The terminology we apply to books, texts and reading do not seem to attach to the picturebook so readily. For example, if we speak of ‘the text’ of a picturebook, do we mean the words or the words-and-pictures together? … And when we say ‘read’ a picturebook does the word — and the process — apply equally well to the visual images and to the sentences and paragraphs alongside, or do we need another term that better represents the special relationship of picture and beholder?

— from the introduction to Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing texts by David Lewis

 

WORDS YOU CAN USE WHEN TALKING ABOUT PICTUREBOOKS

 

Absurdism  when highly unlikely or impossible things happen it is called the absurd, most often used for comic effect. There is purposely no logic or continuity.
Achrony  the temporal deviation from the primary story cannot be placed in any given moment within the scope of the story. Rare outside purely experimental prose, but perhaps all pictures are achronical.
Allegory a device in which characters or events represent or symbolize ideas and concepts. A message is communicated with symbols.
Allusions  (adj. allusory) An allusion is a reference to another story, for example an illustrator might include a girl in a red riding hood in a modern story, alluding to the classic fairy tale. Allusions are good for creating new dimensions.
Anachrony  chronological misplacement of any kind. (You probably know the word ‘anachronistic’.)
Analepsis  another word for a ‘flashback’ or ‘switchback’. A secondary narrative precedes the primary one. For example, a grandparently figure looks back in time. This might be expressed pictorially with a thought bubble, or sepia tones, or other recognised devices for expressing retrogression. The plural is analepses.
Backdrop Setting  (as opposed to integral setting) A setting exists, but it is separate from the story. The setting could be changed and the story would still exist, basically unchanged.
Callout a call-out or callout is a short string of text connected by a line, arrow, or similar graphic to a feature of an illustration or technical drawing, and giving information about that feature.
Cautionary tale a tale told in folklore, to warn its hearer of a danger, e.g. in Little Red Riding Hood children are warned not to dilly-dally on the path and talk to strangers. Cautionary Tales are now outdated and more often satirised, for example by Hilaire Belloc in Cautionary Tales For Children.
Chronotope  the treatment of spatiality and temporality. A word to describe the way time and space are described by language, because time and space are impossible to depict via visual signs alone. Time can be indicated only by reference. In picturebooks time might be represented by changing light as the day fades, or with clocks and calendars or seasonal changes or ageing characters. But mostly in picturebooks, the passing of time is underscored by words. (Later, at ten o’clock that night, that afternoon, etc.)
Contradiction On Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy comes ‘contradiction’, in which pictures and words do not match each other – one telling a different story from the other. This sort of picturebook demands more from the reader in terms of active synthesis, and may appeal to an older, more sophisticated audience, or to a dual audience, in which young readers understand one part of the story and the adult reader understands another. Of course, pictures and words can never be absolutely contradictory. It is a matter of degree. Stories with contradictory pictures and words are also called ‘twice-told tales’.
Contrapuntal On Nikolajeva and Scott’s scale of interanimation taxonomy comes contrapuntal (the adjective form of ‘counterpoint’) – a useful word when talking about words and illustrations which deviate from each other somewhat. Further along the scale comes ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures and words completely contradict each other.
Dialogic relating to dialogue
Diegetic  communicates by telling. The flipside of mimetic. In a film, a soundtrack is ‘diegetic’ if it occurs naturally as part of the story, such as in the films of Quentin Tarantino, or on the TV series The Wire, in which any music must come from a radio, or from a CD that a character is playing in the background, rather than added later as part of the editing process. In picture books, verbal text is diegetic
Double Address when an author intends adults to get things out of a story that children would not. (See single address)
 
