and Culture Syllabus
Interpretive Analyses Page
of a Visual Interpretive Analysis
There is no one right answer
to whether or not your book "works".
Your task is to convince
others that your way of viewing the book is one valid way of looking
Give evidence to convince
others of your point of view. In other words, don't just tell us,
It is not enough to say
that it is beautiful or significant, you must tell us what makes it
You may want to begin with
yourself and your own impressions, then move on to discuss what the
author and illustrator did to make the book work for you as a reader.
Avoid absolutes like "all
children should read this book."
Keep in mind, you are writing
a review, not a book report.
There is no need to retell
the story, readers should get a sense of the story from your critical
comments. In other words, don't retell the story and then comment;
do your best to integrate the story with your commentary.
You may begin with a sentence
or two to set your reader up with a summary of the story, but mostly
you want to help the reader get a sense of what your book IS--what
is it about?--maybe a particular element such as setting is the dominant
element, for example.
You are looking for literary
value, not the ability to supplement the curriculum or a good moral.
You will probably want
to include some discussion of literary elements important to your
book, such as characterization, point of view, plot, setting, mood/tone,
When you are discussing
the language, use quotes as evidence.
example, it is the nature of folktales to use stereotypes.
Believability of animal
characters is important to discuss only if it is unusual.
Be sure to include the
illustrator in your citation.
Help your readers visualize
what they haven't seen.
When you say the illustrator
chose soft colors or bold colors, don't forget to tell what specific
Describe the overall visual
quality of the book, including format and bookmaking elements that
may be important.
Ask yourself "what
stands out?"-- Line, color, shape, perspective, medium, layout,
Again, if you say that
the use of color creates a somber mood, tell us how.
If blue equals a sense
of tranquility and sadness, explain how so and what specific hue or
saturation of blue is used.
Don't forget to discuss
how text & illustration work together to create an aesthetic whole.
Try not to restate the
obvious--the size and shape of book, the layout of the pages, the
type font may be important, but leading and margins probably are not
unless they are unusual.
Describe the illustration,
don't just report the effect, as in "the illustrations capture
the essence of . . ."
Deal with the book on its
own terms, not on your preconceived terms.
Review what is there, not
what you would have done differently.
Maintain respect for the
creation and creators even as you make negative critical comments.
A review is not a checklist--what
you stress in your analysis will depend on the elements of book you
Ideas for beginning the Analysis of a Picture Book Assignment
If you are having trouble knowing
where to start, it may help you to try reading your book in some different
ways, jotting down anything you notice after each experience. I've added
some questions that may be helpful, but don't get stuck by them. Some
ways of reading or questions may not yield any results for you or your
book, others may. You might just try the different ways of reading and
ignore the questions at first.
Read the book straight through.
What strikes you as most
important?* Try to answer the question: "What IS this book?"
--try for a simple phrase like 'a poetic tribute to friendship', 'a
straightforward tale of death and mourning', 'a wild romp through the
first week of school' (It's OK if you can't do it yet or you are not
satisfied, this is just a first try.)
Read only the text, ignoring the illustrations.
Can the text stand alone?
Do you notice any patterns of story, of language? Is there a climax,
a main character? What literary element stands out in the composition,
Read only the illustrations, ignoring the text.
Now what happens? Do the
illustrations tell the story by themselves? What is missing, if anything,
without the words? How would the story be different if it were told
only by the illustrations? What do the illustrations tell you--about
character and setting, for example-- that you cannot tell from text
alone? Do the illustrations change the meaning of the text?
Read aloud, listening to the sound of the text.
Is there rhythm or rhyme?
Is the language poetic, spare, humorous? What adjective comes to mind
to describe your text? Is it easy or difficult to read aloud? How does
the language enhance or detract from the aesthetic whole? Is there repetition
of certain phrases or sounds? What effect does this have?
Read to notice where the text breaks.
Would your experience of
the story, of the language be different if the lines were broken in
different places? What effects are the result of the choices that were
made? Do line breaks slow you down? Move you to turn the page? Have
a certain pattern? Are there some pages with more text than others?
Some pages with no text? How does this affect your experience of the
story? Do text breaks direct readers to assume a certain pace in their
Read to notice the illustrator's choices.
Exactly what does the illustrator
chose to depict in relation to the text on each page? Does the illustration
take place before, during, or after the events in the text?Do the illustrations
comment on a character's situation? Do the illustrations give us a character's
perspective on events, or are we granted an omnipotent view of characters
What colors does the illustrator
use? Are there various hues, saturations, tones of the same color? Do
the colors change with changes during the story? Are certain colors
associated with certain characters or events? Do you find contrasting
or harmonious use of color? How does color complement, expand, enhance
Read for the page layout.
Where are illustration and
text placed on the page? To what effect? Is there a consistent pattern
or is there variation? Why? Is there any significance in the choice
These ideas may get you started.
However, they are not a checklist. Your book may beg consideration of
line, of texture, of comparison to a story about which it is a spoof,
of subtlety or directness or playfulness of language, of character development,
of mood, of. . . .
*If you are immediately aware
of one aspect of a book, read the book for that particular quality--you
are probably on to something important.
What does it say?
Simple, understandable level.
Physical conflict in plot.
Does it make you want to turn
Does it employ any tricks to
make you turn the page?
Does it ring true?
Do you care?
More than physical, becomes
physical and psychological
Does the work have integrity--not
Is there validity and consistency
in the author's created world
A residue of meaning
"Hey, this is a really
Transcends simple story--usual
personal and idiosyncratic
Created January 4, 1999
and is continuously revised
SCILS, Rutgers, The State
University of New Jersey