Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Articles on Picturebooks and War, Disability and Homosexuality

Paula T. Connolly. "Retelling 9/11: How Picture Books Re-Envision National Crises." The Lion and the Unicorn 32.3 (2008) 288-303.

Retelling 9/11: How Picture Books Re-Envision National Crises

 Paula T. Connolly

In 2006, Hollywood marked the fifth-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks with the first theatrically-released films based on those events, Universal Studios’ United 93 and Paramount’s World Trade Center. Critics initially questioned how the films would retell the events of September 11, 2001, particularly in a format of pseudo-fictionalization, and also how they would show events that had been so keenly imprinted on the American consciousness. Yet when the movies came out, they were met with general critical approval, perhaps because the central narrative thrust of each was on what one critic called “an inspiring vision of can-do American spirit amid adversity” (Lowry). What was not shown in either movie was the moment of violent physical impact in each event. United 93 did not show the plane crash in Pennsylvania; in World Trade Center the planes hitting the towers were not shown directly, but rather visually anticipated when a plane’s shadow momentarily blocks the sun from a New York City street.
The issue of how to aesthetically reconceptualize the September 11 attacks becomes all the more complex when the audience is children and the format that of picture books.1 Not only the young age of readers but the visuality of the form presents particular problems, after all, the visual images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers and their later collapse have reached iconographic status in the American imagination. Indeed, perhaps because of the ubiquity of those images, children’s picture books published to date that deal with the September 11 attacks have all focused on the New York site. In revisioning visual images of 9/11 one risks opposing charges of inauthenticity (if the images vary from what many saw, either firsthand or through televised reports) or of frightening children (if the images are too realistic). The scale of destruction and loss of life make the event a difficult one to encapsulate in a picture book. Moreover, fully explicating the event [End Page 288] becomes nearly impossible: the motivation for the attacks was politically complex and the event lacks closure that could neatly fit into a narrative structure for young children. Yet, only indirectly describing those attacks and assuming supplementary extra-textual knowledge is problematic if the books are to serve as more than transitory time-pieces. This is especially the case for children who have no personal memory of the event and for those born after 2001. Picture books that only obliquely refer to the attacks that nonetheless frame or underpin their story may have functioned as a palliative for cultural shock, but may require an adult reader/interpreter to complete their intratextually undefined interpolations. Such texts could thus serve to prompt potentially substantive conversations between children and adults about those events. Yet one danger of avoiding an intratextual description of the 9/11 attacks is of softening its depiction to the point of absence. Whether framing the events through stories of recovery, heroism, individual accomplishment, or community resolve, these books also reveal a range not only of responses but of ideological paradigms about 9/11. An exploration of picture books about the September 11 attacks may thus provide examples of how specific visual/verbal semiotics are used to translate violence to young children as well as opportunities to explore paradigms of childhood, national identity, internationalism, and notions of cultural and political hegemony.
The promise of cultural hegemony underlies Andrea Patel’s On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children (2001), one of the first picture books published about 9/11. Receiving mixed reviews—described as “effective . . .” by one critic (Lukehart) and “vacuous” by another (Kidd 140)—On That Day has nonetheless become a well-read book in what one could call “the 9/11 canon” of children’s literature, probably more so because it enjoyed strong popular promotion as the primary reviewed book on Reading Rainbow’s 9/11 episode.2 What is noted most by both the book’s supporters and detractors is the simplicity of its text and message. Here, Patel presents a peaceful world that is one day shattered by a terrible event but ultimately repaired through the kind actions of children. While symbol can obviously be used effectively to represent violence to young children, and a text’s oblique reference to specific events a way to enter particularly difficult discussions with children, On That Day is an intriguing and problematic text because of the extent to which it diffuses specific discussion about the 9/11 attacks.
