Title page for ETD etd-01122004-122527

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Kneen, Bonnie
URN etd-01122004-122527
Document Title Granpa and the polyphonic teddy bear in Mr Magritte's multidimensional gorilla park : complexity and sophistication in children's picture books
Degree MA (English)
Department English
Advisor Name Title
Ms M Brown Committee Chair
  • Voices in the Park
  • David McKee
  • complexity
  • John Burningham
  • children’s literature
  • gesofistikeerdheid
  • sophistication
  • picture books
  • kompleksiteit
  • kinderletterkunde
  • I Hate My Teddy Bear
  • Granpa
  • Anthony Browne
  • prenteboeke
Date 2003-01-21
Availability unrestricted
Contemporary children’s books, particularly picture books, show an increasing tendency towards complexity and sophistication. There is, however, some resistance to this tendency in the children’s book world. This thesis therefore critically analyses complexity and sophistication in three picture books - chosen because they represent particularly high numbers of the most common complexities and sophistications - in order to determine whether or not such resistance is appropriate.

The study defines picture books as fictional, illustrated books in which pictures and design are vehicles for meaning, where text and art are integral aspects of an interdependent relationship. It thus examines words, the roles of words and pictures and their interactions, linear progression, time and page-breaks, rhythm, design, colour, medium, style, line, regularity, balance, framing, shot, point of view, gaze, visual weight, position, shape, size, light, background, symbol, pictorial analogy, visual games, nonsense, intervisuality, intravisuality, leitmotif and counterpoint.

The sophisticated structure, polyphony, visual nonsense and allusion of Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park allow deep, complex examinations of its characters’ psychologies, making marginalized groups visible and critiquing stereotypes of class, gender, family structure and unemployment. Its sophistications and complexities thus enable Browne’s book to satisfy significant priorities in the children’s book world, because it avoids overt didacticism, respects “literary” values and is socially aware.

The sophisticated structure, visual nonsense, multidimensionality and multivoicedness of David McKee’s I Hate My Teddy Bear raise problems of narrative and focalizer, overtly inscribe inconsistency, vagueness and uncertainty, and determinedly resist resolution. McKee’s book thus refuses to imply a clear reader role, and situates readers firmly outside itself, where subjection to any one interaction with, response to or idea within it becomes impossible. This stimulates child readers’ creative thought, and distributes power between adult writers and child readers unusually equitably, thus offering children the respect and power of literary and ideological self-determination in a safe, restricted area of fiction.

John Burningham’s Granpa neglects many of the conventions of writing and storytelling, so that readers face the multiplexity of its form and structure, the emergence of its linear narrative from apparent stasis into irresolution and ambiguity, and its difficult themes and psychological content, with very little guidance in their reading beyond frequently confusing formal signals. This is difficult for adult readers, who have learnt to expect certain conventions from stories, and to use them to interpret and predict what they read. It may, however, be particularly easy for child readers, because it does not force them to read in ways that are still foreign to and thus possibly difficult for them. It may even be less threatening to children and antagonistic to children’s culture than most children’s books, because it does not socialize children into the alien adult culture concomitant with conventional reading.

Together, these analyses reveal that complex, sophisticated children’s books may function in a variety of ways. The children’s book world should thus rather evaluate them individually than reject the entire genre.

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