Igor Saksida

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room I

Speaker: Igor Saksida(Slovenia)


Igor Saksida

University of Ljubljana


The Development Trend of Children’s Picture Books (in Slovenia)

»In an important sense, all picture books are puzzles. The details of picture invite our attention to their implications.«


Slovene picture book and literary illustration have been subject to a considerable number of theoretical treatments and critical writings. In the most prominent Slovene expert journal Otrok in knjiga (Children and books), which has a most significant subtitle »journal for the issues of children's literature, literary education and media, dealing with books«, over forty expert articles are dedicated to visual language as a component of literature, not to mention all the short reviews and bibliographies. Furthermore, Slovene picture books have been dealt with in several monographs; in one of the most fundamental Slovene theoretical books on children's literature, titled Pogledi na mladinsko književnost (Views on children's literature, 1987), the author Marjana Kobe deals only with quality picture books, dismissing all the picture book kitsch, the main characteristic of which is anonymous authorship. In the mass of picture books she recognizes several types and subtypes, thus inventing different subtypes according to authorship, different comprehension levels, creative procedure, the layout of text and illustrations in a picture book, source of text, as well as new visual and functional possibilities. – The evaluation analysis of the most quality picture books, which, according to the author's definition are »visual-textual monoliths« rather than mere sum totals or collages of textual and visual parts, provided ground for the formation of a few typical groups of Slovene picture books, to which parallels can be found in the contemporary European and world picture book production. These typical subgroups are:

• authorial picture book,

• activating picture book,

• classical picture book

• open picture book (for any age).

This classification of M. Kobe is no doubt the most consistent and influential classification in theory; as such it will serve as a starting-point for the survey of the contemporary Slovene picture book.

Nevertheless, the picture book »poetics« offers more questions than answers; the foremost problem is the problem of theoretical definition of a picture book whereby this definition can be either strict or lax. According to the strict definition, the term picture book can only apply to such a book in which text cannot possibly be independent of the visual part. The picture books corresponding to this definition are (1.) authorial picture books, (2.) picture books without text as well as (3.) activating and other picture books, in which text directly »points« at a picture or at a game with the book. Another interesting group of picture books could be defined as (4.) open picture books (for any age). It comprises either picture books with complex messages and obvious symbolical dimensions or adapted classical texts for grown-ups. Regarding the lax, broader definition, a picture book is every book determined by two more or less equal layers – visual and textual. This category includes a major part of picture books, and it is quite obvious that it is difficult to draw a line between a picture book and an illustrated book. This very reason – namely the fact that a picture book »grows up« very quickly into an illustrated book – keeps the question of the connectedness/interaction of the two messages – the visual and the textual one – just as topical and exciting as ever, although the idea about the autonomy of visual expression remains attractive.

Authorial picture book

The typical feature of an authorial picture book is that the illustrator and text writer are one and the same person (if the text exists at all). The first picture book according to the date of publishing in this group is Marjan Amalietti's picture book without text Maruška potepuška (Maruška the Vagabond, 1977). This is a picture narrative about a girl who strolls around on a snowy winter day and goes through a number of adventures, depicted in a recognisable images of movement: she visits Triglav and meets wild animals but returns to the safe shelter of a warm home at last. In the 1970s, two picture books by Marjan Man?ek aroused attention – Brundo se igra (Grumbly is playing, 1978) and Brundo ska?e (Grumbly is playing, 1979). Already the first picture book describes a teddy bear's everyday life, his (childlike) fondness for sweets, his playfulness, and, above all, the world of other animals that make the teddy bear happy by bringing him presents. The picture book is full of comical situations and momentary turnabouts.