Its simple text and tissue paper collage metanarratively reinforce the book’s ideology both in terms of politics and views of childhood. Patel sets the tone in the opening lines: “The world is blue. / The world is green. . . . / The world is very big, and really round, and pretty peaceful.” The syntax [End Page 289] alone replicates an idyllically protected world—repetitiously sing-song and declarative, as ostensibly simplistic as Dick and Jane books. Such a perspective not only avoids any specificity of context but its assumption of a “pretty peaceful world” posits a fictionalized hegemony that is inaccurate to the actuality of many children’s lives. This lack of specificity is reiterated in the accompanying collage, itself simplistic and childlike in many ways. Here, for example, one sees two circles—one, yellow/orange, the other smaller and green/white/purple—respectively representing the sun and earth as the only objects in the narrative universe. Unlike the sense of movement and depth that often marks Ezra Jack Keats’ collage technique or Leo Lionni’s use of visual texture and characterization, Patel’s collages often isolate a static, uncomplicated image on the page. While her collages could invite child readers’ understanding of an art form they might easily replicate, set against blank pages where white space is used not to suggest lacuna or develop context but to contain and isolate images, the technique visually reinforces the text’s sense of insularity.
That insularity is compounded in her depiction of the 9/11 attacks themselves, which are alluded to through a general statement of worldwide disaster: “one day a terrible thing happened. The world . . . got badly hurt. Many people were injured. Many other people died. And everyone was sad.” While the enormity of the world being visually shattered may be frightening—one sees this on a page where the world is shown scattered to torn bits of paper—the use of collage makes the image metaphoric and allows the reader some emotional distance and objectivity. The reader is, at the same time, directly addressed as the narrator asks, “Is there anything we can do to make the world right again?” and immediately reassures children of their agency: “You can help by sharing . . . by playing and laughing . . . by taking good care of the Earth . . . [and] by being kind to people.” Patel visually assures the reader’s efficacy in the final image where the shattered world has been illustratively reconstructed, an image of a young child’s smiling face nearly fully comprising the repaired planet.
Patel’s subtitle, “A Book of Hope for Children,” is shown as unintentionally ironic here, for while Patel offers hope for children in the assurance of their reparative agency, the narrative’s visual and verbal actual hope evokes a not uncommon historical trope of the “child redeemer” (Keller 87). Following 9/11, child psychologists had recommended that adults give children the opportunity to help others as a way to have children “maintain a sense of control and realize that one person can make a difference” (Sesame Workshop). Yet On That Day moves the personal to a vastly political scale (or conversely, the political to a vastly personal scale) at the same time that it ignores political context and positions the [End Page 290] young reader as a symbol of redemptive innocence and an outlandishly powerful Romantic Child who can repair the world and ultimately end terrorism. The central didacticism suggests an essentially uncomplicated redress and resolution to violent events, so that the “hope” of On That Day is ultimately an adult fantasy of children’s agency.3 It is particularly this unflinchingly simple assurance of reparative agency that underlines much of the praise and criticism that On That Day has garnered.
Another narrative technique used in picture books to present issues about 9/11 to children is to situate a parallel or countering story of the past as a comment on the present. Such stories can shift attention away from the more-present crisis by placing it within a longer chronological context, lessening the sense of present-day catastrophe for the reader, and developing a sense of nostalgia or even contrasting lightheartedness. Two picture books that move their stories to the past to offer strikingly different comments on the 9/11 attacks are Mary Pope Osborne’s New York’s Bravest (2002) and Mordicai Gerstein’s The Man Who Walked Between the Towers (2003). In New York’s Bravest, Mary Pope Osborne revises a tale she had included in her earlier collection, American Tall Tales (1991), and retells the legend of nineteenth-century firefighter Mose Humphreys as an homage to firefighters who responded to the 2001 attacks. Although one might argue that Osborne retreats to the past to soften the reality of the September 11 attacks, in her dedication and introductory note, she explicitly guides one in how to read her story: noting that Mose “represents the courage . . . of firefighters throughout history,” particularly the firefighters who died on 9/11. The introductory peritext thus serves as an initial frame that situates then releases the following narrative, and although the core story never directly mentions the 2001 attacks, it continues through metaphoric parallelism as a comment on (but not a more detailed explication of) 9/11.
