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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.

Week 2: Children’s literature and language development

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I travelled into space last night. I soared towards the stars, weightless amongst the darkness as I experienced the beginnings and the journey of The Man in the Moon. William Joyce was my guide: author; illustrator: creator of worlds (Joyce, 2011). This is the beauty of children’s literature: it is able to take the reader beyond their own world through the use of language and languages (Winch, Johnson, March, Ljungdahl, & Holliday, 2010).

Children’s literature is more than just a description of events; quality literature explores human issues and engages the emotions of the reader (Lukens, 2007). Created worlds may be akin or dissimilar to reality but they all create a connection to the reader through the themes explored within (Lukens, 2007; Unsworth, 1994). Readers are able to journey through experiences and gain understandings they otherwise would not; understandings about other times, other places, other perspectives or even their own as they reflect during engagement with the text and connections are made (Lukens, 2007). Quality children’s literature allows children, and adults alike, to make sense of the world; to explore not only the world for what it is, but also for what it could be (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2013; Winch, et al., 2010).

The Australian curriculum defines literature as including both written and various multimodal forms and asserts it as being fundamental to children’s language development (ACARA, 2013). This is because it allows deeper understandings to be formed around the language contained within with picturebooks in particular providing a rich source for such development (ACARA, 2013).

The images within picturebooks can support or accentuate the meaning which is being portrayed within the written text in more or less obvious ways (Callow, 2013).            Little Quack focuses on the numbers 1-5 which are made explicit within the images and supported within the border of the pages along with the associated language (Thompson, 2003).

Image

Little Quack (Thompson, 2003)

The pictures also emphasise the text’s exploration of being scared and building courage as they invite the reader to empathise with the characters as they develop through these emotions.

Image

Little Quack (Thompson, 2003)

Today I feel Silly exemplifies the notion that images are a language unto themselves as it explores their use to accentuate emotions (Curtis, 1998; Winch, et al., 2010). For example, by using colour to exemplify anger.

Image

Today I feel silly (Curtis, 1998)

Or by using angle to accentuate the protagonist’s loneliness by making her appear small and insignificant (Callow, 2013).

Image

Today I feel silly (Curtis, 1998)

The written text is valuable for learning unto itself. Through literature’s pages children are exposed to rich new vocabulary and ways of describing and understanding the world. Learning is also enhanced through various language features.

Little Quack, for example, utilises onomatopoeia, simple descriptive words and repeated phrases enable very young children to learn through repetition and to encourage them to engage.

Image

Little Quack (Thompson, 2003)

Today I feel silly enables children to explore syllables and similar sounds through its rhyme and rhythm, while The Man in the Moon uses richer vocabulary and techniques such as simile to engage even older children.

Image

The man in the Moon (Joyce, 2011)

Literature is literacy in practice (Winch, et al., 2010). Exploring literature collaboratively with children will allow them to engage with, and subsequently develop, all forms of literacy: reading, writing, speaking and listening (Winch et al., 2010). Most of all, exposing children to quality literature will develop a lifelong love of reading, and subsequently learning.

References

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

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

Curtis, J. L. (1998). Today I feel silly: & other moods that make my day (L. Cornell, Illustrator).  New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Joyce, W. (2011). The guardians of childhood: The man in the Moon. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Lukens, R. J. (2007). A critical handbook of children’s literature (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Thompson, L. (2003). Little Quack (D. Anderson, Illustrator). Kingsway, London: Simon and Schuster.

Unsworth, L. (1994). Managing the Language program: Children’s literature in the primary classroom. South Melbourne, VIC: Macmillan Education Australia.

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.