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Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality

reviewed by Lourdes Diaz Soto - August 07, 2008

coverTitle: Postmodern Picturebooks: Play, Parody, and Self-Referentiality
Author(s): Lawrence R. Sipe and Sylvia Pantaleo
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415962102, Pages: 268, Year: 2008
Search for book at Amazon.com

How has the (post) modern picture book evolved? How do children make sense of (post)modern depictions? What might we learn from international picture books?  These are just some of the questions that this edited volume begins to answer.

Postmodern picturebooks: Play, parody, and self-referentiality is one of the edited volumes of the Routledge Research in Education Series. The piece is edited by Lawrence R. Sipe, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sylvia Pantaleo, Associate Professor at the University of Victoria. The chapter contributors represent international contexts including the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, United States, and Canada while including seasoned scholars as well as graduate students. The purpose of this intriguing book is to offer readers recent research, theoretical frameworks, definitions related to the topic at hand, historical depictions, literature reviews, as well as practical pedagogical applications.

The impetus for this edited piece is to contribute much needed background information to the field of children’s literature that incorporates recent changes and developments. According to Anstey (in this volume, p. 151) the research on picture books has focused on the analyses of their construction and analyses of student’s responses. Anstey goes on to highlight the major themes in the literature as well as proposing a model for investigating postmodern picture books.

The introduction of the book begins to uncover selected theoretical frameworks such as Baktin’s notion of chronotype that maintains that literature reflects “the time and space relationships in our world” (p. 1) and Kristeva’s emphasis on how the sociocultural context impacts texts. Drasang’s Radical Change Theory is also cited for its ability to explicate the embeddedness of the sociocultural in children’s literature.

The definition proposed by the editors for postmodernism is “a general term to describe the changes, tendencies and/or developments that have occurred in philosophy, literature, art, architecture, and music during the last half of the twentieth century” (p. 1). The idea is that since writers and illustrators have themselves been influenced by the postmodern condition they in turn will reflect this in their publications.

The piece is comprised of sixteen chapters depicting the complexities of postmodern picturebooks. The chapters include the historical contextualization of picture books by Barbara Keifer; the artist in the postmodern picture book by Martin Salisbury; Radical Change Theory by Eliza Dresang; the role of play by Maria Nikolajeva; the relation of the picture book to the transmodern self by Karen Coats; Australian picturebooks by John Stevens; the relation to reading by Margaret Mackey; the role of space by Bette Goldstone; the role of imagination by Christine Hall; a model for investigating picturebooks by Michele Anstey; a look at books by Lauren Child by Susan Lehr; and Fairy Tales by Robyn McCallum. Children’s responses are covered in the last four chapters (by Caroline McGuire, et al., Evelyn Aritzpe, et al.. Lawrence Sipe, and Sylvia Pantaleo).

The areas that I personally find most interesting include the theoretical frameworks, the historical evolution, the work on pedagogy (Anstey’s piece), and children’s responses. I also find the literature reviews to be extremely valuable.

Lawrence Sipe’s chapter exploring first graders’ interpretations of David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs, offers the idea that, “It is possible that young children are more comfortable than adults with this new definition of text as a collection of signifiers with infinite possibilities for meaning making and no fixed or stable referent, as McClay’s work suggests” (p. 234).

Anstey’s piece is impressive to me because of my work with teacher education. Table 10.1 presents ways for educators to identify postmodern picture book characteristics. Anstey also offers ways of viewing the postmodern picture book as an artifact to be investigated and categorized (p. 153). And on page 155, Anstey provides a step-by-step model for investigating the postmodern picture book.

The chapter by Caroline McGuire, et al., begins to discuss the role of the teacher as “another voice rather than the omniscient and authoritative voice in the interpretive community” (p. 205).  It is also refreshing to read Evelyn Arizpe, et al., as they discuss the role of the bilingual learner in their chapter entitled, “The voices behind the pictures.” According to Arizpe, although much research has focused on ethnic minority reading, very few have concentrated on picturebooks. Further, Arizpe refers to numerous studies stating that, “All of them provide evidence that show how despite the cultural gaps, the picturebooks managed to activate a range of cognitive and affective processes in readers, regardless of their level of English proficiency” (p. 213).

It is commendable that Arizpe chooses to include bilingual children in her research. In a piece published elsewhere (Soto, 2002), in which young children share their perceptions of bilingualism, I question our collective and ethical responsibility with respect to research that views “the other,” which in some cases can be ourselves. I relied on a vision for dialogic-critical pedagogy that incorporates both Bakhtin's and Freire's work. It is a call for a dialogue of social "multi-voicedness" that is inclusive of the oppressed and the oppressors. This Freirian perspective provides the incentive for a sociocultural perspective "from the margins to the center," while the Bakhtinian movement exemplifies a move "from the margins and from the center with the margins implying marginalized colonized groups."

In light of bilingual/biliterate children's daily lived realities, the question remains, will the oppressive forces travel in any direction that will lead toward social justice and equity? An important question for educators is that we must not fall victims to standard developmental models but move toward understanding the cultural dimensions that permeate children's lives. (Soto, 2002, p. 607)

The idea is for us to continue to pursue decolonizing and egalitarian treatment of bilingual/diverse children’s issues (including children’s literature), not only in the post-modern but also in critical post-modern ways.

While serving on a committee that chooses picturebooks for yearly awards I began to realize the complexity of children’s literature when the adults have autocratic power and overlook ideas of social justice and equity.

After reading this piece (sometimes struggling) I can see a need to continue to pursue ethnically and linguistically diverse children and teacher’s responses to picturebooks. The need to view ethnically diverse learners, ethnically diverse writers, and ethnically diverse picturebooks with a positive rather than deficit perspective is a point we can highlight. Issues of power can privilege particular perspectives and genres while overlooking complete bodies of work. What would it look like if we focused on non-western equitable ways of viewing picturebooks. Could a similar volume focus on African American children’s picturebooks or Latina/o picturebooks? Could a similar volume focus on issues of gender and social class and how the latter might impact picturebooks? How might we integrate the complexities of children’s literature ensuring that children’s voices and wisdom can truly guide our adult knowledge (see, for example, Soto & Swadener, 2005) in our post-modern condition?

This volume contributes to the literature and helps us to understand that there is much work that can continue to guide our thinking about children’s picturebooks.


Soto, L.D. (2002). Young children’s perceptions of bilingualism and biliteracy. Altruistic possibilities. Bilingual Research Journal, 26(3), 500-610.

Soto, L.D., & Swadener, B. (2005). Power and voice in research with children. New York: Peter Lang Publishers.  

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: August 07, 2008
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15328, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 10:55:45 PM

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