Inside picture books: a reading list for teachers


There is nothing as lovely as sitting down with a beautiful picture book. But this is no surprise as visual narratives have been present in our cultures since the first cave drawings, entertaining, informing and enchanting their viewer-readers, regardless of age or culture. We have continued telling stories through pictures in the form of frescoes, paintings, comic books and films, but only recently have they become the centre of study. In the 1960s Rudolf Arnheim’s still immensely influential work, Visual Thinking was a first step towards establishing the importance of images. Then in the 1990s W.J.T. Mitchell talked about ‘the visual turn’ in literature and culture in general. Our visual, or more accurately multimodal age, affected by the rapid technological developments and digital revolution brought us to a world of images, which was often fast-paced and confusing but at the same time it has also shifted our attention to the aesthetics and wonder of visual storytelling. Picture books have started to fill not only our bookshelves, but also our classrooms, and more and more teachers are discovering these powerful resources. An important strand of research on pictures and picture books, multimodal semiotics and visual literacy has provided us with useful theoretical research to support the methodologies we use when approaching these books. Not only have semiotics and reading theories started to explore picture books, but the world of ELT has also discovered them for language classrooms.

We have collected some theoretical resource books for you to learn more about these books. Choose one for the holidays, and when you are back in school, experiment with these books. We recommend picture books not only for young learners, but also for teens and adults. You just need to select the right theme and reading difficulty, and get reading!

As Clare Painter, Len Unsworth and Jim Martin remind us,

” … picture books need to be taken seriously as a bimodal form of text in which the visual modality plays just as important a role as the verbal one in creating meaning and shaping readers.”

We highly recommend their book, Reading visual narratives: Image analysis of children’s picture booksas it offers one of the most comprehensive reviews of theoretical and pedagogical works on picture books. 



And here is a fabulous anthology to give you a taste of some groundbreaking picture books from all over the world:

Check back later this week to read an interview with Sandie Mourão, language teacher educator and author, whose main research field is picturebooks and language education.

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