Another subtype of authorial picture books is picture books with text. Thus Božo Kos in his picture books Kaj pa žebelj (What about the nail, 1981), Veliiiika repa (The Biiig Turnip, 1982), Mrkbrkfrk in Zafrk (1983) and Iz sedmih tri (Three out of seven, 1987) vivifies objects and renovates fairy-tale patterns in a simple, humorous drawing of spare strokes. – As for the examples of contemporary authorial Slovene picture books, many could draw our attention. The work of Mojca Osojnik To je Ernest (This is Ernest, 1997), written in the first person, is a tale about the friendship between the girl Ana and a cat called Ernest. The author's innovative, non-mimetic drawing provides for a thematic complement, »explanation« of the text, by the same means she verbally and visually in her book Polž Vladimir gre na štop (Snail Vladimir goes hitch-hiking, 2003) tells the story about a hungry snail which decides to travel to the garden not far away, but in his long-time journey meets many friends that try to help him, one of them being the meditating turtle, clearly characterised by illustration that incorporates several topical details. Perhaps the most interesting and well-known (also abroad) is a specific »language« of picture books by Lila Prap, of which two of them are very interesting, so in messages as in function. Her work Zakaj? (Why?, 2002) poses obvious childlike questions (e.g. Why a giraffe has such a long neck?) and provides humorous answers to them (e.g. Because she has eaten not well-cooked spaghetti.) The composition of each presentation of a selected animal character invites, together with a flat illustration of this character, children to think out their own answers – therefore, this book could also be characterized as an activating picture book. The same broader function of a picture book is recognisable from her work Mednarodni živalski slovar (International animal dictionary, 2004), in which through depiction of an animal, specific for the author, multiculturalism is promoted, i.e. children could teach their pets to speak foreign languages and learn other languages themselves, as the author stresses in the foreword of her work. – Apart from some interesting works presented, it is obvious that in Slovenia authorial picture book is not the prevailing type within the frame of textual and visual work for children.

Activating picture book

Another non-prevailing type in the field of picture books is activating picture book – the type of text that invites and stimulates children to fantasy plays. The simplest form of picture book co-created by children is no doubt a colouring book (for example Tone Pav?ek, Marjan Man?ek: Doma?e živali/Domestic animals, 1976). An outstanding example amongst activating picture books is the »posterlike« Aladinova ?udežna svetilka (Aladdin's magic lamp, Svetlana Makarovi?, Tomaž Kržišnik, 1974); the »reading« of this book takes addressee into the vast world of fairy-tale landscapes and heroes. These are symbolized by Kržišnik's illustration work which is probably quite demanding for so young a reader. »Spatial« picture book is represented by two picture-picture puzzles Cufek modrijan (Cufek the Sage, 1989) and Cufek v živalskem vrtu (Cufek in the Zoo, 1989) by Feri Lainš?ek and Marjan Man?ek. The picture books are interesting as a kind of »metaphores« for reading: the physical search for pictures is a reading discovering of literary characters and events. Less innovative is the type of abcrhymes (or alphabet books, comp. Nodelman, p. 242) which stimulates children to recognize letters. M. Kobe ranks this type among activating picture books, giving Grafenauer's Alphabet (1977) as an example. This picture book contains illustrations of Lidija Osterc which direct a reader to recognize pictures on the basis of a poetized and sometimes visually presented letter. The same illustrator co-created the book-toy Bibarije - pesmi, igre, slike (Word games - poems, games, pictures, Mira Voglar, 1982), which, with its playful texts, motivates children for motional games as well as for games with book »material« (making compositions out of picture book leaves). Compared with older illustrations, the visual expression of the illustrator has changed considerably. Both abcrhymes and »game« books are significant genres of the contemporary Slovene picture books, e.g. Lainš?ek/Ribi?’s book ?e padeš na nos. ne prideš na Nanos (If you break your nose, you will never climb Nanos, 2003), in which shape or sound of a letter (e.g. R) is related to surprising, even provocative image/illustration or verses – thus proving that an alphabet book could be an interesting reading event and could offer reading pleasures to young readers.

Classical picture book

Exploring new trends in Slovene picture books showed that one of the most interesting questions about contemporary poetics is whether alternative »language« of visual and textual layers of a picture book could also be found in classical picture books where visual and textual part forms a whole (mainly structured from words and illustration in thematic correlation) and which is mainly a result of cooperation between a writer and an illustrator. Therefore, a brief survey of picture books »classics« would provide a starting point for reflecting such new approaches to »visual-textual/verbal monolith«.

