Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

“Queen of the Falls” is a picture book written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg. Some years ago, Van Allsburg gave a TED talk on this book and the history behind it. This post will focus on the storytelling techniques.

On Amazon, Chris Van Allsburg shared some of his roughs, when he thought the trim was going to be horizontal format. It’s interesting to see how different illustrators create drafts. Van Allsburg’s drafts look something closer to other illustrators’ finals. If Van Allsburg stuck with this rougher style of art, with the hand of the artist clearly evident, the mood of the book would be different. The realism of Van Allsburg’s final illustrators achieve a photographic realism which makes the story all the more harrowing.

SETTING OF QUEEN OF THE FALLS

PERIOD — 1901 and the years following

DURATION — The drama plays out around the preparation for the event and pace slows down for the dangerous event itself. We don’t find out what Annie was like as a child or as a young woman via backstory, or even if she had children of her own. I find myself craving this information, trying to work her out, but this is a pleasant kind of unsatisfied craving, similar to a shadow which promises something sinister happening just off the page.

LOCATION — Niagara Falls, United States of America

MANMADE SPACES — We see a view of Annie’s charm school. I had to look up what a ‘charm school’ even is: As I’d deduced, it’s basically an American word for ‘finishing school’. It exists to teach children social graces. This juxtaposition is fascinating, because what Annie ends up doing is the opposite of what we might expect from the trope of the charm school ma’am: A stiff, unyielding, conservative woman who has no time for nonsense, frivolities and dare-devilry. Annie defies categorisation.

NATURAL SETTINGS — The Niagara Falls; magnificent waterfalls which attract many tourists. In English words don’t carry gender, but many things do carry symbolic gender. Waterfalls are generally gendered feminine. The illustrations below may partly explain why; the fall of water is reminiscent of a young woman’s cascading hair.

The Maid of the Mist is a sightseeing boat tour of Niagara Falls, and is also a feminisation of waterfalls.

"Legend of the White Canoe", Indian Postcard, 1909, created just 8 years after Annie tumbled over Niagara Falls.
Legend of the White Canoe“, 1909, created just 8 years after Annie tumbled over Niagara Falls. Illustration is for a postcard, I think by Frank Vincent DuMond.

TECHNOLOGY CRUCIAL TO THIS PARTICULAR STORY — Annie’s techinical knowledge was “modest at best” and the best vehicle she could think of was a barrel lined with pillows.

LEVEL OF CONFLICT — As explained clearly in the book itself, older women were in a vulnerable economic position. No one was going to care for Annie in her old age. The life she could expect without income was no life worth living. Van Allsburg suggests on the page and in his talk that Annie could have done something else. I’m not quite so confident about that. Could she really have chosen to be a domestic laborer? The labour of a housewife or domestic servant in 1901 was hard, hard physical work, akin to the physical labouring job typically done by men today (with twice the upper body strength). A 62 year old woman was an elderly woman, who possibly needed her teeth fixing, who possibly needed better glasses, hearing aids, and didn’t have those advantages.

THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE — The most amazing thing to me (and clearly also to the author) is that Annie was the first to ever pull this stunt. Three men went down before (half a century before) and plunged to their deaths. Many who came after were younger, fitter and had the huge psychological advantage of knowing that it had been done before.

…it is well known that a vital ingredient of success is not knowing that what you’re attempting can’t be done. 

Terry Pratchett, Equal Rites

Annie had no such reassurance, and although it’s impossible to know what was going on in the mind of someone who decided to do something I can’t imagine doing myself, I do suspect there was a suicidality to Annie’s decision.

Annie may also have been influenced by a strong belief in an interventionist God, and in an afterlife. She may have thought that she’d put God to the test; if she was meant to live, she would. If not, that was God’s plan. Perhaps.

An estimated 5,000 bodies were found at the foot of the falls between 1850 and 2011. On average, between 20 and 30 people die going over the falls each year. The majority of deaths are suicides—and most take place from the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, and many are not publicized by officials.

List of people who have gone over Niagara Falls

Of those who we assume attempted the navigate the falls without dying, there have been 13 fatalities and 17 survivals. To say nothing of injuries, this isn’t great odds.

STORY STRUCTURE OF QUEEN OF THE FALLS

Researching Mrs. Taylor’s life provided details that made it clear that her story was not one that fit into a conventional narrative of the determined underdog who triumphs over the challenges and obstacles placed before him or her, and emerges with admiration and rich rewards. Annie’s story was more complicated than that—and, to me, more interesting.

