The visual elements of children’s books are vitally important in regards to the meaning taken from texts. Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl and Holliday (2010) note that combinations of words, images and shapes operate together to convey meanings that can be quite sophisticated or abstract. Visual literacy refers to the ability to work out what these combinations mean, analyse the ‘power of the image’, and the ‘how’ of its meaning in a particular context (Winch et al, 2010, 620). The ability to do so enhances the reading experience and enables readers to have a deeper understanding of the text.
I am Thomas by Libby Gleeson and Armin Greder (2011) depicts the way in which society demands and accepts conformity. Thomas faces demand from many different people in his life (teachers, parents, psychologists, politicians, army leaders and religious leaders), reflected poignantly in the repeated words ‘do as we say, think like us, be like us’ (Gleeson and Greder, 2011). I am Thomas uses an extremely wide range of visual elements which could be analysed and discussed almost endlessly. This particular blog post will discuss the way symbolism, colour, framing and angles are used to add depth and meaning to the story, providing for a powerful and engaging reading experience.
The opening pages of I am Thomas depict the words ‘I am Thomas’ surrounded by a variety of items; visual literacy enables readers to take meaning from them. For example, the kite and toy clown suggest that Thomas is a child that likes to play. The snorkel, book, world globe and model plane, ship and bus suggest that Thomas is adventurous and inquisitive. Symbolism is also present in the numerous crowd scenes depicted in the book, in which members of the crowds do not have eyes. This can be seen as symbolising the way that people blindly conform to the influences and pressures of society.
The use of colour in I am Thomas is effective in demonstrating the difference between Thomas’s true interests and feelings, and the concepts of acceptable social behaviours and opinions being forced upon him. While all of the items depicted in the opening pages of the book are in colour, from that point on, the colour in the book becomes more limited. For example, on the following pages, a few of Thomas’s coloured interests are present, however, school work, formal clothes and depictions of people trying to control Thomas are illustrated in black and white. As the book continues, depictions of Thomas’s coloured interests grow less and less. When Thomas rejects the ideas and expectations society is trying to force onto him, the amount of colour in the pictures increases again.
Framing is also an important visual feature of I am Thomas. The black and white images throughout the book are placed within frames, whereas the colour images are scattered around outside of the frames. This implies that the things that Thomas enjoys and would like to pursue are outside of the restrictions and expectations society has placed on him.
The angles used in I am Thomas place the reader in the position of Thomas, providing for a confronting experience. For example, the book is full of images of domineering figures looking down on the reader. In several instances, these figures are pointing at the reader, and all have unpleasant expressions on their faces, ranging from frowns to wide open mouths suggestive of yelling. Placing the reader in the position of Thomas makes them feel the discomfort of being demanded to conform.
I am Thomas is an excellent example of the power of visual elements in children’s literature. In particular, the symbolism, colour, framing and angles used in the book add depth and meaning to the text, and provide for a powerful reading experience.
Gleeson, L., & Greder, A. (2011). I am Thomas. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen and Unwin.
I am Thomas [Images]. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://blaine.org/sevenimpossiblethings/?p=2220
Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.