Sunday, September 05, 2010

Daniel Powers on Picture Books: Part 4, Pictures Leading the Narrative

Today, a final post about image and text in picture books from illustrator and teacher Daniel Powers.

In picture books that aren’t inherently narrative (concept books, and some nonfiction) story is often worked in solely through the use of imagery.

In Joyce Sidman’s Red Sings from Treetops, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, poetry introduces young readers to concepts of seasons, colors and cyclical rhythms in day-to-day life. The text itself is not narrative. But Zagarenski’s images imply a narrative based on the personification of color who, throughout the book, is accompanied by Pup; the two travel the pages of this title together, left to right, taking us through a year that starts with spring, moves into summer, then fall then winter, and back to spring again. We’ve gone on a journey because of the pictures. The rich, lyrical verse provides the conceptual structure upon which the illustrator paints a narrative.

David Macaulay’s Rome Antics is a book about architecture and public spaces in Rome, not exactly a hot topic for a picture book. Really, you can do anything with a picture book as long as you craft it carefully.

Macaulay uses words to do what words to best, and pictures to do what pictures do best. It's a wonderful example of how images and texts relate to create a very complex book that works on many, many levels.

[Uma] Daniel sent me this link as well, and it seems to me that there's no better way to end this conversation than Macaulay’s TED talk. In speaking about how he shaped this book, Macaulay demonstrates the combination of approaches that seem wildly at odds but are both essential to the form of the picture book: thinking in a large, lavish way, with lashings of whimsy, while all the time looking very, very closely at your subject. Anyone who has ever written a story into a corner and felt trapped by it will understand exactly what he's talking about!

Thank you Daniel Powers! All best to you in your teaching and art.


  1. Uma,
    Thanks for the link to David Macaulay's talk.

    I linked to it for my online course in technical reporting to discuss audience. I was intrigued by the fact that Macaulay didn't mention any considerations of his audience as he figured out what story he wanted to tell about Rome. Of course writing and illustrating literature is much less of an audience-driven process than technical communication . . .

  2. And sometimes in creative projects that feel fragile to begin with the potential audience is best kept at bay until the work takes more definite shape. In more practical kinds of writing it makes sense to me that the potential audience would be considered from the start. Am I saying fiction writers are not exactly known for being practical people? I suppose that's true--it's a pretty iffy thing to choose for a vocation!