Chris Van Allsburg

PARATEXT

Chris Van Allsburg himself has spoken frequently about his interest in the life of Annie Taylor and this provides some of the paratext.

The shape of the picture book is also significant:

My initial design for the book was horizontal, partly to accommodate longer text in a thirty-two-page format. I ultimately changed to a vertical shape when it became clear a forty-page format would allow for a more effective balance of text and pictures. (I was also persuaded by my colleagues at the publisher that a vertical format was more appropriate for a book about a monumental fall.)

Chris Van Allsburg

SHORTCOMING

Annie’s stunt, and the pragmatic way in which she went about preparations for it, paint the picture of a woman with a definitive, black-and-white, dualistic world view. Once she’d decided to do this, nothing would stop her. She would either live in abject poverty, or be wealthy beyond her wildest dreams. There was no in-between with Annie.

Writers are often told to give a character both a psychological and a moral shortcoming when writing. Van Allsburg decides that Annie was ‘proud’. Like Walter White in Breaking Bad, who ends up washing his students’ cars over summer, Annie is assumed to be too proud to do domestic work. But as I said, I think there’s more to it than that. Interestingly, when it comes time to get inside the barrel, Annie is described as ‘modest’ when she requires the men to turn away. ‘Modest’ is in some ways the inverse of ‘proud’. But perhaps you can be both. Also, sometimes ‘modest’ refers only to the wish not to display yourself in an exposing manner, which might be another outworking of ‘proud’.

DESIRE

What did Annie really want, deep down?

It’s well-known that when turning about 50 or 60, society makes women feel invisible. Over and above financial security, I suspect Annie wanted to feel seen.

OPPONENT

The opposition is a natural one; the Falls. There are also human opponents, for example the man who refused to have any part of Annie building a suitable barrel.

PLAN

Annie plans to end her poverty by tumbling over the Niagara Falls in a cushioned barrel then finding fame and fortune. Unfortunately her plan has a hole in it. Aside from the obvious threat of death, it is a strange decision to try and pass yourself off as 20 years younger. Surely it would have been more impressive had she revealed her true age. We are impressed by unusual combinations. The combination of a grandmotherly figure performing a stunt would have drawn the crowds. I feel she should have tried instead to pass herself off as 82 rather than 42.

But I can understand why she did it. Annie would not have felt invisible at the age of 42. She was running her charm school and had a place in the world. By pretending to the world that she was 42, she was proabably trying to reclaim some of the contentedness she felt at age 42.

THE BIG STRUGGLE

Annie’s journey down the falls is clearly the climax of this story.

It’s interesting to note what Van Allsburg left out. What he did not include: That a cat was sent down in a barrel a few days previously, and survived. Kids like cats, cats do well in picture books; why would Chris Van Allsburg leave this interesting detail out?

Because it’s grim, I guess. They were sacrificing the cat.

SOVIET SPACE DOGS

During the 1950s and 1960s the Soviet space program used dogs for sub-orbital and orbital space flights to determine whether human spaceflight was feasible. In this period, the Soviet Union launched missions with passenger slots for at least 57 dogs. The number of dogs in space is smaller, as some dogs flew more than once. Most survived; the few that died were lost mostly through technical failures, according to the parameters of the test.

A notable exception is Laika, the first dog to be sent into orbit, whose death during the 3 November, 1957 Sputnik 2 mission was expected from its outset.

Soviet Space Dogs

Sad as these stories are, picture books do cover the topic of animals sacrificed for the sake of science.

There is probably a narrative reason why Chris Van Allsburg did not include the cat. A cat in a picture book is as important as a human character. Readers will be as anxious about the cat as they are about the woman, leading to a double climax in which the first survival inevitably saps emotion away from the second.

ANAGNORISIS

Sure, she survived. But she was somewhat injured, and I wonder if she lived with some pain for the rest of her life. (Get injured at that age and it’s likely.) So even her ‘survival’ wasn’t binary; she could have broken her neck, sustained significant head injury and lived out the rest of her life incapacitated rather than dead. I’d be interested to know if she considered that inbetween possibility.

NEW SITUATION

But the riches did not follow.

