Book Reviews

Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer (Ed.)

The Routledge Companion to Picturebooks

Abingdon: Routledge, 2017, pp. 525.
ISBN 978-1-138-85318-8

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Reviewer: Sandie Mourão


Handbooks and companions sit happily between the dictionary and the encyclopedia, they target the academic library market (most evident in their high price range) and are of use to academics, researchers and postgraduate students. They are described as ‘concise and accessible guides to emerging research fields in core humanities subjects [aiming] to map the parameters of a discipline or sub-discipline and present the “state of the art” in terms of research’ (Bloomsbury website). Having a handbook or a companion associated with a particular field denotes recognition of relevance to an academic community and for picturebook scholarship, a field which emerged in the 1970s, this is an important milestone. Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, has brought together what the back-cover blurb describes as ‘the ultimate guide to picturebooks’ and ‘the first to focus solely on picturebook research’.  Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the 48 chapters in just over 500 pages provide readers with a very clear survey of the history and development of this very specific field. The depth and extent of the volume is impossible to do justice to in this short review, but I shall attempt to provide an overview with comments on the relevance of some chapters in particular for English language education and its associated contexts.

Kümmerling-Meibauer’s short but clear introduction sets the scene. She presents the picturebook, its spelling and peculiarities, emphasizing the complex relationship between the text and images which make cognitive, linguistic and aesthetic demands on a reader. She cleverly makes her point by analysing the apparently simple cover image – taken from an avant-garde German picturebook of 1923 – leading us to recognize the ‘artistic, historical, political, interpictorial and cultural references that open up new ways of looking at the history and theory of the picturebook’ (p. 3). She presents picturebook research as an [end of page 1] international and interdisciplinary field, discussing the range of perspectives and tendencies which have led picturebook research to becoming a distinct field within children’s literature. For anyone not familiar with the world of picturebooks, this is an invaluable introduction.

The remaining chapters of the companion are brought together in five parts.

Part I looks at the major ‘Concepts and topics’ of research discussed thus far in relation to how picturebooks work – 14 chapters in all.  One thing that surprised me, in a positive way, about some of these chapters was the unexpected content in relation to the titles. An example being Kerry Mallan’s opening chapter, ‘Author-illustrator’ – she considers the complexity of authorship following notions of ‘author God’ by Barthes and ‘author-function’ by Foucault, and relating this to author-illustrator promotions and branding – a stance I had not expected, but fascinating none-the-less. This first part then includes chapters on the material aspects of the picturebook, i.e. paratext, layout, montage and collage as well as the theoretical concept itself, on topics such as hybridity, interpictoriality, metafiction, and seriality. This latter chapter, by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer, outlines an apparently new research area and leaves many questions unanswered, opening doors for future research directions. Chapters related to gender issues, emotions, canon processes and ideology were also in this part. A truly enlightening beginning, with opportunities to move back and forth and make connections. I found myself reading Erica Hateley’s suggestions that Maurice Sendak be ‘the canonical picturebook creator’ (p. 133) and returning to cross-check Beatriz H. Cabo and colleagues’ Figure in their chapter on ‘Interpictorality in picturebooks’ of how Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a model for other picturebooks and movie characters (p. 91). I did this many a time as I read through the chapters, discovering what Kümmerling-Meibauer describes as ‘implicit dialogues between the chapters even though the contributors do not address each other explicitly’ (p. 5).

Part II presents ‘Picturebook categories’, covering a variety of the possibilities the picturebook form accommodates – I use ‘form’ rather than genre after Lewis (2001, p. 65). Here we are introduced to early-concept and concept books, Wimmelbooks, ABC books, pop-up and moveable books, as well as wordless, informational and digital picturebooks, and poetry in picturebooks. This section is fascinating, and I particularly enjoyed the chapter on ‘Wordless picturebooks’ by Emma Bosch, who has written widely in this area of [end of page 2] picturebook research. She still managed to surprise me with her proposal that wordless picturebooks are a ‘multitude of genres’ (p. 197) following a categorization which distinguishes between the dual functions of showing and telling. Additionally, there are chapters on postmodern picturebooks, crossover picturebooks and picturebooks for adults. The former two chapters outlining a fairly developed area within picturebook research, but the latter, by Åse Marie Ommundsen, presents a picturebook category which is new to the market (p. 229) and brings together the scarce literature, mostly in languages other than English, on the topic. Finally, this section also includes a chapter on ‘Multilingual picturebooks’ by Nancy Hadaway and Terrel Young, which will be of particular interest to the readers of the Children’s Literature in English Language Education. The section on the potential of multilingual picturebooks is very useful, as is the summary of the different formats that these picturebooks take.