Among the works of the classic illustrators specialized in children's illustration, the extensive opus of Marlenka Stupica is highly important. Her popular picture book Moj dežnik je lahko balon (My umbrella can be a balloon, 1962) combines the elements of medieval and folk painting with the sweetness of children and funniness of grown-ups. Lidija Osterc developed a unique, stylized visual expression; she depicts nature as a lace ornament, and her human characters and animals remind us of geometrical forms. Her picture book Hišica iz kock (The house made of cubes, 1964), with the text of Kristina Brenkova, is also popular abroad. Another of the most prolific illustrators is An?ka Gošnik Godec, famous for her »soft« style and suggestive colours that characterize her picture book Muca Copatarica /Cat took the slippers (with the text of Ela Peroci, 1957). Slightly different is the picture book Lu?ka Regrat (Lucy Dandelion, 1987) by Gregor Strniša, which A. Gošnik Godec illustrated with her typical softness; but the fairy tale about a blowball which turns into a girl is most of all a symbolic depiction of spring awakening and universal connectedness of everything. The title hero is a most unusual character in her fantasticalness, fragility and yellow-green colours; she is a poetic symbol in the otherwise distinctly »real« urban setting. The symbolism of transitoriness and departing is reflected in diagonal compositions of the illustrations, though complex symbolism also marks other elements of the illustrator's style. – The years from 1965 to 1973 are a period of stagnation in the production of picture books in Slovenia. This is reflected in the commercialization of the genre; a typical representative of this period is Jelka Reichman, who has developed an original »poetics of grace«, idealized depiction of the children's world in a special, softened realism. Very interesting among her illustrations of classical and contemporary authors is the picture book Pajacek in pun?ka (A doll and a little girl, 1984, Kajetan Kovi?). It seems that artistic character of this work is mostly based on Kovi?'s symbolic fairy tale about a girl who resuscitates dolls by pricking pins in their bodies; the illustrations, however, are typically »girlish« or sweetishly lyrical.

In the seventies, eighties and nineties, new expressions emerged in Slovene picture books. Although Milan Bizovi?ar belongs to the generation of

»classics«, born between 1920 and 1930, a survey of the contemporary picture books would not be possible without mentioning of the Abecedarija (Abecedaria, 1975, Dane Zajc). Zajc's poetics is expressed either in purely linguistic »limerics« (Ma?ka /Cat) or in short stories in the form of poems (Aro), and in comical children's exaggerations (Erevan); his play deals with the cheerful, almost »festive« power of children's poetical creativity and of listening to the sonority of language. All this is accompanied by the diverse, equally playful and humorous visual language of M. Bizovi?ar, which is a combination of playful picture-texts (Cat), striplike arrangement of pictures forming a »story« (Aro), and of a dynamic, absurdly exaggerated depiction of »laughter« (Erevan). Vivid colours and dynamic character of illustrations, which make a contrast to the classical expression of the traditional poetry of the nineteenth century, are also a typical feature of the Bizovi?ar's illustrations of the Levstik's collection Najdihojca (1980). This very book serves as a proof that an innovative visual expression is also perfectly adequate when it comes to the presentation of the literary classics (i.e. children's poetry of the 19th century), which, as a rule, prefers the softer, tradition-based and »safer« styles of illustration. A special place amongst the innovative and artistically outstanding picture books pertains to Kova?i?'s Moži?ek med dimniki (Little man amongst chimneys, 1974); Bizovi?ar sticks to the rich, contrasting colours, typical of the Abecedaria. Colour pages alternate with white ones, so that before the reader's eyes, a very special mosaic of text, colour surfaces and stylized characters is emerging; a mosaic, rich with details and thus challenging for a reader, functions like a logical complement to the Kova?i?'s childlike playful poetics of the »images of the town«. Marjan Man?ek illustrated a book of verses Pedenjped (1984, N. Grafenauer) in his recognisable style: picture book (»album«) turns into a collection of witty caricatures, so that Man?ek's typical rounded forms and vivid colours are not just an accompaniment, but also an upgrading of the poetic messages, giving the latter additional »meanings«. A good example of this practice is the poem U?enjak (Scholar): »the house noise« from the last verse is interpreted as parents' quarrel in the illustration. The value aspect is further stressed by the difference between the folded upper (belonging to the parents, quarrelsome) part and the flat lower (Pedenjped's, scholar's) part of the illustration; in the same way, through a humorous dialogue between the past and the present/modern, Man?ek’s illustrations enhance the classical fairy-tale world of Andersen’s Princess and the pea, 2003). Another picture book worth mentioning is the lyrical tale Avtozaver (Autosaurus, 1976), conceived as a dialogue between the poet – Niko Grafenauer and the illustrator – Kostja Gatnik. The car, a live being in the poetic fantasy, changes in an autosaur in dreams; visually it is presented in the typical playful, nonsensical reality in which contemporary images of machines are connected with the mimicking and motives from nature. Another well-known book of verses is the ?en?arija by Tone Pav?ek, a black and white picture book containing illustrations of the same illustrator. Innovatively and with an »extra supplement« of message with regard to the text, the illustrator depicted titles of individual chapters. His illustrations greatly upgrade the moral of the poetry. A typical example of such upgrading is the introductory poem Kaj je ?en?arija (What is a ?en?arija), in which Gatnik visually interprets Pav?ek's »fairy alley« with images of the typical fairy tale heroes. An innovative insert is the appearance of aliens on a spacecraft, which probably means an actualization of a fairy cliché. The specific features of Gatnik's style are a quick rhythm of the alternation of images as well as some special cheerfulness and humour. Illustrator is therefore one of those artists who visually »upgraded« both poetry and prose. In the illustration of Saša Vegri's tale Jure kvak kvak (Georgie quack quack, 1975) he followed the dynamics of the story and inserted in the text a number of small illustrations showing the sudden transformation of a boy into a frog. The resemblance with strips and the wealth of colours are even today attractive and aesthetically innovative. It is interesting, however, that some illustrators apply innovative visual style to classical texts; for example Gatnik, who, in his depictions of the characters of the Slovene folk tale Zdravilno jabolko (The healing apple, 1979) changes fairy heroes into caricatures with coloured faces and strange, suggestive and comical mimicking. Because the moods, aroused by the classical fairy tale pattern on the one and innovative visual style on the other hand, are basically different, it can be claimed that Gatnik's work belongs to the type of illustrations which create tension and contrast, even contradiction (comp. Nodelman 1996: 241) between the textual and visual part of picture book.

