Skip main navigation

One book, two voices

An introduction to the 'two voices' of picturebook narratives.
Two children reading in the forest
© University of York

One of the most important aspects of picturebooks is the relation between words and pictures.

In many picturebooks, the illustrations aren’t just there to decorate, or look pretty. Instead, most picturebook narratives tend to work thanks to a balance of visual and verbal information.

Think of the verbal and the visual material as two narrators – two voices.

We could say that there are picturebooks where both voices speak in unison: the pictures mostly repeat information from the text.

Other picturebooks have more complementary voices: when the text is silent, the picture speaks, and vice-versa.

Finally, in some picturebooks, text and pictures might speak together, at the same time, but tell different stories. This might have a funny, or destabilising, or strange, or spooky effect.

Readers’ ability to understand the relationship between word and image depends on how proficient they are at closing the gap between verbal and visual information.

Picturebook scholars Maria Nikolajeva and Carole Scott have described different kinds of word-image relationships in picturebooks. The next steps are excerpts from a foundational article they wrote on the matter.

© University of York
This article is from the free online

Pictures of Youth: An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education