EXTRAPOLATED ENDING

Then as now, you need a platform and a fanbase before you can turn stunts into cash.

RESONANCE

By creating this book, Chris Van Allsburg has made many people aware of a character from American history which we would never have known about otherwise.

There’s a much wider issue here worth delving into. It applies here in Australia as much as in America; the historical figures we celebrate are white and they are men. As often as not, the ‘adventures’ of these men were as stupid as they were brave.

Other types of braveries from other demographics are less celebrated, if not entirely forgotten.

Annie’s fall from the top of Niagara Falls is nonetheless the sort of bravery you’d find in young men. We don’t celebrate the bravery of a woman giving breach birth in the Australian Outback in 1901, but to my mind, the forgotten woman is equally ‘brave’.

WATERFALLS IN ART

James Dickson Innes The Waterfall 1910 rocks
James Dickson Innes The Waterfall 1910
Landscape with Waterfall, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, c. 1668
Landscape with Waterfall, Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael, c. 1668
Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, 'Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls' 1922-6
Dugald Stewart Walker illustrator, Sara Teasdale (1884-1933) writer, ‘Rainbow gold; poems old and new selected for boys and girls’ 1922-6
Nautical Roller Coaster, said to be Niagara Falls (1895)
Nautical Roller Coaster, said to be Niagara Falls (1895)
Edwin John Prittie, Washer the Raccoon written by George Ethelbert Walsh, 1922
Edwin John Prittie, Washer the Raccoon written by George Ethelbert Walsh, 1922
Remigius Adrianus Haanen, (1812 - 1894) Stream in the Moonlight, 1840

FURTHER READING

It’s usually not a good idea to get into a box, hoping it’ll take you somewhere. Another near death experience was had by a Welsh man who airmailed himself home from Australia in a crate in the 1960s.

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Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg

Jumanji is a 1981 picture book written and illustrated by American storyteller Chris Van Allsburg. You may be familiar with the 1995 film adaptation starring Robin Williams.

Chris Van Allsburg has said that this story started with imagery. He wanted to put unexpected things together, such as a rhino in a living room. He describes the effect on readers as ‘cognitive dissonance’.

Album design and photography by JEB 1977 Urana records
Album design and photography by JEB 1977 Urana records
Joop Polder Tram In The Forest 1970’s
Joop Polder Tram In The Forest 1970’s

Cognitive dissonance: the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioural decisions and attitude change.

Another descriptor for the Jumanji variety of art is Surrealism. Artists have been juxtaposing unfamiliar objects for many years. The Surrealist art movement began around 1920, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s theories of dreams and the unconscious. Freud’s personal favourite Surrealist painter was Spanish painter Salvador Dalí.

Contemporary artists continue to work in Surrealist style. Check out the paintings of Vladimir Kush below, who also places unexpected things togethe, creating a new world:

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The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg

The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg cover

The Stranger (1986) is the seventh picture book written and illustrated by popular American storyteller Chris Van Allsburg.

This picture book provokes as many questions as it answers, and reminds me of the Australian picture book written and illustrated by Shaun Tan in which a tiny ‘exchange student’ arrives in an Australian home, he admires his new surroundings, and then he departs. The Stranger utilises a similar plot, though it asks us to consider different things. Eric asks us to question what we consider normal about our own culture. The Stranger encourages us to take a closer look at our surroundings, and in aid of that, teaches audiences to close-read a text. This picture book is therefore popular with teachers working on inference skills.

The inciting incident happens on the first page when a young girl’s father runs over a man on the road. At first the father thinks he’s hit a deer, then he is worried he’s killed a human. The pictures reveal that the stranger and the father look almost identical; the man has come face to face with his own mortality, and that’s just for starters.

Running someone over on the highway, meeting yourself face to face… this feels like the fodder of American urban legend; many of those are set on highways. The story gets even more urban-legendy when the doctor’s broken thermometer suggests the man may be a ghost.

PRE-TEACHING THE STRANGER

QUESTIONS
  • When you were little did you used to think objects (or toys) were alive?
  • In stories, what is it called when an object comes to life?
  • List stories about strangers who come into the house. Did the strangers of these stories turn out to be good, bad or somewhere inbetween?
What is the difference between anthropomorphism and personification?

Both personification and anthropomorphization assert intangible human characteristics.  anthropomorphization imposes physical or tangible human characteristics onto the subject to suggest an embodiment of the human form.

