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What’s a postmodern picturebook?

Read about postmodern picturebooks, those quirky examples of texts where there is intense playfulness.
Confused child with book
© University of York

The term ‘postmodern picturebook’ refers to picturebooks where the reader has to work particularly hard to fill the gap between words and pictures.

There might be numerous gaps, or very sophisticated verbal/visual interaction: the general impression is of fundamental unpredictability, or uncertainty of meaning. In those picturebooks, it might be difficult to know what is supposed to be ‘true’ and what is supposed to be ‘false’.

Such picturebooks are also often characterised by numerous references to other types of work. There might be visual references to paintings, for instance, or other types of visual culture – often mixing ‘high’ and ‘low’ visual culture.

There might be hybrid forms of artwork – involving collage, or a mixture of digital and traditional art, or photography.

The verbal language, similarly, might be elliptical, poetic, seemingly entirely disconnected from the pictures, or otherwise playful.

In very many postmodern picturebooks, you will also get a sense that the picturebook ‘knows’ it is a picturebook – this is called self-referentiality or metafiction. The characters might address the reader directly – this is called ‘breaking the fourth wall’.

Such picturebooks are called ‘postmodern’ because they are alike to so-called ‘postmodern literature’ – a kind of literature that has existed for centuries, but emerged in force in the 1960s and later, and characterised by hybrid forms of storytelling, self-referentiality, playfulness, irony, and instability of meaning.

Examples of authors of postmodern picturebooks include Anthony Browne, David Wiesner, David Macauley, or Mo Willems.

You can read more on the subject here.

© University of York
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