobe, and it's youthful and carefree, the garment is red. There is one garment that isn't red. It's a pair of pantyhose. Falconer may've left it black and gray because it's a garment associated with growing up and restriction, thus making this omission of color humorous. On the contrary, one must observe how there is no color in what she could be imagining her self to be when she sees the painting of the ballet dancers during her mediation at the museum. The illustration covers an entire page and there is no red. Could this be because this isn't a reality for Olivia? Or could it be that she doesn't fully understand or can't completely relate to the dancers? Falconer does state that she "looks at it for a long time." Another page where there is no color and the image also covers the entire page is when Olivia's mother is reading to her. This a moment of down time and relaxation for Olivia; therefore, there is no color red. When she sleeps, she dreams of singing opera in a red dress. Her dream lives.

Olivia's rambunctious actions and eager thirst for life cause her to become endearing and meaningful to the young reader. Young readers can relate to Olivia, and through this connection, she becomes an unforgettable character. Falconer also depicts her as small, yet important - young, yet an overcomer. Olivia's unquenchable thirst to experience life through various avenues makes her invincible. The drawings of her trying on different clothes resonate with young children. She doesn't let herself be confined by the boundaries of age or ability. Even when she attempts her own Jackson Pullock painting, she excels. She's a strong presence in the story and even after the the last page is turned. Olivia even inspires adults to live life. To live it with energy, with individuality, and to even live it in dreams. Olivia is the very color red.

Falconer, I. (2000). Olivia. New York, New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Where the Wild Things Are

Story and pictures by Maurice Sendak

This children's classic is known for its vibrant artwork, captivating scenes, and memorable storyline. The composition of the artwork is what brings all these elements together to create a fabulous story and burn Max and the Wild Things into our childhood memories. Composition, or the combination of all the elements of art, infuses the story with mystery and enchantment. From the moment Max wears his wolf costume and crosses the line between a mischievous real life and a mythical world of wonder, the images from scene to scene move the plot from one one significant moment in the story to another. Maurice Sendak transforms the setting of the story with lines, texture, and color. The aesthetic presentation of the pages brings the reader delight and furthers the story when the words alone don't suffice.

Sendak's plot about a boy's dissent as he "sails off through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year" into what seems to be a child's rebellious tantrum, takes us to a world where Max is the king and is granted the wish of a rumpus. Max's activities in the wilderness mimic his wild behavior at home. And just as his mother silences him and sends him to bed without supper, Max tames the "terrible roars... terrible teeth...terrible eyes... and terrible claws", and sends them "off to bed without their supper." Sendak's story becomes a legend because he takes a rather common occurrence in a child's life and tells it from a different perspective. The memorable lines that transport Max to this special place and back "over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night" to the reality that awaited him in his room. Sendak's work sets the scene for this magical journey and creates an unforgettable story full of magical events.

Sendak, M. (1963). Where the wild things are. New York: Harper & Row.

Mirror Mirror

By Marilyn Singer

Illustrated by Josée Masse

The saturation and juxtaposition of color in Mirror Mirror propels the reverso technique that Singer uses in her poetry. Reading the exact same poem from two different perspectives is not an easy feat. Singer accomplishes it with this technique. Based on fairy tales, Singer's poems are accompanies by Masse's incredibly artwork. He uses the colors on opposite ends of the spectrum to compliment the stories, and to juxtapose the points-of-view in each. The colors also create a line down the middle of the page to separate the illustration that goes with each poem. It's quite revolutionary and innovative. In addition to conveying opposite views, the colors also influence the readers' mood. The changes in color perpetuate what seems like a volley as the reader's eyes go from page to page. It can be argued that the colors speak as well.

Singer's style of poetry uses punctuation, capitalization, and imagery to convey opposing views based on fairy tales. Singer's poetry and Masse's illustrations work together to create something truly unique. The construction of the poem's and the poetic elements included allow the reader to enjoy the poetry aloud. Singer's words flow from one line of poetry to another. In addition to her choice of diction, punctuation gives the writing a unique style. Young readers can appreciate the poetry because of the illustrations and the simplicity of the subject matter. The pinnacle of this piece is the ingenuity in composing a poem that could be read "from bottom to top" about a specific story and from the two opposing characters within that story. That is true genius.