Part III covers ‘Interfaces’, a section with five chapters that considers the research on picturebooks and their related forms, i.e. illustrated books, artists books, photography, comics and film (referred to as movies). All these chapters provide an insight into how the picturebook has evolved and been inspired by these earlier traditions. I would like to mention ‘Picturebooks and illustrated books’ by Elisabeth Bird and Junko Yokota, which provides a very detailed account of what the illustrated book is, purporting that ‘the picturebook is a subset within the broader category of illustrated books’ (p. 281). Bird and Yokota expound, after Salisbury and Styles, that a picturebook is defined by ‘its particular use of sequential imagery, usually in tandem with a small number of words, to convey meaning’ (2012, p. 5). ‘Picturebooks and movies’ by Tobias Kurwinkel, presents a fascinating description of intermediality and in particular ‘filmic writing’, when picturebook authors and illustrators ‘evoke or imitate cinematic techniques by relying on their own means of expression’ (p. 327).

Part IV, ‘Domains’, contains 13 chapters that report research into the various theoretical frameworks and disciplines of picturebook research, i.e. the education of picturebook-makers, representations of childhood, literary studies, developmental psychology, cognitive studies, linguistics, narratology, media studies, and translation. In addition, there is a chapter on multimodal analysis by Clare Painter, whose research into [end of page 3] using a systemic functional framework is fairly well known (see Painter, Martin and Unsworth, 2013) and chapters on art history and picture theory complete this section. All chapters provide relevant information for any researcher or scholar wanting to complement their understanding in these fields. Of particular interest for ELT is the chapter on ‘Picturebooks and literary studies’, by Evelyn Arizpe, Jennifer Farrar and Julie McAdam, who take a broad view of literacy and refer to emergent, visual, digital, media and critical literacies. They describe the mutual benefits between literacy studies and picturebook studies and highlight that knowing how picturebooks work, and how these books create meaning will lead to ‘confident educators, mediators and other professionals who can critically select texts that develop “literacies” required for the twenty-first-century life’ (p. 377).

Part V, the final part of the companion, is a section on ‘Adaptations and remediation’. Here four chapters focus on adaptions of fairy tales, adaptations of world literature, film versions and merchandising and franchising. In the chapter on fairy tales, Vanessa Joosen, describes picturebooks as being either ‘duplicates’ – reinforcing the traditional versions of a fairy tale – or ‘rewritings’, where the ‘authors and illustrators play intertextual games with […] plots and generic conventions’ (p. 476). Perhaps, there is not enough attention paid to this distinction and its affordances in ELT and as such, readers may be prompted to reconsider certain picturebook categories and how they are used in language education.

I began this review with a definition of what a handbook or companion actually is, and when I first received this book, I used it very much like an encyclopedia, as a place to go if I needed a reference to support something I was writing about. My initial perusals took me to ‘Paratexts in picturebooks’ by Sylvia Pantaleo, where I confirmed what I already knew, but added a reference to my repertoire. Then ‘Wordless picturebooks’ by Emma Bosch, where I learned quite a bit more about this category of picturebook. Certain other chapters I have read to go deeper into something I knew little about, such as ‘Art history and the picturebook’ by Marilynn Olson, or to read about something quite new to me, like ‘Picturebooks and narratology’ by Smiljana Narančić Kovač. There are chapters I still need to return to and reread more closely and others whose significance I will only realize later in my career as a picturebook researcher. This is the magic of such a wide, far-reaching collection of chapters. [end of page 4] Kümmerling-Meibauer suggests that ‘picturebooks have become an indispensable part of our modern society’ (p. 7), and as such picturebook research is a fast-growing discipline with many directions in which to go, but one thing is clear, this compendium contributes to clearly mapping this fascinating field. There is just one path I would have suggested Kümmerling-Meibauer include a chapter on: global and multicultural picturebooks, that is ‘picturebooks set in a global context outside of a reader’s own location’ (Short, Day, & Schroeder, 2016, p. 5). This, in my view, would include picturebooks about marginalized and underrepresented groups, and in particular refugee migrant narratives. For another edition, maybe?