Doublespread  a graphic/illustration spreads across two open pages
Droodle “Droodle” is a nonsense word suggesting “doodle”, “drawing” and “riddle.” Their general form is minimal: a square box containing a few abstract pictorial elements with a caption (or several) giving a humorous explanation of the picture’s subject. For example, a Droodle depicting three concentric shapes — little circle, medium circle, big square — might have the caption “Aerial view of a cowboy in a Port-a-john.”
Dual audience  a picturebook that appeals to both children and adults
Ecology Used primarily for the life sciences, this term has also been employed by sociolinguists and psychologists to describe the ways in which organisms interact with environment. The term ‘ecology’ might also come in handy for discussing picturebooks, and the ways in which words interanimate with pictures. The term ‘ecology’ may be especially appropriate because the ways in which words and pictures feed off each other are different from book to book and even from page to page. One moment words can step forward to occupy centre stage; next moment they return to the wings or comment like a chorus on some key point of action. Ecology is far more dynamic than any kind of taxonomy.
Emergent reader describes readers who have not yet achieved fluency, and who may need a slightly different kind of picturebook from fluent readers
Enhancement On Nikolajeva and Scott’s taxonomy of interanimation we have ‘enhancement’ somewhere in the middle, in which the pictures enhance the words without being contradictory. Agosto calls this ‘augmentation’.
Extraliterary Experiences  the real-world experiences readers bring to the page, and that author/illustrators can assume of readers. For example, children know that some children go to school on a school bus, so this basic concept need not be explained.
Fairy painting a genre of painting and illustration featuring fairies and fairy tale settings, often with extreme attention to detail. Fairy painting was popular in the Victorian era and made a comeback in the 1970s.
Funny animal Funny animal is a cartooning term for the genre of comics and animated cartoons in which the main characters are humanoid or talking animals, with anthropomorphic personality traits. The characters themselves may also be called funny animals.
Graphic poetry a category including acrostics, calligrams, concrete poetry and other kinds of visual poems
Hedcut a term referring to a style of drawing, associated with The Wall Street Journal half-column portrait illustrations. They use the stipple method of many small dots and the hatching method of small lines to create an image, and are designed to emulate the look of woodcuts from old-style newspapers, and engravings on certificates and currency.
Hypertext   the relationship between a given text (the ‘hypertext’) and an anterior text (the hypotext) that it transforms e.g. Snow White in New York is the hypertext of Snow White the traditional fairytale (the hypotext)
Iconotext  A genre in which neither image nor text is free from the other.  A term (first?) used by Richard Wagner, who wrote the book Reading Iconotexts: From Swift To The French Revolution. Author/illustrator Jon Klassen discusses this ‘middle space’ between illustration and writing which the reader must fill for themselves, creating a much more expansive world than either the illustrations or words could achieve by themselves.
Iconophor creating an artform around a letter of the alphabet
Illustrated fiction a broad term encompassing not only picturebooks but also comics, graphic novels, illustrated magazine fiction and anything else in which words and picture work together to tell a story.
Integral Setting  (as opposed to backdrop setting) A setting is an essential part of the story. It may even be considered a ‘character’ in its own right. If the setting were anything else, the story would not be the same or would not work at all.
Intraiconic text  writing that appears as part of an illustration, such as book titles on spines of books, writing on a computer screen, an addressed envelope. Slows down our ‘reading’ of the visual text and adds to the text-image tension.
Irony  a rhetorical figure based on a deviation from the dictionary meaning of words. Irony cannot be expressed by pictures alone, but can be achieved when the words in a picturebook don’t match up with the pictures, creating an ironic counterpoint.
Isochronical  a story is isochronical if the timespan of the story and the time it takes to read the story (the discourse timespan) are the same.
Literature  style is paramount, the work is thematically integrated, character is rounded, originality at a premium.
Magic realism Some people think that ‘magic realism’ is an unnecessary term to describe a type of low fantasy, for people who don’t like using the word ‘fantasy’. It describes a story which seems grounded in our real world but which contains fantastical elements.
Metafiction  fiction which draws attention to the fact that it is fictional, not attempting verisimilitude. In children’s literature, directly addressing the reader is a common metafictive technique.
Mimetic   communicates by showing. Illustrations are inherently mimetic. The flipside of diegetic.
Mythopoeia the creation of artificial myths; artificial mythology (see also: pourquoi story)
Narratology   The theory and study of narrative structure.
Negative space  white space, common in picturebooks. In many ways, picturebooks are like film, but negative space is not an option in most kinds of films, where there has to be a backdrop. Advantageous because lack of setting means a story may not date so much.
Nonce Words  signifiers that lack the signified
Oral Tradition  Some children’s authors write in the style of oral tradition. Enid Blyton is a good example, as is folklore, making use of formulaic language, schematic and derivative characters, stories which change to suit the circumstances of time and audience and an open form. (Contrast with ‘literature’ Oral traditions are no less valid than literary works.) Stories making use of the above conventions might be described as ‘written folklore’. This type of story has a low status, partly because of its popularity.
Parallelism Symmetry by another name.
Paralepsis (paralipsis) In a word: omission. The device of giving emphasis by professing to say little or nothing about a subject, as in not to mention their unpaid debts of several million.  In picturebooks, too, a kind of paralipsis can happen when something mentioned in the text is left out of the picture, or vice versa. Negative space might be said to be the picturebook equivalent of paralipsis. For example, a page might be deliberately left blank because the character has disappeared for a time. An empty chair may draw attention to the fact that its usual occupant has died. Paralepsis can also be a secondary narrative in which time is independent of the primary story. For example, there’s a paralepsis in Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, when Max travels ‘through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year’. This kind of anachrony is common in picturebooks which describe an imaginary journey. For example, all the happenings of Narnia can’t possibly fit into the time the children would’ve spent at the country house.
 
