I’m taking two subjects in trimester three over summer. One is about media and I’m having to watch movies for homework, what a trial that is. The other is about children’s literature and it’s really opened my eyes. I’ve always said that children’s books are way too specialised for me and I’m now discovering how right I was and how challenging it will be to do it properly.
I’m going to look at The Little Refugee by Anh Do to illustrate some of what I’ve learned and to show you why I’ll probably continue my own personal ban on reviewing children’s literature. Whatever I say, it’s well worth buying so I’ve included the link in this paragraph.
Before I start though, a brief outline of what the book is about. It’s about one family’s survival against the odds, as they travel from war torn Vietnam by boat to Australia.
Here’s the front cover.
Look at all the differences you can see, there’s the palette, the shapes and how things are facing. The background shows adversity, danger and all bad things while Do is looking much happier. The little things that show all of this are the colours, the boat is all dull colours indicating danger with a side helping of adversity while Do is in more cheerful, positive colours. The boat is leaning over showing forward movement but also the potentiality to topple and drown everyone. Do is standing mostly straight. The boat is made up of angles and straight lines while Do is much more rounded. Round is more friendly than angles and straight lines.
Here’s a photo I’ve taken of an inside page.
If you look at the left side you’ll see the house where Do lived is constrained within a border indicating boundaries and problems. The size of the border can also indicate many different things. There are many straight lines.
The right hand page shows Do playing with other kids his age, they don’t seem to have a lot but they’re happy anyway. There are no borders in this page indicating the kids have no borders in their games. The palette is kind of muted showing they don’t have much.
Reading a book with a child should show you the surface message but unless you examine things more closely you won’t see what messages are under the surface, the messages the child is being inculcated with by the many repetitions of reading the same book. If you’re going to disagree with me you’ve never sat and read a book with a child as they request the same book over and over and over… They’re going to get the message whether you want them to or not. And what’s even harder is when the author wants the surface message to scream at people but hasn’t noticed the passive message sitting in the background.
Anyway, there is much more to it than just looking at the borders, the colours and the words. I’ve only just scratched the surface of what I’ve learned. I’m going to be keeping an eye out for a blog that does all of this and more with children’s literature.