In order to appreciate the importance of illustration in a children's book and its relationship to the text, one might profitably examine several different sets of illustrations for the same written work. Folk and fairy tales, along with some of the more modern classics, provide ample fare for such examination. Traditional works in the public domain have been illustrated so often and so variously that it would be virtually impossible to identify the one most recognized or most loved visual representation or interpretation. Notable, if somewhat controversial, exceptions to this statement are Walt Disney's characterizations of such stories as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which children recognize not only from the motion picture and television screens but from many others aspects of the huge Disney marketing empire.
An excellent place to begin a search for greater understanding and appreciation of illustration is Molly Bang's Picture This. Award-winning illustrator Bang describes this book as her own "search for structure" in pictures, and she demonstrates her findings with simple construction paper cutouts. Using Little Red Riding Hood as an example, she shows how line, shape, color and the relationships among these compositional elements convey feelings and capture the essence of story. The picture below is a very dramatic example of the power of those simple elements.
Following Bang's picture is one by Maurice Sendak that combines many components of the Snow White story in one image. Sendak has said that stories from the oral tradition should not be illustrated so that readers or listeners are free to conjure up their own images as they recreate the story in their own minds. Sendak prefers to "decorate" such tales to allow space for that re-creative process to develop.
Picture This: Perception & Composition. Boston, MA: Little Brown,
Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm: Selected by Lore Segal and Maurice
by Lore Segal with four tales translated by Randall Jarrell. Illus. by
Maurice Sendak. 2 Volumes. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1973,
Barbara Kiefer in The Potential of Picturebooks, alerts the reader to compositional elements both on the page and among the pages.
"In good picturebooks, no single element exists apart from the others. Rather, the illustrator will use principles of composition to unify elements on each page and on each succeeding page. In arranging the elements on each page, including the printed type, the artist tries to obtain an effective balance between unity and variety and creates certain visual patterns that may be carried on from page to page. Illustrators try to ensure that the eye moves from one part of each double-page spread to another, both within the picture and between the picture any printed text. This in turn sets up a subtle rhythm that can be carried throughout the book. All of these choices can further express the visual meanings expressed by the elements and contribute to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts."
. . .
"The artist's choice of pictorial content can be essential to the book's overall meaning and may be the most important technical choice. Although many artists choose to represent or echo the verbal text of a book, the aesthetic experience is enhanced when the artist brings something extra to the scene." pp.129,134.
Ruth Bottigheimer, in "Iconographic Continuity in Illustrations of 'The Goosegirl,'" and Russ MacMath in "Recasting Cinderella," offer the reader a viewpoint for looking at fairy tale illustrations.
"Illustrations perform various functions with reference to the text in which they are embedded. At the simplest level they decorate the text and dramatize the action or mise en scene. Illustrations can also interpret the text by portraying characters as dismayed or joyful, weeping or brave, moods which in the psychological flatness of most fairy tale plots take on great importance. Illustrations may even reformulate the text by supplying information different or absent from the text. For the reader who glances at the illustration and even more for the listener whose eyes linger on pictures while someone else reads, the power of pictures to recast the text into memorable images is formidable." p. 52.
"Illustrations give insight and new life to folktales that otherwise might have stopped evolving once they had been recorded. Likewise, a comparative illustration study of a single folktale reveals that there is not a single, preserved, visual interpretation. The range of artistic styles overall reveals an encouraging willingness of illustrators to bring new ideas to bear on the conventions of folktale illustration."
. . .
"Their contribution to traditional folktales is to return them to the realm of living literature. They are the storytellers for our time." pp. 33-34.
In examining visual recreations of the Snow White story, it is important to distinguish between picture story books and illustrated texts. Generally, picture story books can be described as twice-told tales in which young viewers can read the pictures as adults read the texts. Of course, this is an over simplification as there are many relationships between text and illustration, but it is a useful place to begin. Illustrated stories, on the other hand, may have only one or two pictures to set a tone, introduce characters or settings, or represent symbolic meaning. Most collections of traditional tales are illustrated.
Both illustrated and picture story
book versions and variants of Snow White present rich sources for the study
of illustration. What follows is the beginning of such a study. Copyright limitations
preclude the inclusion of multiple images from the same work, and scanned pictures
do not capture all the nuances of the original illustrations. Therefore, it
is essential that those serious about this topic spend time studying the actual
books. In examining illustrated versions, one might raise such questions as:
Picture story book versions of Snow
White allow viewers to study both single images and the visual progression of
the tale from image to image. In examining picture story book versions, one
might raise such questions as:
". . . an exploration of the chosen moments of illustrated versions of fairy tales is particularly revealing and a particularly good way to conclude this discussion; nothing makes the power of pictures to transform the shape and the meaning of a text clearer than a consideration of how a different set of pictures can make exactly the same words into a different story."
"As it happens, those stories from the folk tradition, that we call fairy tales share one quality that makes them particularly open to illustration: they can remain the same story even while being told in different ways. Everyone knows "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs"-but everyone knows it in a slightly different way. What everyone knows-the essential story underlying all the different versions-is a series of specific events in a specific order that arrives always at the same conclusion. What differs is the character of the people these events happen to, the reason they happen, and the relative amount of information we are offered about where they take place and about what they mean. The illustrations that accompany fairy tales can add this sort of information just as well as verbal descriptions can." p. 265.
The Snow White story illustrations have been scanned from several versions in order to demonstrate the wide range of approaches to illustrating this tale. The selected illustrations are placed in clusters to match incidents of the tale. Several questions that might be addressed in examining the specific illustrations are provided on each incident page. It is critical to obtain as many of the books as possible and study the entire work in order to see the total interpretation and the changes each artist makes.
To help the user, thumbnail images are provided. Those who wish to see the larger version of the full image should click on the thumbnail.
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE QUEEN/ STEPMOTHER BEFORE THE MIRROR
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE HUNTSMAN WITH SNOW WHITE, AND THE QUEEN'S PROOF
ILLUSTRATIONS OF SNOW WHITE ARRIVING AT THE SEVEN DWARFS' HOUSE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SEVEN DWARFS MEETING SNOW WHITE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE DISGUISED QUEEN/PEDLAR WOMAN AND THE LACES
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE DISGUISED QUEEN/PEDLAR WOMAN AND THE COMB
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE SECRET ROOM AND THE CREATION OF THE APPLE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE DISGUISED QUEEN/PEDLAR WOMAN AND THE APPLE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF SNOW WHITE'S DEATH FROM THE APPLE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF SNOW WHITE IN THE CASKET/COFFIN SURROUNDED BY THE DWARFS
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE PRINCE AT SNOW WHITE'S CASKET
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE WEDDING OF SNOW WHITE AND THE PRINCE
ILLUSTRATIONS OF THE DEATH OF THE QUEEN/STEPMOTHER