This Routledge Companion to Picturebooks may be somewhat expensive to purchase for our personal shelves but is more than worthy of a recommendation to your institutional librarian; it will become an important starting point for any research into picturebooks undertaken by post-graduates and scholars alike.



Lewis, D. (2001). Reading Contemporary Picturebooks: Picturing Text. Abingdon: Routledge Falmer.

Painter, C., Martin, J. R. & Unsworth, L. (2013). Reading Visual Narratives. Image Analysis of Children’s Picture Books. Sheffield: Equinox.

Short, K. G., Day, D. & Schroeder, J. (2016). Teaching Globally. Reading the World through Literature. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.


Sandie Mourão is a research fellow at Nova University Lisbon, and researches picturebooks in early language education, with a particular focus on intercultural citizenship education. Publications include Teaching English to Pre-primary Children (with Gail Ellis, Delta 2019), and the edited volumes Fractures and Disruptions in Children’s Literature (with Ana Margarida Ramos & Maria Teresa Cortez, Cambridge Scholars 2017) and Early Years Second Language Education: International Perspectives on Theories and Practice (with Mónica Lourenço, Routledge 2015). Her research interests also include assessment in language education, classroom-based research and teacher education for early language learning. [end of page 5]



Meleanna Aluli Meyer, Mikilani Hayes Maeshiro and Anna Yoshie Sumida

Arting and Writing to Transform Education: An Integrated Approach for Culturally and Ecologically Responsive Pedagogy

Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 2018, 262 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-84553-655-8

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Reviewer: Jane Spiro


This beautifully illustrated book demonstrates a pedagogy in which deep learning about children’s place, and place in the world is built through the intertwining of language and images. The journey is told by three educators of young learners, profoundly guided by their connection with Hawaiian spirituality and landscape. The Hawaiian closeness to nature is apparent in each activity, but there is a universality and urgency in the themes which make them appropriate for other settings.

The children learn about their surroundings and express this learning in ways that build on tradition, observation, and on linguistic and visual invention. What is interesting for the language teacher is that the topics, such as where I live, or family trees, focus on broad and holistic goals in which language is one medium amongst many. The book founds itself in a transformative view of learning, echoing theories of transformative learning developed by kindred thinkers such as Illeris (2013) and Mezirow (2009). It also foregrounds the role of culture in learning, offering a view of culture as intersecting layers from local to global. Implicit in the activities is the view that creativity is best generated through ‘flow’ – the capacity to be fully engaged in an activity without being bounded by time (Cziksentmihaly, 2014).

The authors’ central originality is to bring together the process of ‘arting’, working with the visually tangible, and ‘writing’ – explaining and elaborating through words. Author/artist natural strategies are opened up to be shared by the children, such as the mapping of first ideas in a notebook, building up ideas to discard or develop, checking the responses of others, adding further layers of research and knowledge to the idea. These [end of page 6] processes crucially return children to the intrinsic satisfaction of taking care, working slowly and painstakingly, returning and revising until the job is done to the best of one’s capacity. This in itself is an important lesson for the modern world with its tendency for speed, soundbites and focus on apparently effortless achievement. The book, with its inspiring variety of activities, shows the journey is of equal interest to its completion. For example, we see self-portraits created at different stages of detail, with background and foreground gradually filled in – such as the child who adds a snorkel and background of the sea in the final version of her self-portrait.

What gives the book a unique perspective is its deep connection with Hawaiian spirituality. The authors show the significance of this in their own lives, and offer practical and lived examples of what it means for them. They create new language to explain Western concepts in Hawaiian terms: such as hakuki’i to mean ‘visual composing’, or ikena’au to mean ‘creativity’ in the way their Western reader might understand it (p. 62). They introduce Hawaiian dimensions to our own received knowledge, such as the sixth Hawaiian sense of ‘intuition’ alongside the five physical senses. The challenge of untranslatability is clear: the Hawaiian words aina (the land), na’au (intuition), nana (to see), are more deeply ways of experiencing and responding to place than their translations suggest. For example, the notion of aina leads to stories of ancestor legends, cosmology, sustainability and climate change, study of plants, birds and fish, and explorations into human interactions with the land such as fishing and paddling. Creative ‘making’ is done in a way that is congruent with landscape and traditions, such as the creation of origami birds, reef creature masks, life-size self-portraits, maps, illustrated stories and poems about sharks, jellyfish and turtles. Learning about history, biology, botany, literature and music happens concurrently with learning about their own landscape. In this learning, words and images are consistently intermingled and developed together, such as posters and their labels, paintings and an accompanying poem or song, self-portraits and the analysis of names. The book is structured clearly so the reader can track the teaching/learning journey from first principles through to useable lesson plans and units of work.