Paratext  Things in a published work that accompany the text e.g. the author’s name, title, preface, book covers, end papers, glossary, introduction or illustrations.
Pedagogical Applications used to describe parts of a story which encourage some sort of learning, for example via puzzles, counting things, finding objects.
Point-of-View The most common POV in modern novels is ‘close third person’, which most of us are used to. In children’s novels, introspective narrators are common. Picturebooks tend to be narrated (via the words), with the point of view expressed (via the illustrations) by facial expressions and body language, in particular. Pictures are very good at presenting an omniscient perspective via panoramic views of settings/various scenes of different characters doing different things.
Pourquoi story also known as an origin story or an etiological tale, a pourquoi story is a fictional narrative that explains why something is the way it is, for example why a snake has no legs, or why a tiger has stripes. A classic example is Rudyard Kipling’s collection of Just So Stories.
Prolepsis  a flashforward/anticipation. The opposite of analepsis. A secondary narrative that is moved ahead of the time of the primary narrative.
Reading event Describes the ‘lived experience of reading – the experience of sitting down to read a picturebook – from cover to cover – as opposed to ‘studying’ a picturebook, or examining some part of it.
Recto and Verso   the front (recto) and back (verso) of a leaf of paper in a book
Register A variety of a language or a level of usage, as determined by degree of formality and choice of vocabulary, pronunciation, and syntax, according to the communicative purpose, social context, and social status of the user. In picturebooks the word ‘register’ describes a kind of atmosphere evoked by both words and pictures together e.g. grotesque, nostalgic, everyday registers.
Rhymed prose a literary form and literary genre, written in unmetrical rhymes.
Simultaneous Succession Widely used in medieval art (in ‘hagiographies’, depicting the life of a saint), this term implies a sequence of events. Think of those cave paintings showing a stick figure with a spear, hunting down an animal. The moments are disjunctive in time but imply a sequence. For example, a series of pictures in a picturebook might show a child getting ready for bed: pulling off her jumper, taking off her shoes; brushing her teeth, retrieving teddy bear, getting under the covers. This technique of showing the passing of time works better for slightly older children, because younger children may interpret a series of pictures of this girl getting ready for bed as five different girls. (However, adult co-reading is assumed.) The books of Sven Nordqvist make much use of simultaneous succession.
Single Address  when an author intends only to write a picturebook for children, even if the picturebook ends up being enjoyed by adults anyway. (See single address. Not to be confused with ‘dual audience’) It may be useful instead to think of multiple addresses rather than an either/or.
 Screentone when lots of tiny dots are used to fill a shape. Is still used today in manga, so if screentone is used in a modern picturebook, it’s likely to evoke a retro or comicbook feeling.
Solipsism  the philosophical idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist.
Surrealism  a movement in art and literature that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind, for example by the irrational juxtaposition of images.
Syllepsis a poetic device, a type of zeugma. In picturebooks, this occurs when you see two or more parallel visual stories, either supported or unsupported by words. A fairly common example in picturebooks is when the pictures depict the lives of small creatures doing their own thing but who remain unmentioned in the main text. The plural of syllepsis is syllepses. See also: parallelism.
 
Symmetry Nikolajeva and Scott have attempted to create a sophisticated taxonomy of picturebook interactions (between words and pictures) and came up with a sliding scale. Symmetry is at one end, in which the pictures pretty much repeat what the words have already explained. At the other end is ‘contradiction’, in which the pictures say something completely different from the words, often creating irony or humour. The problem with having ‘symmetry’ at the extreme end is that pictures cannot help but say more than the words, since ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ (or thereabouts). So there will never exist a perfectly symmetrical picturebook.
Teaching stories a term used by the writer Idries Shah to describe narratives that have been deliberately created as vehicles for the transmission of wisdom. Teaching stories include folktales, fables and didactic fairytales.
Vignette a small illustration or portrait photograph that fades into its background without a definite border. In picturebooks vignettes are often used to show the passing of time e.g. a child getting ready for bed might be depicted by the same child brushing her teeth, pulling on a nightgown then getting into the bed.
Visual motifs decorative designs and patterns used in visual artwork, such as rabbits (to indicate various things in different cultures, such as rebirth or fertility); sunbursts or curlicues.
World literature is sometimes used to refer to the sum total of the world’s national literatures, but usually it refers to the circulation of works into the wider world beyond their country of origin. Sometimes the German word ‘weltliteratur’ is used to mean the same thing.