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Presentation Details


New Ways with Words and Images: Picture Books in the 21st Century

Wendy Michaels.

While illustrated scrolls and manuscripts predate the invention of the printing press it was not until the 18th century that pictorial books first entered the marketplace. The earliest versions were alphabet books designed for the edification of young children. By the nineteenth century books of verse and rhymes had joined alphabet books, and these soon expanded to include Mother Goose Rhymes and nursery and fairy tales. By the end of the century "Toy Books" (picture books) were part of the staple fare for children. Maurice Sendak attributes the genesis of the modern picture book to the work of Caldecott and the "juxtapositioning of picture and word". For the first time, perhaps, writers were findings new ways to tell stories for young children using more than words. Throughout the early part of the 20th century the picture book was positioned as a book for young children perhaps with a wholesome mission to facilitate their early reading development with pictures largely elaborating upon the words.

Towards the end of this century, a subtle change was taking place in the picture book. Writers were experimenting with different ways of juxtaposing words and image and these new juxtapositions allowed writers to explore different kinds of stories stories that were not necessarily aimed at young children. While critics and researchers pointed to the ways in which picture books were evolving (eg Michaels and Walsh 1990) it was not until the end of the century that the Children's Book Council of Australia acknowledged the change that had taken place, by separating the picture book category from the books for early childhood readers in their Book of the Year Awards.

This paper examines some of the books awarded picture book of the year since 1990. It explores the ways in which the writers/illustrators of these picture books have discovered new ways to juxtapose words and image in communicating their stories. The paper suggests that new ways of reading are required to deal with these new ways of writing a non-spatial approach to reading.


Wendy Michaels  (Australia)
School of Humanities Faculty of Education and Arts
The University of Newcastle Ourimbah Campus

  • Picture Books
  • Young Adult Readers
  • Ways of Reading
  • Childres Literature

(30 min Conference Paper, English)