More Than Just Words and Pictures

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What is an illustrated children’s story? Is it just text with pictures that provide visual interest and encourage readers to continue with the text? Here at Storytime we certainly don’t think of it that way. We see illustrations as bringing new depth and ideas to a story.

It’s a bit like a classic Beatles song: the writer and editor laying down the basic structure – like John Lennon playing the basic chords and singing the lead vocals. The artist and designer then come in like Paul McCartney and George Harrison, playing solos and countermelodies that weave in and out of the main tune while accentuating John’s singing with those irreplaceable ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’. It’s that interaction which adds the magic.

Visual Storytelling

This idea is explored in Children’s Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling (2nd edition) by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles (Laurence King Publishing).

This lushly illustrated volume takes an in-depth look at the history of the picture-book, from early woodblock prints to the lush four-colour printing of the present. However, this is more than just a (colourful) history book.

It discusses the way in which picture books use words and pictures to play off against each other. Here at Storytime, we work closely with a large and ever-growing pool of talented international artists who all contribute their own unique visions to the magazine. That’s one of the things that makes working on this magazine such fun – something new and visually stunning arrives in our inboxes almost every day!

Of course, there are some talented people out there who have mastery of both the text and image. Oliver Jeffers, author/illustrator of The Heart and the Bottle among many other classics, puts it this way: ‘I don’t call myself a picture book writer or illustrator. I use the term “picturebook maker”. When writer and illustrator are different people I suppose texts are given to the artist in a fully formed state. But I do both and the two will evolve together.” (We reviewed Jeff’s recent book The Crayons’ Christmas in Issue 64!

Nowadays kids live in a world of ‘on-demand’ TV and social media. Does this make old-fashioned printed children’s stories irrelevant? Not at all!

Visual Literacy

We believe that illustrated books are great at teaching kids ‘visual literacy’ – how to interpret images, and how words and pictures interact. In this increasingly visual multimedia age, text is only one method of presenting information. It is often combined with images, infographics, word clouds, and other graphical elements, and reading storybooks in which text and images tell interweaving stories is not only fun, it helps children learn how to interpret visual information.

An example is given where children read and discuss a scene in Lauren Child’s classic Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book? where a character is reading a book with herself on the cover – which is the book that the children themselves are reading! This leads to the children coming up with insightful ideas about what it means if a character is inside a book that the character herself is reading – the sort of sophisticated thinking that is becoming essential in this age of information overload!

When reading Storytime with your children, consider discussing the details of what is going on in the illustrations as well as what is going on in the text – this helps them to explore the possibilities that lie outside of the story itself.

Of course, we in the Storytime team are big fans of modern interactive technology and provide additional material and activities that can be found online and printed out. (Go to to check out our downloadable content.)

But in the end, no online material can truly replace a lovingly crafted printed product – whether a book or a magazine (like Storytime!) No child can fall asleep hugging their favourite YouTube video channel, but they can do so with a beloved book or magazine! They can be held, cherished, and kept and passed on – loved objects in a time where almost everything is ‘disposable’. We hope that your child’s issues of Storytime are similarly loved, whether they are carefully shelved or scattered across the floor!