In some of the most important prose and poetry picture books the tensions and additional connotations that surpass mere textual meaning are detectable in many ways, i.e.:

• darksome, even grotesque and

• lyrical and symbolic visual interpretation of a text.

Development from rather classical to more appealing expression of visual message is pronounced in the work of Marija Lucija Stupica, according to Maruša Avguštin »the first lady of the contemporary Slovene illustration«. Her visual solutions in Pekarna Mišmaš (Bakery Mishmash, 1975) – a story about a kind wizard, baker Mishmash – and in Sapramiška (Skipmouse, 1976) – a fairy tale about little mouse's broken tooth – emphasize the tempers of the main characters, her colours are distinct, and so is her realism, as far as it is possible in the fairy textual reality. However, in her illustrations of Hans Christian Andersen, Stupica no longer persists in such visual expression; her images are in a sense dark, melancholic, as if conveying »the dark side of life« as M. Avguštin wrote in 2003. Through selection of predominant colours (blue, green, white), light from above and symbolic details (e.g. skulls, human bones), obscure and mysterious atmosphere is created that underlines one of the poetic messages of the fairy-tale, the presence of loss of a beloved one and death. Similarly, an innovative style prevails also in the work of Marjan Amalietti; in his picture book Potepuh in no?na lu?ka (A tramp and a night lamp, 1977) his sombre, sometimes even grotesque humour finds an adequate connection with the strange text of »anti fairy tale«, i.e. a string of uncompleted drafts. Svetlana Makarovi? adds some rather scary fairy motives to the tale about the discarded night lamp – an impudent chimney which plays tricks on people, a dog with six paws, a monster on a solitary island which bites off people's ears, dancing scissors, etc. Amalietti's characters are so odd that they arouse mixed feelings of fear and funniness in people; the same feelings are caused by the contrasts of dark and vivid colours and by the nonsensical pasting of images. Even more radical in his visual »comments« on poetry is Zvonko ?oh in his illustrations of the children's folk limericks Enci benci na kamenci (1990, 1998) and book of verses Rimanice za predgospodi?e (Rhymes for Pre-gentlemen, 1993) written by Andrej Rozman Roza. These books are related to the tradition of nonsense, but they already surpass it with the inclusion of surprising and provocative »non-poetic« images which undermine reader's conception of beauty as the essential feature of children's poetry. Picture books, both in words and images, follow the children's »poetics of ugliness«: grotesquely deformed faces, grimaces, contrasting colours and the impression of movement (the author's field of work includes animated films) are completely in tune with the »subversive poetic play«. The typical feature of the latter is that it is an expression of protest against good taste, moderation and any kind of decency; some of these characteristics could also be detected in his illustrations of the fairy-tale Obuti ma?ek (Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, 2003).