Singer, M. (2010). Mirror mirror: A book of reverso poems. New York, New York: Dutton Children's Books.

The Three Pigs

by David Wiesner

The Three Pigs presents a welcomed twist to perspective, point-of-view, and total control of the page through the texture of the illustrations. David Weisner tells the traditional story of "The Three Little Pigs" and introduces the idea of the characters exiting the story. When the characters leave the pages of the tale within the book, their composition changes from the typical two-dimensional aspect, to a more realistic perspective of a pig. In various frames, the pigs are caught in the midst of two different worlds and their hair and bodies show the difference of the two. Weisner shows the story frames as rigid and cartoonish in nature. Once the pigs realize they have control of their story, the 3-D quality of the artwork makes them come alive. On a full page, one pig inquires and says, "I think there's someone out there," as it stares directly off the page and into the reader's eyes! They venture through other stories and nursery rhymes and bring those characters along as well. The different shades and shadows, pencil strokes, and attention to detail and depth creating texture bring the other characters alive as well.

Through the use of texture, Weisner manipulates the plot of the famous children's story. Who says the story's got to go a certain way? His sole illustrations propel the young reader to turn the page and take in the experience with the characters, from soaring through on a paper airplane through solid white pages, to observing other stories in print through different portals. Interestingly enough, the pigs return to their own story with new characters. The depiction of bringing characters off the page through the use of texture gives the characters a new sense of autonomy and creates a fairy tale ending of their own.

Wiesner, D. (2001). The three pigs. New York: Clarion Books.

This is Not My Hat

By Jon Klassen

A little fish's brave act teaches a powerful lesson in this story. Klassen's artistic ability to use color helps convey this important truth about social interaction. In the first page of this story, the color black overtakes the page and surrounds a miniature being with a tiny hat. It's an ominous feeling, and the avid reader is able to predict that the very color predicts danger for the small being. Furthermore, the character that was harmed is a larger fellow with neutral tones and a pleasant disposition. It's also quite humorous that the smaller fish thinks he can get away with stealing from a fish probably fifty times its size. Klassen choice of word placement in a white backdrop may also symbolize how clean the little's fish's conscience is while it swims to dark seas. When it little fish believes it's made its escape into the tall kelp in the ocean floor, more color engulfs the page. The colors aren't vibrant, but a neutral tone instead. Ultimately, the hat's rightful owner finds the little fish in the midst of tall grass, and this is where the little fish learns it's lesson - out of the darkness and in a moment of clarity.

Children's book critics may believe that themes are too overbearing in child's literature; however, this story has the power to teach a young reader that stealing is bad without scaring the child away or causing the reader to disengage from the story. A young reader who may see himself or herself as the young, little fish will learn that the truth has a way of always surfacing. The thematic content of the book is sufficient to show children that not only is stealing, hiding the truth, hurting others, and thinking that people will cover up your actions with lies is bad, but that truth will come out sooner or later. The clincher at the end is that one doesn't know what the fate of the little fish is. This clever ending resides in the minds of young children to further the moral of the story.

Klassen, J. (2012). This is not my hat. Somerville, Massachusetts: Candlewick press.

My Teacher Is A Monster

By Peter Brown

In this classic tale of misunderstanding, Peter Brown displays a change of perspective with his story, but most importantly with his various use of shapes. Any student can relate to the tyrannical teacher in the classroom, but Brown's illustrations portray Ms. Kirby exactly as Bobby sees her - a monster. His use of shapes convey how Robert's view of his teacher changes as the plot develops. When Bobby meets his teacher at the park on a Saturday morning, things begin to change for him. Through the use of different shapes, and as Bobby learns more about Ms. Kirby, she goes through a favorable transformation. Her physique morphs from a green monster with fangs and claws, to a human being when she shows Bobby that she can appreciate his ability to enjoy a paper airplane's decent from the highest point at the park.