Osborne’s choice of a “tall tale” hero allows her to mythologize contemporary firemen through a figure who is, in turn, mythologized intranarratively by others in the story. When Mose cannot be found after a particularly vicious fire, characters offer a flurry of legend-like explanations, unable to believe that he could have died. An old fireman’s response— “‘Mose is right here. . . . Whenever we save folks, he saves them, too. . . . he’ll never leave us. He’s the very spirit of New York City’”—both acknowledges Mose’s death and offers solace, particularly through the promise of memory. The accompanying paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher reinforce Osborne’s sense of nostalgia and eulogy. Unlike the more postmodern fluidity and movement shown in the changing positionality and interaction of visual and verbal texts in the other picture [End Page 291] books discussed here, in New York’s Bravest, the uniform separation of visual and verbal text (with the verbal text consistently contained in a bottom frame, its background a textured light brown, reminiscent of paper browned with age) reinforces a sense of stability and Osborne’s narrative allusion to the past.
Within her story, by focusing on fires in which people are saved, Osborne turns subconscious attention away from the death of many civilians in the subtextually comparative event of the 9/11 attacks. But her focus on Mose, and particularly Johnson and Fancher’s haunting illustration following the fire after which Mose is missing, acknowledge specific loss. Washed in gray, that double-page shows five firemen suddenly inactive, their common focus, a building with only shards of its structure remaining. In such scenes, New York’s Bravest functions as a self-sufficient story that expands, through metaphoric parallelism, into issues of the 9/11 attacks. By placing the loss of firefighters in a wide time-context, the story ultimately becomes a comment on the fluidity of time and continuation of life. In acknowledging the death of Mose (and the firefighters of 9/11) Osborne acknowledges that everything cannot be repaired; there will indeed be loss that cannot be fully recovered. But in her assertion that the memory of those who have died remains with us and can strengthen us, she seeks to offer both commendation to rescue workers who died in the September 11 attacks and solace to young readers.
While using a story from the past to echo issues of the present allows a certain separation, even a deflation of anxiety in the objectification and distance of the present-day event, when the story of the past serves as a counterpoint to, rather than a comparative comment on, the present, it may also create contrasting narratives. Such is the case of Mordicai Gerstein’s Caldecott Award-winning The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. The loss of the World Trade Towers is alluded to in its opening lines—“Once there were two towers side by side”—and confirmed in the final pages—“Now the towers are gone”—but how the towers disappeared is never directly addressed. Since unlike Osborne’s New York’s Bravest, there is no dedication or peritextual explanation of the 9/11 attacks, this book calls for extratextual knowledge or an adult interpreter to fill this narrative space. Within the narrative frame, Gerstein tells of Philippe Petit’s 1974 high-wire crossing between the towers, focusing on his adventure as he evades authorities, sneaks into the buildings one night with friends, casts a cable between them, and in the morning, feeling “alone and happy and absolutely free,” walks between the towers, “a quarter of a mile up in the sky.”
Like the restoration of an idyll to recast a troublesome present, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers posits the 1974 tightrope walk as [End Page 292] counterpoint to the 2001 terrorist attacks, reclaims the emptiness of the lost buildings with the creative act of one man, counters the shock of the attacks with the surprise of this earlier event, opposes destruction with creativity. The book’s penultimate pages evoke the import of present-day loss. There, the simple declarative, “Now the towers are gone,” stands obituary- like against a white background, while the accompanying illustration shows clouds rising like plumes of smoke above a diminished cityscape. The final page attempts to resolve such loss, showing two translucent and massively scaled towers superimposed against the clouds; at their apex, a tiny figure walks on a tightrope between them. The text reads: “But in memory, as if imprinted on the sky, the towers are still there. And part of that memory is the joyful morning, August 7, 1974, when Philippe Petit walked between them in the air.” The specificity of dates is obviously significant; as Gerstein emphasizes the importance of “memory,” he implicitly replaces—or at least adds to—the now iconically defined “September 11, 2001” with “August 7, 1974,” as a way to deepen one’s sense of the World Trade Towers, so that the attacks of September 11 do not become the only signifying feature of the buildings.