(See here for more on anthropomorphism and personification.)

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The Garden of Abdul Gasazi by Chris Van Allsburg

The Garden of Abdul Gasazi (1979) was the first picture book by American author/illustrator Chris Van Allsburg, who himself admits astonishment at the book’s immediate success. This was helped by reviews in America-wide publications. Such attention has always been unusual for children’s stories, and perhaps says something about how this story appeals to all ages. Like Australia’s Shaun Tan, the picture books of Chris Van Allsburg work as coffee table displays, and you could easily hang these illustrations on a wall as fine art.

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The Widow’s Broom by Chris Van Allsburg

The Widow's Broom Chris Van Allsburg cover

“The Widow’s Broom” is a 1992 picture book by American author illustrator Chris Van Allsburg. Like many of Van Allsburg’s books, this one remains popular with teachers, partly because this is a storyteller who requires the reader to do a little work. Students can practise their inference skills in class.

Like all good stories which rely on reader imagination, this picture book can be interpreted in a number of ways.

THE DUAL AUDIENCE OF THE WIDOW’S BROOM

This is an example of a story which will be used one way in the infant classroom and quite differently in the senior Language Arts classroom.

A broom which ‘walks’, feeds chickens and plays piano will appeal to children at an early stage of development, which Piaget described as spatial egocentrism. He also talked about child development and animism, the worldview that non-human entities possess consciousness and a life of its own. In modern picture books animism tends to finds an outworking in animals who walk and talk like humans.

[A]nimism…is the belief that everything in nature has consciousness and life…. When Christopher Robin, the child in Winnie-the-Pooh, talks to his woodland friends, a donkey, a tiger, an owl, a pig, and a bear, he is engaged in what Jean Piaget has called ‘animism’. As do the majority of picture books that feature animal characters, a child engaged in animism, readily accepts that animals can and do behave as humans. An example is Olivia, Ian Falconer’s character who has resonated with adults and children alike and is the protagonist of [more than] five titles.

A Picture Book Primer: Understanding and Using Picture Books

Go back in time, to the early 1900s and before, and you’ll find plenty of children’s stories in which household objects come alive. This trend mostly seems to have gone away. (Likewise you won’t find so many moons with actual faces on them in contemporary picture books.)

Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting - 1882 Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886)
Hey Diddle Diddle and Baby Bunting – 1882 Randolph Caldecott (1846-1886)

When picture book storytellers do utilise animism to bring household objects alive, it’s generally to hark back to an earlier time. Here, to the pre-Christian world of superstition, modern ideas about Paganism, and fairytale. Therein lies the historical interest for older readers, culminating in a quite sophisticated message about humankind.

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Fairy Cup Legends In Modern Children’s Stories

The Final Page of The Polar Express

Is fairy land real? Some children’s stories would like us to think so. Their endings contain a ‘wink’, encouraging readers to carry the possibility of fantasy lands with them, even after the story draws to a close. This is one way of achieving resonance. We might argue this is a cheap trick.

Enter Richard Dawkins, who wrote The Magic of Reality partly as an antidote to magical thinking, which he famously despises. His main argument? Reality is far more interesting than anything fiction writers can make up. In this he is probably right.

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Just A Dream By Chris Van Allsburg

Just A Dream Chris Van Allsburg

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg (1990) is a picture book with an environmental message typical of its era. As part of the corpus of children’s literature with environmental messages, the 1990s offered many excellent children’s book examples of the now-outdated ‘personal responsibility’ message.

Around this time children received the ‘good people recycle’ message. This replaced the ‘good people don’t strew rubbish all over the ground’ message of the 1980s. This was all very comforting. I had a utopian childhood in this regard — I never worried about a dystopian future. So long as I put my own rubbish in the bin and helped sort the recycling, all was well with the world.

For today’s kids, plagued with legitimate fears for the future of the planet, this story must feel like ‘just a dream’.

As you read any picture book by Chris Van Allsburg, admire his versatility with points of view. The first image opens with a low angle (grass roots) shot. Next, we are level with Rose, looking over her shoulder. This encourages us to side with the morality of Rose. Walter is partially hidden behind a hedge fence. Flip the page and Van Allsburg gives us a high angle shot of Walter in the living room. We are now clearly looking down on him, morally as well as actually.

For more on composition in picture books see this post. (The language of film comes in handy.)

