Okiko Miyake

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

Speaker: Okiko Miyake (Japan)


The Paper for the 30th IBBY (Sep. 2006, Macao)

The Development and Possibility of Representation in Picture Books for Children: To what extend has the picture book advanced?

Miyake Okiko

The picture book has developed as a kind of book for infants in so-called “developed countries.” It has been a tool for grown-ups to stimulate infants’ attention, to entertain and to enhance contact with them. However, when we consider the picture book as a means of communication through “pictures and text,” the picture book has a long history. If we look into the history of the picture book, we can also trace important steps in the development of human communication: from orality to the written word , from listening to oral tales to listening to stories being read aloud.

As the recent study of brain science has revealed, there is now a problem of “brain contamination” caused by too much image stimulation transmitted through television, animated films, and personal computers. There is a relationship with the fact that due to the eminent expressive power of visual media at a time when it is important for children to have direct communication and contact with other people, children have actually less and less time to talk directly or look carefully at still pictures. This is the reason why the picture book has advanced in developed countries: picture books are necessary for infants to create images by themselves.

The picture book is, in fact, a “nineteenth-century-style old fashioned medium” consisting of a combination of pictures and text. However, the picture book is usually read by grown-ups while infants listen and look on. Reading together is one of the very few cultural assets for which grown-ups and children can respond to each other and share the contents. Natural human responses such as “happy,” “fun,” “sorrowful,” “lovely,” and “fearful” can be realized through association with picture books.

I would like to illustrate how the picture book “matured” and advanced by briefly tracing the history of the picture book. There have been various factors to explain the picture book has been recognized as an independent medium, the most important is the construction of a “modern reader.” A lot of modern readers have developed along with the development of print media such as newspapers, or magazines, as well as the development of traffic networks, the postal system, school system, and the library as a reading apparatus. “Books for children” were not published until “bookmen” were also subsequently produced, those who appreciated the value of reading.

In the early period of the publication of children’s books, most publications for children were educational books, including moral tales, religious tales, and precepts which grown-ups wished to hand down to their children. Textbooks were also very important. People realized that when textbooks included pictures, the readers could learn words and understand the contents more efficiently. Gradually, a gap between what children wanted to read and what grown-ups wished to give them became more pronounced. To consider not only what adults wished to give children as “books for children” but also what children wanted to read was necessary. To recognize the difference between children according to their age and personality, and to guarantee children’s free reception became important. To have such an image of a child was indispensable.

The history of picture book and that of publishing technology have a close relationship. In Britain, after the time of hand coloring, the technique of multi-colored wood-block printing reached its peak during 1860s to 1880s when creators including Walter Crane, Randolph Caldecott, and Kate Greenaway produced works which have been highly evaluated to this day.

Another important factor is that a world in peace makes free representation possible. After World War I, many illustrators moved to the United States., a great economic power at that time, and produced works which made their places in the history of the picture book. In Japan, picture books flourished during 1960s to 1970s, a time when people seriously considered the future of their children after World War II. In South Korea in 1990s, many young artists who wished to have artistic recognition with the general public produced picture books of high quality reflecting their national culture and tradition.

The picture book is a simple, easy to understand, and accessible medium; however, when one looks at the picture books which have been read for dozens of years in each country, one can see that they are a visual representation based on national culture and tradition. I would like to demonstrate, taking several picture books as examples, how picture books have advanced and developed as an independent medium. Each book presents its own world beginning from the front cover and ending with the back cover. The picture book is so close to us and so much a part of every day use that its significance has not been taken seriously. Picture books are, in fact, an expressive medium as complete a form as a novel, movie, or painting, which display a world which can be enjoyed by everyone from a baby to a 100-year-old person.

First of all, most early picture books consisted of retelling of old tales, books for literacy, and illustrated reference books. The picture book then became a place of self-representation for the creators. For example, Brian Wildsmith’s ABC (1962) is totally different when compared with an early book of ABC in the Victorian Age. The former represents a point of view of things where in. Each word responds to each picture, creating an aesthetic world.

Secondly, picture books have advanced to a medium which can describe one’s inner world. In the Forest (1944) by Marie Hall Ets clearly indicated what was happening inside the woods, that is, in the imaginary world of children. Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are (1963) went one step further. The protagonist travels from his room to the woods, to the sea to meet the wild things, while in fact traveling into his inner world. He reigns as king over his inner wild things and dances together with them. The work is memorable in that the story indicates a world which has never been described before, together with the skillful construction of the illustrations.

Thirdly, story picture books advanced from an “illustrated story” to “a combination of pictures and text as a whole.” The drama inside is shared from the point of view of the audience. Only thirty-two words are used in Pat Hutchins’ Rosie’s Walk (1968). In Charles Keeping’s Joseph’s Yard (1969), a boy exchanges junk produced by humans for a rose. He recognizes himself as a “living” thing in nature as he realizes the changes in the yard. Keeping’s unique illustrations indicates his attitude which does not tolerate excessively cheerful, sweet, or childish picture books.

Fourthly, the age of targeted readers was extended. When some publishers or critics say that apicture book is for people from “zero to hundred years old,” they mean that it can be appreciated by all ages. However, now it is not difficult to find a picture book whose audience is babies, infants, schoolchildren, young adults, grown-ups, or the elderly. Historically, the picture book has been considered as a book read by infants before they are able to read longer stories. However, it is now changed: the picture book is a medium enjoyable as it is, regardless of the age of the audience. Take a love story as an example: love stories can be found in many picture books, most the old tales are love stories. However, Hasegawa Shuhei’s Sleepless (1996) is aimed at boys from age five to teenagers. The theme is the protagonist’s worries which make him sleepless. Above all, the scene where he visualizes his strong emotions toward the opposite sex is overwhelming. In this scene, a boy inhales a girl into his mouth. The scene forces the audience to question the significance of describing sexual emotion to such an extent.

Fifthly, picture books with abstract representations appeared. When Moko Mokomoko (1977) by Motonaga Sadamasa was published, it was only appreciated by a few picture book lovers. However, it turned out to be a steady seller which can be found today in every bookshop dealing with picture books. Especially, as a year-old babies stare at and respond so well to the pictures of the book, Moko Mokomoko is often included on booklists for babies. Needless to say, it is representative of picture books for readers from “zero to hundred years old.” When you look at this book, you can gradually realize the process creating the world.

Lastly, I would like to refer to parody picture books. To make a parody based on an original work and common understanding is a complicated work of representation. The most frequently found example is a parody of the old tale of “The Three Little Pigs,” including The Three Pigs (2002) by David Wiesner and The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig (1994) written by Eugene Trivizas and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (1992), written by Jon Scieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith totally deconstructed and parodied such old tales. Such a trend in picture book development which appears at the apex of culture still continues.

The examples of picture books ever advancing can also be found in the “I Spy” (finding out the hidden things)” series and in pop-up books represented by Jan Pienkowski’s Haunted House (1979).

There are many reasons why the picture book keeps advancing. What I consider most important is that the simple form of a book continues to stimulate the imaginative power of the creators. Indeed many creators have realized that through the creation of a picture book art is not only beneficial for certain classes of people as it used to be but also for the general public. Another important reason is that picture books are easier to cross the border of nation, class or age than other literary works. Other important reasons include that respective cultural backgrounds can easily be accepted through a picture book, and that picture books can flourish internationally. The picture book audience can recognize the possibility of sharing cultures with diverse peoples as well as the importance of knowing their differences.

A world is indicated in each of the picture books which have been popular for a long time and which keep advancing. I would like to continue to enjoy their variety.

(1734 words)