Although The Man Who Walked Between the Towers can serve as an “homage” (Rev. Kirkus) to the buildings and the book has “drawn notice for its low-key treatment of the later fate of the towers” (Mehegan), some of its images seem to dissonantly reflect the 9/11 attacks. One sees this, for example, in two foldout pages that accentuate Petit’s walk by doubling the visuality of the crossing. The book, already a large one at 8 ½ by 11 ¼ inches, opens to a width of nearly 24 inches on these pages. The two foldouts show opposing perspectives: the first, an aerial view above Petit as he walks the high wire; the second, from the vantage point of surprised and concerned passersby at street level. As one critic noted, Gerstein’s “inventive foldout . . . offers dizzying views of the city below” (Rev. Publishers Weekly); Gerstein has himself stated that he “wanted this book to cause real vertigo, to put the reader . . . on the wire” (Gerstein, “Caldecott” 408). The visual effect is dramatic. The vertical lines, particularly in these extension pages, are mesmerizing, yet the obvious anxiety of an eyewitness character and the visuality of the foldout pages that exacerbate Petit’s vertical aeriality offer an uncomfortable evocation of 9/11. Using a story of someone tightrope-walking between the towers as a countering memory of the day when people fell or jumped from those buildings allows an extratextual visual interference that embeds the illustration with problematic subtextual narratives and thus severs any neat integration of the core story and 9/11 frame.
Authors and illustrators of children’s picture books that deal with the September 11 attacks in a contemporary and realistic setting must also [End Page 293] navigate a difficult landscape, most especially so because visual images of the planes hitting the Twin Towers, the subsequent explosions, and the ultimate collapse of the buildings received such repeated televised coverage. Yet two picture books—Maira Kalman’s Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey (2002) and Jeanette Winter’s September Roses (2004)—directly depict those explosions. In each case, the narrative perspective is placed not in victims, but in those who could do something to help or offer some solace on 9/11. That their main characters are not directly injured by the attacks allows child readers a measure of separation from the depicted violence and since the stories are ultimately about the possibilities of positive input and restoration, the authors are able to balance that optimistic ending with direct visual and verbal descriptions of the attacks. In each case, their visual directness is evident as they show the devastation of the explosions running off a double-page spread, as if the text cannot fully contain or describe the impact. Each author then retains the import of loss while simultaneously redirecting the reader’s attention by focusing on how the protagonists and other characters respond. That these characters help in a range of ways not only reinforces a sense of varied community and experiences, but also alleviates any expectation that these protagonists (and by extension the child reader) can fully repair the world or prevent future terrorism.
In Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, Maira Kalman opens the focus of the 2001 attacks by opening the time and cultural frames of her story. Evoking the richness, diversity, and vibrance of New York City life, she begins Fireboat in 1931, describing how in that year, “The Empire State Building went up up up,” Babe Ruth made his 611th home run, the George Washington Bridge was completed, and—last in the series—the John J. Harvey fireboat was launched. New York’s visual cityscape in those early years and proceeding through the Harvey’s prime is shown without the World Trade Towers, which are first mentioned more than a third of the way through the text. This allows the narrative focus to remain on the Harvey, and the towers to be narratively rescaled as only one part of many stories of New York. Their introduction as part of a “changing” New York also foretells the Harvey’s initial obsolescence, and readers learn that by 1995, the fireboat is “considered old and useless. . . . waiting to be sold for scrap.”