SETTING

Each age has its own version of ‘save the environment’. In future scholars will look back on the current corpus of children’s literature and place it easily in time.

STORY STRUCTURE OF JUST A DREAM

The story launches straight into the continuous with just two words indicating the iterative:

As usual, Walter stopped at the bakery on his way home from school.

SHORTCOMING

Walter is immediately established as a character with several of the deadly sins:

  1. This was peak low-fat era, so indulgence in something like a jam donut was considered indicative of an immoderate temperament.
  2. Walter throws the donut rubbish at a fire hydrant rather than putting it in the bin, suggesting extreme negligence in an era when children had the ‘don’t litter’ message hammered into us.
  3. Walter is interested in futuristic dramas on the television. Nothing can disturb him from enjoying his show. Children’s literature of the late 20th collectively establishes that characters who spend a lot of time in front of a screen are bad children. Another example is Mike Teevee of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Thusly, Walter is established as a very specific type of children’s book villain, one I’d hope we see less of now. In books of this era, child villains tend to be:

  • Self-absorbed
  • Ignorant of the world around them
  • Including that of their own immediate environs

These are Walter’s moral shortcomings. We don’t see many highly flawed character for a picture book, which these days are mostly published for preschool readers and star adorable main characters. This is a picture book for older readers.

More modern picture books for older readers will likely flip this morality and point the finger at kids’ Gen X parents. For an example of that see Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, in which the parents notice nothing of the fantasy steampunk world around them. They are too busy staring at the TV.

Is there some extra morality in there regarding the typical audience of science fiction shows? I’m not sure. Perhaps this is an ironic choice for Walter, who enjoys thinking about fictional futures but who can’t translate that skill into considering his own very real future, and the future of the actual planet. Does an interest in science fiction make someone better able to imagine a real future? Perhaps. Imagination is a muscle that requires workouts. But fantasy can be dangerous if we use it purely as an escape. This is a perhaps a cautionary tale about enjoying science fiction responsibly.

There is also a plot reason for the sci-fi interest — since reality influences dreams, we surmise Walter’s watching a sci-fi show before bed is what prompts the cheese dreams.

DESIRE

It’s pretty clear what Walter wants. He wants to be left alone to eat jam donuts and watch sci-fi on TV.

Walter is a fantasist. I believe this character is named Walter as a nod to the famous Walter Mitty short story.

Walter went to bed wishing he lived in the future. He couldn’t wait to have his own little plane, a robot to sort out the rubbish, and a machine that could make jam doughnuts by the thousands.

OPPONENT

‘The little girl next door’ is a phrase which dates this book. Unseen narrators in modern children’s books don’t talk down to children in this way. By saying ‘little’, the narrator is clearly much older. Compare and contrast with The Lost Thing, which has a first person narrator clearly older (because he tells us he’s older) but the voice is that of a young person.

There’s also probably a bit of benevolent sexism in the phrase ‘little girl’. Illustrations tell us she’s the same age as Walter (not described as little).

I get utterly sick of girls set up as opposition for boy main characters. Paul Jennings did it constantly. I’m probably sick of it because as a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up on this trope. We didn’t necessarily see a problem with it, because these girl opponents were so often the ‘good’ characters — the voices of reason. But girls as accessories to the character arcs of flawed boy main characters is hugely problematic.

Rose is an opponent to Walter because she cares for the environment. Her name is clearly symbolic, as she is a nature lover.

I feel it’s become a bit naff to love trees. This is unfortunate, because trees remain the very best technology we have for keeping the ecosystem from collapse. We’re in danger of losing sight of his, hoping for some kind of Tech Jesus to come along and fix the climate crisis in one fell swoop. But no one is likely to design a better device than a tree for absorbing carbon dioxide and potentially harmful gases.

In this story though, Rose is presented earnestly. She is genuinely happy to have received a tree for her birthday.

PLAN

When a story stars a character who likes to sit around in front of the TV eating donuts, that character generally doesn’t ‘Plan’, as such, which makes these stories work a bit differently. (After all, every story needs some sort of plan, or proxy plan.)

Just A Dream is a close cousin of the carnivalesque narrative, in which a child -like character is drawn into this playful fantasy world with no other reason other than to have fun. In The Cat In The Hat, a mischievous animal visits two children at home. Here, the carnivalesque adventure happens in a dream. The atmosphere is less playful, more surreal.

