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Visual Literacy: How visual elements make meaning

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The Fantastic Flying books of Mr Morris Lessmore feels like a book that I have treasured throughout my life, yet it was only released last year (Joyce, 2012). It shares the story of Mr Morris Lessmore who loved books and who wrote his own life within one. One day his books were taken away from him and he was lost for a time, until he found a place where books could be his life once more, and there he lived out the rest of his days.

Reading the illustrations parallel to the text reveals visual elements which create their own meaning and add depth to the story and greater connection to the reader (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday, 2010).

There is a warming sense of nostalgia to the book. This is created by the old fashioned clothes of Mr Lessmore, the classic font and the colour within the images which resemble old photographs with tones of sepia and a dullness to even bright colours.

FFBoMML - Inside cover font

(Joyce, 2012)

It takes me back to a time when books were truly valued and I empathise with Mr Lessmore and grow more attached to the book because of it. The book’s author has used visual elements to extend the protagonist’s love of books beyond its pages.

Colour is used throughout the text to portray emotion and add another layer to the story. When first introduced to Mr Lessmore and his love of books the image is colourful and has a warm glow to it suggesting love and contentment (Callow, 2013).

(Joyce, 2012)

(Joyce, 2012)

When his books are being destroyed the colour begins to disappear. In this image the text itself reveals the feeling of the wind taking the words away in both a written and visual means:

FFBoMML - a cyclone copy

(Joyce, 2012)

Until finally all colour is absent, his books destroyed:

(Joyce, 2012)

(Joyce, 2012)

The above image is the only image where the character appears to make eye contact with the viewer. In doing so the reader is invited into the character’s world to feel his loss alongside him (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006).

The remainder of images have no contact which creates a sense that the viewer is looking on at the happenings (Kree & Van Leeuwen, 2006). This accentuates that it is a tale from long ago and enhances that nostalgic sentiment.

Colour gradually returns to Mr Lessmore’s world as he returns to the world of books…

FFBoMML - By fence

FFBoMML - front of library

FFBoMML - Inside library

(Joyce, 2012)

Eventually, he is able to give the same happiness to others that he has regained himself:

(Joyce, 2012)

(Joyce, 2012)

The author has used colour to symbolise happiness and all things wonderful, and a lack of to represent loss and sadness (Callow, 2013). There are other uses of such metaphor in more and less obvious ways, for example, a literal meaning is communicated …

FFBoMML - lost in book

(Joyce, 2012)

Metaphor is also used to express the passing of time in a more emotive sense than the words would suggest by revealing Mr Lessmore moving through the stages of his life.

(Joyce, 2012)

FFBoMML - Summer

FFBoMML - Autumn

(Joyce, 2012)

(Joyce, 2012)

The days get darker and the images reveal his journey from spring until the winter of his life. When he becomes “stooped and crinkly” the author uses a high angle to emphasise his frailty and reveal his weakness (Kress & Van Leeuwin, 2006):

FFBoMML - In bed

(Joyce, 2012)

In the end, Mr Lessmore’s life remains only within a book, but I am left with a warm sense that he would be quite contented with that.

FFBoMML - Book with hands

(Joyce, 2012)

References

Callow, J. (2013). The shape of texts to come: How images and text work. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association of Australia (PETAA).

Joyce, W. E. (2012). The fantastic flying books of Mr Morris Lessmore. London, UK: Simon and Schuster.

Kress, G., & Van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading images: The grammar of visual design (2nd ed.). London, Routledge.

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.

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Language features

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Listen, listen is a quality piece of children’s literature that takes the reader on a journey through the cycle of seasons, relating to the reader through the senses and connecting to their experiences of life’s cycles (Gershator, 2007). It also provides a rich example of various language features (see Textual features handout).

Language features involve the arrangement of language in particular ways to cause particular effect. An author can manipulate the elements of language to create aesthetic value, enhance a reader’s engagement with the text and create meaning (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, 2013).  The introductory pages of Listen, listen provided below reveal a plethora of such examples.

Listen, listen . . . What’s that sound? Insects singing all around!

Chirp, chirp, churr, churr, buzz, buzz, whirr, whirr

Leaves rustle, hammocks sway. Splish, splash, children play.

Clouds drift, dogs run. Sizzle, sizzle, summer sun.

The text begins by commanding the reader to listen and asking them what they hear. This initial invitation engages the reader as an active participant of the text; they are hooked into the action. This is maintained throughout the pages as the verbs are written in present tense and the reader is therefore able to experience such actions in real time: “Leaves rustle, hammocks sway… clouds drift, dogs run”. This enhances the readers’ engagement with the text as does the visualisation of those actions that such imagery creates.

The consonance technique of sibilants is utilised throughout the text to enhance the sensory experience, for example, enhancing the splish splash of water and the sun’s sizzle. When read aloud, the repetition of the ‘s’ sound used when inviting the reader to listen to the insects actually creates the illusion of insects buzzing.

“Listen, listen . . . What’s that sound? Insects singing all around!”

 The onomatopoeia which follows elaborates on the already established insect sounds.

“Chirp, chirp, churr, churr, buzz, buzz, whirr, whirr”

The repetition and use of alliteration within the onomatopoeia enhances its effect, for example, by creating an almost humming sound whilst describing the insects “chirp, chirp, churr, churr”.  This technique is also used in following pages which enhances the onomatopoeia and any associated imagery, for example:

“Plop, plop, acorns drop” or “Swish, swish, leaves fall”

Onomatopoeia is used as a technique throughout the text which accentuates its namesake and invitation to the reader: Listen, listen.

Listen, listen is structured as a poem with each season dedicated one stanza with the words listen, listen used to signify each season’s beginning. There is a rhythm to the text and the author has utilised an AABB rhyme scheme throughout which provides a flow and sense of movement to the words.  There is predictability in its repetition of sounds, structure, words and phrases which make it inviting through the familiarity it creates, especially for younger readers (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday, 2010). At the end of the text the structure is broken and the author reiterates the introductory words, highlighting the cyclical nature of the text and of the themes within (see below).

(Gershator, 2007)

(Gershator, 2007)

The simplicity and small amount of text ensure that the multitude of language features within do not overpower or detract from their effectiveness. In essence, Listen, listen provides a wonderful example of the effectiveness of a selection of language features.

References

Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA). (2013). The Australian curriculum: English.  Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/English/Curriculum/F-10

Gershator, P. (2007). Listen, listen (A. Jay, Illustrator). Bath, UK: Barefoot Books.

Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.