Later refitted by a group of New Yorkers, the Harvey becomes an image of community and rebirth. Yet in its recovery, it is still seen as obsolete, unable to compete with “real” fireboats: “Everyone said . . . she could NEVER be used to fight a fire. NEVER.” Such diminution and prescribed powerlessness, of course, plays upon reader sympathy and—in the case [End Page 294] of small children—empathy and identification. After situating the Harvey as an underdog for whom the reader is already rooting, there is a sudden shift in the narrative. The colorful illustrations of Fireboat, as well as the interplay of verbal and visual narratives, come to a sudden halt on an obituary- like grey-black page that announces: “But then on September 11, 2001 / something so huge and horrible / happened that the whole world / shook. / It was 8:45 in the morning, / another beautiful and sunny day.” Although momentarily reiterating the essentialism of Patel’s view in describing how “the whole world shook,” Kalman’s specificity of time—even noting 8:45 a.m.—is followed by a two-page spread that seems simple, but is visually and verbally packed to show the imminent crash.
Visually, this double page stands apart from the rest of the book (see fig. 1). The left page and one-third of its facing page are a vibrant deep blue, with two black planes facing the towers, which stand to the far right. The open space of the sky contrasts the often crowded images on other pages; the blue here is largely untextured in comparison to the use of blue elsewhere, and while the color is vibrant, its uniform and flat tonal quality provides little visual relief to the reader. The changes—in space, texture, color, and ratio of object to background—are visually shocking. That intensity is compounded by the image of the planes—black and sharklike—which are almost as long as the buildings are wide, reinforcing their sense of threat. While showing one plane on each of the facing pages could imply the time between the strikes—the gutter serving as an acknowledgment of the intervening quarter hour—Kalman’s choice to show both planes simultaneously and closely placed on the double page visually intensifies one’s anticipatory anxiety. Although tall, the thinness of the two towers as well as their isolation on the page emphasizes their vulnerability; one sees no other landscape, no other buildings, as if any other context has been lost and the towers are separate from all else in New York. Moreover, the directionality of left-to-right eye reading movement that is typical in Western culture implicitly moves the planes to their inescapable impact in the towers.
In the bottom left corner of the left-hand page, Kalman narrates, using a white typeface that replicates the color of the white towers against the sky:
Two airplanes
     crashed into the Twin Towers.
          CRASHED, CRASHED, CRASHED into these two strong buildings.
The repetition of “crashed” as well as the use of capital letters suggests a verbal crescendo and reinforces the impact of the planes on the buildings. [End Page 295] That “CRASHED” is fully capitalized three times while the “these two strong buildings,” which follows it is not, suggests the power of the impact and implicitly diminishes the strength of the buildings. The staggered placement of the lines, with each successive line ending further to the right, leaving empty space to the right of the lines directly above, visually suggests movement, here the dropping of the planes into the Twin Towers and the ultimate collapse of the buildings themselves. Kalman’s technique of verbally describing the impact in the past tense while visually showing the scene immediately preceding it, can exacerbate the reader’s anxiety as he or she follows the directive of the verbal text to complete the seemingly frozen action of the visual text. What Kalman does here is not only to depict the coming impact in concrete terms, but also to encourage an intriguing subconscious interaction on the part of the reader. This seemingly visually frozen and almost iconographic image thus becomes embedded with movement as the visual and verbal cues lead the reader to add inevitable movement to complete the page’s story.

Figure 1. 
From Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey by Maira Kalman, copyright © 2002 by Maira Kalman. Used by permission of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, A Division of Penguin Young Readers Group, A Member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, NY, 10014. All rights reserved.