Another, completely different style of literary and visual expression appears in the collection of poems by Bina Štampe Žmavc Nebeške ko?ije (Heavenly carriages, 1994). Her poetry weaved out of images and notions like nature, child, universe, sunshine and secret is accompanied by a rich palette of colours (the prevailing ones being violet, yellow and green) and by stylized characters. The illustrations upon which the poetry is »laid« were made by Danijel Demšar. Iridescent colours, shining spots, fairy creatures, asteroids and star maps create, in combination with the reflective poetry, a dreamy, symbolical reality addressing a reader with the language of mysterious places beyond the boundaries of human world. Links between the symbolism of text and illustrations can also be found in the fairy tales written by the same author. Her book Popravljalnica igra? (Toy repair shop, 1994), illustrated by Mojca Cerjak deals with the deep connectedness of nature, childhood, secret and love/creation; all this defines the blurred pictures of an old pavilion surrounded by lush greenery, dream visions and curious child characters in lyrical but not sweetish style of the illustrator. The fairy tale Ure kralja Mina (King Min's clocks, 1996), illustrated by Alenka Sottler, brings a slightly different textual-visual language, unveiling the invincibility of time, man's understanding of the transitoriness of his life and the »eternity of fairy tales for remembering«. The text is laid between full-page illustrations and tiny images: pictures of jewels and a sword (symbolism of wealth and power), clocks and skulls (transitoriness); the book arouses the feeling of some special immobility, eternity, and the characters are almost like puppets, completely under the command of the »Lord of time«.

Open picture book (for any age)

A special subtype of picture book is an open picture book (readerwise). M. Kobe defines this subtype as »picture books for all ages« (p. 53). It comprises either picture books with complex messages and obvious symbolical dimensions or adapted classical texts for grown-ups. Very special within the second type is the picture book Lenora (1991, illustrated by M. L. Stupica), which is filled with sad and sombre atmosphere. The illustrations of the Burger's ballad in Prešeren's translation correspond to the contents; not only are the colours deadly pale, there are also silhouettes of death, a raven, a funeral procession of monsters with pale, greenish faces, as well as empty and devastated landscapes stirring horrifying feelings of a catastrophe.


The described picture book trends reveal some interesting characteristics of contemporary production in this field. Primarily, innovative poetics of picture books is not (just) a domain of the works published in the nineties or in the 21st Century. Furthermore, some picture books, e.g. those published in the seventies and eighties, are still appealing nowadays due to their colourful, unconventional and sometimes provocative visual messages that correspond to the modern world of comics, cartoons, films and advertising. In these older and modern books, the main focus of both theoretical and critical investigation should be on the several possibilities of »upgrading« the verbal layer of a picture book – many of them were presented in contemporary theory, e.g. symmetrical, complementary, enhancing, counterpointing and contradictory interactions between words and pictures (Nikolajeva, 2003: 26). If a picture book is more then just a »sum total« of words and pictures, and is in fact a visual-textual monolith, than both the method/mode and the grade of visual addition to a text should be taken into consideration. The older picture books manage to fulfil this task successfully by making use of modern styles that scoop traditional images from different fairy-tales or modern strip-like arrangement of pictures and abstract (geometrical) imagery. Perhaps not very surprisingly, picture books, especially in the nineties, are more inclined to lyrical and symbolic (also childish) and to sad, sombre, even grotesque depictions of literary world.

Could all this be a response of picture books to the real world we live in?