The cultural stigma of how teachers and students misunderstand each other is relevant from the beginning of a child's school experience. It is unfortunate that teachers and students are misunderstood; however, Brown's rendition of how clarity is achieved through communication and bonding is a valuable lesson any young reader can relate to. On the other hand, older readers, especially teachers, can read this story and appreciate that although this may be presented in a simplistic way, it portrays never-ending truths about how relationships evolve within the school culture.

Brown, P. (2014). My teacher is a monster (A. Ling, Ed.). New York, New York: Hachette Book Group.

It's A Book

By Lane Smith

The modern debate between technology and the traditional book is the focus of Smith's book. A jackass and a monkey have a simple discussion on all the technological attributes a book does not have. Smith uses the effective use of lines to create mood and balance within the illustrations. The jackass and the monkey are drawn with definite lines to enhance the feelings between the characters. It can even be argued that there is a heightened sense of tension because of the jackass's failure to comprehend that a book is just that... a book. Smith's drawings convey that, although the jackass's questions tend to aggravate the monkey, the monkey's demeanor is controlled and collected. The older reader can appreciate a humorous flair to the composition of the drawings through Smith's use of lines. The shape the lines give the characters create depth within the characters as well. Furthermore, when the jackass escapes into the pages of the book and enjoys an excerpt from a sword battle, the lines in the artwork convey movement and the characters' emotion within that story. Her artistic decisions make these characters come to life as well. When the jackass is finally absorbed by reading the book, for what seems like hours on end, the monkey decides to go to the library. After the jackass offers to charge the book when he's done reading it, the line composition in the confrontation scene between them conveys the monkey's overflowing frustration; however, it's the small mouse that delivers the final blow from underneath the monkey's small hat. The use of lines in the formation of the rigid shapes communicates more than aesthetic value in this book.

The conflict of technology versus print is the central debate of the plot in this story. It is difficult to instill appreciation for the print medium in a modern society where technology slams a child's world from the beginning of his or her life. Smith's thematic ideas of appreciation for the simplicity of books creates a world where children can easily grasp this idea. Expressing that print can be appreciated its attributes and making the argument that it's better than technology is Smith's way of instilling a special message for the younger generation. "It's a book, Jackass," is a more subtle message than can be appreciated by older readers and adults.

Smith, L. (2010). It's a book. New York, New York: Roaring Book Press.

It's a Book by Lane Smith -- Book Trailer

The Paper Bag Princess

Story by Robert Munsch

Art by Michael Martchenko

Robert Munsch's story is about how a princess's eyes are opened after all her material belongings are burned by a fiery dragon. Michael Martchenko's use of lines in this story convey texture and compliment Princess Elizabeth's transformation. We first meet Elizabeth in her environment of cleanliness, beauty, and looking forward to marrying Prince Ronald. The use of lines in the illustrations give the impression that Elizabeth is impeccable and perfect. When the dragon burns away her possessions and takes Ronald away, the artist takes the reader through a world of dust, grime, and filth. The crowding of lines, the short scattered application, and the feeling of texture conveyed through the use of lines, make the reader feel dirty as well. One can argue that the lines enable the reader's perspective of the dire situation in which Elizabeth finds herself. In a scene where Elizabeth has an encounter with the dragon and defies it to prove its fiery breath capabilities, the illustrations in the page make the reader feel the heat of the dragon's fire. Interestingly enough, the mood displayed in this particular page is executed with the absence of lines. Martchenko's diverse manipulation of lines provides feelings of strength and balance in these characters.

The princess's transformation is also clearly conveyed through the images. Elizabeth's characters seems impossible of grasping the idea of being ugly at the beginning of the story. She defines her value with her clothes and possessions. What makes her a memorable character is the fact that her wit proves to be a more valuable asset. This is a growth that older readers can appreciate. She defeats the dragon by outwitting it, and then realizes that Ronald, her betrothed, won't appreciate her rescue efforts because of how she looks. It is through this unfortunate enlightenment that she finds that she is a princess no matter what.

Munsch, R. (1980). The paper bag princess. Buffalo, New York: Annick Press.

About the Author

Wenndy Pray is a South Texas native and a graduate student at Sam Houston State University. She is pursuing a Masters in Library Science and is scheduled to graduate in May of 2017. She has taught English at the secondary level since 2008 and currently teaches English I in high school.