A picture is worth 1000 words

This weekend I was looking at book illustrations and found this site. The “Picturing words: the power of Book Illustration” on-line exhibition by the Smithsonian Libraries  is a wonderful examination about the power of illustrations or pictures/photographs.


If you haven’t had a look it is well worth investigating.

Pictures reach audiences more directly than text alone. They communicate the author’s tone and approach to the subject, and enhance our understanding and enjoyment of the text. Illustrations explain complicated ideas at a glance and even teach those who cannot read. Quote from the Smithsonian

The illustrations are organised into 4 themes: Inspiration, Information, Influence and Process.

picturing_words The pictures used in the digital exhibition are examples from the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ collections in science, history, and art.

The influence section is fascinating. It outlines 3 areas:  influencing buyers, influencing design and influential illustrators. There is only a small, but succinct, description on each and you can then view the images that illustrate the point.

We only have to look around us every day to see the power of the image.The amount of money spent by big companies on creating the right image for their product/service bears testament to the importance they place on the image. We are doing our students a disservice if we do not teach them how to unpack, or at least raise the awareness of, what they see.

There are many ways in classes that images can be used as a starting point for discussion/research and/or an entry point for writing.Images invoke feelings and mood. Manipulation can occur if the right image is chosen and it can be innocent or less so.

Picturing  words has been used to help teach young readers (or supplement foreign language students.) Picture books have been part of the lives  of young children for 100 years or so. Illustrated books/manuscripts have been around much longer and were definitely not for children. Picture books today can be very sophisticated and are not simply created for the young child. We have come full circle, with illustrated texts being acceptable for all kinds of readers.

There are some marvellous books and authors that combine illustrations with words to create something greater than just the single form. There ae many great examples but some that we use with students in our school include:

The wonderful Shaun Tan’s books, Neil Gaiman, Matt Ottley’s  Requiem for a beast: a work for image, word and music, Armin Greder’s The island (review)(teacher’s review), Colin Thompson, author and illustrator, has a great site, Brian Selznick’s The invention of Hugo Cabret and Pascal Croci’s Auschwitz, is a graphic novel about life the the concemtration camp, with explanation for his illustrative style within the book. The review I have linked to talks about the translated text as being disjointed but the art work transcending the written text. GoodReads also has some discussion as well

There are of couse many others but we have used these books for book week activities, for art classes, for RE classes and for English classes.

The Smithsonian Libraries have a flickr account, and a blog that can keep you up-to-date with what they are offering.


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