Talking Beyond the Page ed. Janet Evans

Written in three accessible sections, this book is a series of chapters examining multimodal texts and their place in contemporary primary education. The chapters, which reflect the specialisms of some of the world’s leading researchers, combine to present a powerful, persuasive case for teaching visual literacy to all children, regardless of their ability to decode and understand the linear format of written text.

The first section analyses the aspects a range of picture books to which a response could be made, including wordless and postmodern formats and graphic novels. This includes how meaning can be made from endpapers, frames, picture styles and other changes brought about by new technologies. The opening chapter, Frank Serafini’s ‘Understanding visual images in picturebooks’ is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding the power of images and how to use them effectively to promote book talk.

A particular strength of this book is the wealth of practical examples provided, around which teachers could base their own exploration of a range of semiotic systems without compromising the rigour of their English teaching. Section Two suggests a range of responses, including the use of modelling, photography, colour boarding and story boarding to de-construct a book and structure a response. The examples quoted also demonstrate how clearly children can infer, deduce and understand multiple layers of meaning long before they are able to apply these skills to written language. One chapter deals sensitively and in depth with the use of picture books for immigrant children, permitting them to develop an understanding of their new culture which can be shared across language barriers, with other readers from multiple cultures.

The third section of the book takes the form of an exclusive and inspiring interview with the master of the picturebook medium, Anthony Browne. It is a thoroughly absorbing account of the thought processes involved in the creation of his books and it is also a fascinating place to start reading the book if you remain unconvinced or uncertain about the power of pictures.

As the world in which children are growing up becomes increasingly image dominated, a secure grasp of visual grammar should be the part of the toolkit of all teachers. So, this book should be read by all thinking practitioners, including student teachers, researchers, consultants and anyone involved in developing the literacy skills of children of all ages and abilities.

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