Part One establishes presiding values which inform the pedagogy throughout the book. Transformation, for example, is defined as ‘where an individual or group is changed by the journey of learning, creating and knowing’ (p. 31). The transformation traced by [end of page 7] these activities evokes the move from learning about nature, to a culture of ‘profound reverence and respect’ for nature (p. 29); and from acting in classroom settings, to self-expression that fosters self-esteem and self-knowledge. Culture is also a concept which suffuses the activities and which the authors recognise as complex. They set out the notion of ‘nested cultures’ which recognizes the interconnections between home, host/indigenous, local and global worlds making up a child’s identity (p. 38). The activities create an interplay between all of these levels, such as activities (p. 233) in which children represent their own identities with maps of the world marked with family members, paintings of creatures with which they identify (such as the Hawaiian bigeye fish), and analysis of their names in Hawaiian. The activities offer triggers which richly remind children of the multiple facets of their own existence.

Part Two maps out in detail seven key stages which take the artist/writer from first thoughts to publication: pre-arting/writing, envisioning, composing, revisioning, critiquing/editing and going public. The child is invited into the processes of ‘real’ writers and artists, who are not content with first drafts but return to, revise and build on their work, allowing it to incubate and develop, and to change in the light of knowledge and research. The illustrations show us children at work, fully absorbed in these processes, with papers, paints, pens, notebooks, objects of observation such as shells and fish charts, spread around them on the floor and on tables.

Part Three sets out activities that might help the reader bring these values and pedagogic principles into their own classrooms. Whilst the overarching environment described in each activity is Hawaiian, the generative possibilities of each activity are clear: for example, classification of leaves according to shape and colour (p. 150), researching genealogies, or painting self-portraits of future selves. The activities are classified according to age appropriacy, and the reader/teacher is given tips about preparation and assessment. The appendices provide resources – worksheets and templates – giving the reader a complete toolkit for their own arting/writing classrooms.

There are certain leaps of faith which the language teacher in urban settings might need to make. Language is not specifically scaffolded, but developed as integral to learning about the world. In this sense, language is developed through curriculum content, as in the CLIL approach (Marsh, 1994). The European project of CLIL (Content and Language [end of page 8] Integrated Learning) thoroughly endorses the view that language develops effectively when content knowledge and skills are the focus, rather than the language itself. In addition, the authors have been able to develop their holistic and joined-up pedagogy, in a setting that ideally suits it. It would be of much interest to trial these activities in settings where traditions, ancestral stories, and connection with the world are diminished or problematic. This is a highly topical challenge, and one that has been taken up by children as their most pressing cause, since Greta Thunberg’s lone vigil outside the Swedish parliament became a global movement (Thunberg, 2019). The pedagogy of place expounded in this book entirely suits children’s own sense of the preciousness and precariousness of the natural world. Thus, the authors have demonstrated a pedagogy which is of the moment, leading children not only into the creative flow of learning well, but also towards independent and rooted thinking for living well.



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014).  Applications of Flow in Human Development and Education: The Collected Works of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Dordrecht: Springer.

Illeris, K. (2013). Transformative Learning and Identity. Abingdon: Routledge.

Marsh, D. (1994). Content and Language Integrated Learning CLIL-CD. University of Jyväskylä, Finland. Retrieved October 31, 2019 from

Mezirow, J. & Taylor, E. W. (Eds.) (2009). Transformative Learning in Practice; Insights from Community, Workplace and Higher Education. San Francisco: Wiley.

Thunberg, G. (2019). The Mix; background to the climate strike. Retrieved  October 31, 2019 from


Jane Spiro is Principal Lecturer/Reader in Education and TESOL at Oxford Brookes University. Jane has run development programmes for teachers of language and literature In Hungary, India, Mexico and Japan (amongst other places). She is author of learner literature, teacher resources and many academic papers, as well as being a published poetry, storywriter and novelist. She won a National Teaching Fellowship in recognition of international achievement in 2010. [end of page 9]