Just A Dream Mount Everest

I urge caution with that word ‘surreal‘. In everyday English it’s generally not used how I’m using it here. ‘Surreal’ means ‘hyper real’ — more real than reality. The next level of reality. When Walter is drawn into this fantasy dream, he is being drawn into reality (into an understanding of his real future) rather than away from his day-to-day reality (watching science fiction uncritically).

The child’s bedroom with cutaway wall is a familiar illustrative technique:

Boy and Moon, 1907/ Edward Hopper; 1882-1967
From ‘Sleeping Beauty’ 1970 by Hans Arnold, Swiss emigre illustrator
From ‘Sleeping Beauty’ 1970 by Hans Arnold, Swiss emigre illustrator
The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren and Kitty Crowther
The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren and Kitty Crowther
1930, illustration By Otto Kuebel
1930 illustration By Otto Kuebel
illustration of a childhood dream of 1874 from Ladies' flower cabinet vol. 3 No. 33
illustration of a childhood dream of 1874 from Ladies’ flower cabinet vol. 3 No. 33

BIG STRUGGLE

Walter’s dream plays out like a dystopian movie. The disparate parts are connected by a flash back to Walter lying in his bed. Images of the bed are very small on the page, with plenty of white space. This gives out to full bleed double spreads. Why?

  1. The reading experience reason: In contrast, the full bleeds look more amazing
  2. The metaphorical reason: In his real life Walter’s world view is very narrow and constricted (like the bounding box). But in his dream he is able to see the bigger picture (literally).

ANAGNORISIS

Notice that as the story progresses, the image of the bed becomes more fully integrated into the dream world, with aspects of the dream world suffusing the real bed. This indicates that Walter’s world view is being changed by the dystopian dream.

He wakes up and feels terrible. He has realised that the science fiction gizmos of his awake-dreams are not important compared to the need to care for our planet.

This revelation (and guilt) leads to an action: He rushes downstairs and fixes the mess he made of the recycling bin yesterday.

And when he gets a tree for his birthday, he considers this tree the best gift, even beside his laser gun set, electric yo-yo and inflatable dinosaurs.

Some dream!

NEW SITUATION

There is a final plot revelation and it leads to a cosy ending. Walter again dreams of the future, but this time the future is fully grounded in the reality of home. His tree, alongside Rose’s tree, have grown into magnificent shady trees and provide a lot of comfort, not just for himself but for Rose’s great-grandchild.

All is well with the world.

Just A Dream final spread

This dream was clearly not ‘just a dream’.

Have you ever experienced a dream so powerful that you were morally affected?

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The Size and Format of Picturebooks

How does the binding of a book affect reader expectations? What about the size?

The actual individual appearance of of individual books is just as obvious an example of how prior expectations control our responses to stories; it influences our attitude to the stories the books contain before we even begin to read them. We expect more distinctive literature from hardcover books with textured, one-color cover and more conventionally popular material from books with luridly colored plastic coatings. We tend to think differently about paper-covered books and ones with hard covers, and as a result we respond differently to the same story in different formats; what might seem forbidding and respectable in hardcover often seems disposable and unthreatening in soft. 

The size of a book also influences our response to it. We tend to expect rambunctious, energetic stories like the ones by Dr. Seuss from large books and more fragile, delicate stories like those by Beatrix Potter from smaller ones. In fact, larger books do allow larger effects, while smaller ones demand restraint from an illustrator, lest they appear overly fussy; but these differences are as much a matter of convention as of technical limitations. We tend to read smaller books expecting charm and delicacy — and to find it even if it is not there — and to read large books expecting energetic rambunctiousness— and to find it even if it is not there. 

Words About Pictures by Perry Nodelman

We shouldn’t underestimate the effect of binding and size. One disadvantage of book apps and ebooks is that the reader is not provided with any textural information, and the size is fixed according to the dimensions of the device.

That said, a universal book app created for iOS (for instance) may well be interpreted very differently depending on whether it is read on an iPhone, an iPad mini, an iPad, a Mac screen or projected onto a smart board.

SEE ALSO

Tiny books for kids who like cute things

The Widow’s Broom and Queen of the Falls, both by Chris Van Allsburg, are examples of meaningfully long, tall format books. Allsburg even redrew the art for Queen of the Falls to make it tall and thin like a waterfall.

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