Following a close-up of the impact on one of the towers where frenzied lines show the explosion visually consuming the page, Kalman redirects the narrative to its earlier focus on the Harvey, which is called into action to help put out fires alongside larger boats. In The Engine That Could tradition, the small and insignificant shows its power through resolve and dedication. The Harvey joins the rescue efforts until the fires are quelled and “The Harvey was a hero.” Although the Harvey can symbolically represent a young child because it is small and considered powerless, [End Page 296] in the context of the attacks, it serves as a much larger symbol. Kalman tells readers:
     Now the Twin Towers are gone.
     Something new will be built.
The heroes who died will be remembered forever.
     The Harvey is back to being a very happy boat.
NOT scrapped.
          NOT useless.
               NOT forgotten.
The symbolic implication, of course, is that New York City stands in the same regard as the Harvey, incapable, despite assaults, of being scrapped or useless.
Here and elsewhere, Kalman also uses narrative bookending, as she places a positive description immediately following or on either side of a negative one. This technique allows her to tell young readers of serious events because she can encase them within other, more hopeful scenarios.4 The story of Harvey, for example, both bookends her depiction of the attack and is metaphorically aligned with that story as it provides a moral lesson about individuals aiding the larger community, offers reassurance on the importance of the ostensibly insignificant against seemingly insurmountable odds, and focuses on the rejuvenation of New York. But it is the story of New York that outermost bookends Fireboat. Kalman’s opening, describing the Empire State Building and George Washington Bridge, provides an unconscious stability to her depiction of New York. Although by the close of the book, readers know that the towers are destroyed, the other two structures remain standing, undamaged, and thus a visual promise of New York’s resilience.
Unlike On That Day, which describes how on September 11 “it felt like the world broke,” and Fireboat, which describes how “the whole world shook,” in September Roses Jeanette Winter keeps her depiction of the September 11 attacks more narrowly defined—avoiding statements that project the New York attacks onto the world at large—and more fluidly open—with her choice of protagonists, background characters, and by beginning her story outside New York. As acknowledged in a peritextual introduction and narrative frame, Winter here tells the story she had heard of two sisters from South Africa who grew roses and had arrived in New York City on September 11, 2001 for a flower show. The event cancelled and hotels fully booked, the sisters were given shelter, and in turn brought their roses to Union Square where they lay them down in the pattern of the two fallen buildings. As one reviewer described it, “Winter presents as a memorial the story of a memorial created at the time” (Bulletin 45). [End Page 297]
The book is a small one at 5 ¾ x 7 inches, its size suggesting a book for small hands. Throughout, the font is cursive, and that coupled with the author’s self-revelation in the narrative frame where she relays her own experiences in New York City during the attacks, lend the impression that this story is one written by hand, like a diary or a letter to a friend. The paper, too, is roughly textured and flat and is the only one of the books discussed here not on glossy paper; as Perry Nodelman has argued, such roughly textured paper can increase a reader’s sense of “involvement and intimacy” with the book as if the texture “invite[s] our touch” (48). This is a small book, too, in its foregrounding of the modest story of these two sisters.
In September Roses, it is the background scene and embedded text that more directly provide details of the 9/11 attacks. One sees this, for example, in the double-page illustration of the impending attack. While Kalman narrows focus to emphasize tension in this scene, Winter opens her illustration to encompass both South Africa and New York City, and seems to visually minimize the impending threat. The sisters’ plane is large and centrally placed on the left-hand page. The pale green tones of its exterior and vibrant red interior seen through its several widows—where one can also see an array of passengers, including the two sisters—mark the plane as an image of life. In contrast, tightly held in the bottom righthand corner of the facing illustration one sees a minimized and largely colorless New York City, with two planes heading toward the towers. The two planes are tiny (each no more than a quarter of an inch in length) and a visually unremarkable grey. A quick reading would even have one missing their subscript-like image. In Fireboat, the planes are moving to the right, following a left-to-right reading pattern; here, Winter has the two planes moving to the left, hence disrupting left-to-right eye movement and tightening our gaze since the movement is into and not outside the picture. The effect visually compresses an already compressed image. That compression is released in the following two-page spread, as the buildings illustratively explode, striations of gray covering the page, yet simultaneously maintained as the following ten pages turn to a ubiquitous black and white, signaling that the ensuing world has lost the vibrancy that had otherwise signaled hope and life.
