Wednesday, May 4, 2011

(Gentle) Sarcasm in a Picture Book

How do pictures and words interact in a picture book?  In some, like The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman and illustrated by Marla Frazee, there are details in the illustrations which are never mentioned in the text.  In A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, another Marla Frazee work (this time she is both the author and the illustrator) the pictures and text work together to produce sarcasm and humor perfect for children ages 5-7 (and their parents). 

James and Eamon go to stay with Eamon's grandparents for a week so they can attend a nature camp nearby.  As Eamon waits for James's arrival, his grandpa Bill extols the virtues of nature.  "Eamon thought this chat was fascinating," says the text.  The accompanying illustration, however, tells us us quite the opposite.  The fact that "James was very sad when his mother drove away" is belied by the picture of James happily waving and shouting bye to his mom.  And so on, much to the amusement of the reader. 

Just like a toddler who finds the box the present came in more interesting than the gift itself, James and Eamon find much more pleasure in each other's company than in nature camp.  In this story of friendship, the fruits of boredom and how children truly can amuse and educate themselves, the gently sarcastic interplay between the illustrations and the text is the icing on the cake.

What is your favorite example of how the words and text in a picture book complement each other?


  1. Rosie's Walk is fun for even the youngest (Pat Hutchins is the author, I think). The text is as oblivious as Rosie, while the fox dominates the illustrations.

  2. Beth, you're right! I'd totally forgotten that one. Thanks.

  3. a guy who reads children's booksMay 10, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    I believe one children's book author told me that the author might not get to pick the illustrator, and sometimes the illustrator is assigned by the publisher. Some illustrators add to the jokes or story, possibly one might think beyond the intent of the author.