As the sisters stand in the airport, one sees many figures in various stages of distress—crying, holding each other, watching television screens, standing motionless and stunned. Filling the small double-page with so many individuals, many with different reactions, lends to a sense of disorder. Adding to that, images of a bank of six airport screens—each filled with “cancelled” notices—and three television screens—each showing the explosion Winter had depicted on the previous page—do not allow [End Page 298] the reader’s eye to rest and compound the sense of visual chaos. Further, that these television screens each replicate the same scene of explosion reinforces a feeling of visual assault by tightening the already close-feeling black-and-white page.
In this airport scene, particularly in these information and television screens, Winter’s use of framing—a technique illustrators often use to create a sense of visual order and stability—does just the opposite. While the news is ubiquitous, shown here and in following pages by the number of television screens, its chaotic rapidity is visually dramatized in the way the screens are literally shown off-balance. Incomplete information on subscript scrollbars evokes a sense of fragmentation and requires the reader to more actively enter the text to complete the verbal lacunae. On this first page of the airport scene, for example, the scrollbars on the television screens announce: “SEPT. 11, 2001 - - T,” “ERRORIST ATTACK - - NEW YO,” “ACKED PLANES - - THOUSANDS DIE.” Reading the screens all together, and left to right, one can piece together the events, even more specifically than in the other picture books discussed here. When a minister arrives to offer the sisters shelter, he stands before a television screen that shows the towers splitting v-shaped and surrounded by flames, the scrollbar reporting “FIREFIGHTERS SEARCH.” Such an illustration offers a dual narrative to the child reader: a larger context of real tragedy and trauma as well as a narrowed, less threatening context of these two sisters who were, after all, only inconvenienced and not seriously hurt in the attacks of 9/11.
This mediation of contexts continues as the sisters visit Union Square where they leave their roses as a memorial. There, the placed pattern of flowers literally reframes the scene, for “When the sisters stepped back, there lay the fallen towers.” Here, not only the return of color, but also the re-establishment of frames, counters earlier depictions of instability. People who have gathered at the square surround the memorial on three sides, and here, too, Winter calls upon the reader’s interaction: the bottom frame—where the reader holding the book is extra-textually present—is left open, thus visually providing an incomplete frame that the reader’s physical presence completes. Yet here and elsewhere, Winter does not offer a facile sense of closure or recovery. The framing devices of the rose memorial and the surrounding three-sided border of people are nonetheless ephemeral. The roses will eventually die. The people will eventually walk away from the Square. And the park is, after all, also lined with pictures of missing people.
What these two books, Fireboat and September Roses, seem to do most effectively for children is to remove direct didactic lessoning (which one finds in On That Day) and to confront and contextualize the attacks of [End Page 299] 9/11 (unlike The Man Who Walked Between the Towers). They present the attacks visually and realistically, but move that assault outside an insulated narrative position to include wider contexts of people, geography, and time. They also deal with the attacks by focusing on specific and real stories, showing the agency of adults as models for children, including them but not depending upon them to fix the ills of the world or to change the possibility of terrorism. These books show people confronted with, responding to, and ultimately processing through violence, despondency, and shock, into an acknowledgment of personal and communal contributions and the possibility of recovery.
Such a narrative trajectory may be particularly significant in picture books about 9/11 as the passage of time brings a readership consisting of a wider audience of children who may know little, if anything, about the events of September 11, 2001. Indeed, some extratextual knowledge, in varying degrees, may be necessary to clarify the specific context of all of the books discussed here. Even in the case of Kalman’s Fireboat, where the planes and explosions are directly shown, questions about who flew the planes and what their motivation for the attacks may have been are sure to arise with younger—as well as with older—readers. Centrally, these books show us ways in which images of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers have been reconstructed for children, but they also offer important opportunities to explore the intersections of visual/verbal semiotics and depictions of violence in children’s picture books. One sees this, for example, in the array of narrative forms—including the generalized symbolic representation in On that Day, the contrasting uses of history in the metaphoric parallelism of New York’s Bravest and the narrative counterpointing in The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, as well as the contemporary accounts that use other foregrounded stories, whether minimally anthropomorphic as in Fireboat, or realistic as in September Roses—that comment on 9/11. Such uses of story, as well as specific techniques like narrative bookending and visual framing, reveal ways in which reader anxiety can be both engaged and contained. Negotiating the oppositions of fear and hope, violence and recovery, victimhood and agency, these texts also reveal ways in which images of destruction and conflict can be confronted, displaced, or reshaped for young children. [End Page 300]
Paula T. Connolly is associate professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she teaches courses in children’s literature and film. She has published on issues of race in children’s literature, including visual representations of slavery in children’s picture books.


1.  In addition to non-fiction texts on 9/11, books by children themselves, including children’s art books (see, for example, Goodman and Fahnestock; Harwayne), also focus on visual images, as does Jacobson and Colón’s graphic novel for older readers. (An earlier version of this essay was presented at the Conference on Modern Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature in Nashville, TN, March 2007. I am also grateful to Elizabeth Gargano, Tony Jackson, Jennifer Munroe, as well as to the journal’s reader for their comments on this essay.)
2. Reading Rainbow’s 9/11 episode, which originally aired on September 2, 2002, featured The Tin Forest by Helen Ward, and showed host LeVar Burton visiting students at New York City’s P.S. 234 to discuss the events of 9/11. I am grateful to Erin Craig for alerting me to this Reading Rainbow episode.
3.  Patel’s initial inclusion of all ages—“Whether you’re three years old, or thirteen . . . or thirty . . . or one-hundred-and-three years old, you can help”—is not particularly convincing; her reassurance of agency is largely dependent upon didactically reinforcing traditional values for children and the planet is illustratively recreated with a child’s face.
4.  For other narrative strategies used to present difficult topics to children in picture book format, see Connolly.

Works Cited

Connolly, Paula T. “Narrative Tensions: Telling Slavery, Showing Violence.” The Presence of the Past in Children’s Literature. Ed. Ann Lawson Lucas. Westport,CT: Praeger-Greenwood, 2003.
Gerstein, Mordicai. “Caldecott Medal Acceptance.” Horn Book Magazine 80.4 (July/Aug. 2004): 405–09.
———. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Book Press, 2003.
Goodman, Robin F., and Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, eds. The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002.
Harwayne, Shelley with the New York City Board of Education, eds. Message to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.
Jacobson, Sid, and Ernie Colón. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. New York: Hill and Wang–Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2006.
Kalman, Maira. Fireboat: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons-Penguin, 2002. [End Page 301]
Keats, Ezra Jack. The Snowy Day. 1962. New York: Puffin, 1976.
Keller, Holly. “Juvenile Antislavery Narrative and Notions of Childhood.” Children’s Literature 24 (1996): 86–100. [Project MUSE]
Kidd, Kenneth. “‘A’ Is for Auschwitz: Psychoanalysis, Trauma Theory, and the Children’s Literature of Atrocity’.” Children’s Literature 33 (2005): 120–49. [Project MUSE]
Lionni, Leo. Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse. New York: Dragonfly-Knopf, 1969.
Lowry, Brian. Review of World Trade Center. 31 July 2006. . 7 Sept. 2006
Lukehart, Wendy. Rev. of On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children, by Andrea Patel.School Library Journal 48.9 (Sept. 2002): 204. EBSCO Host Research Databases. 16 July 2007. .
Rev. of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Kirkus Reviews 71.15 (1 Aug. 2003):1017. EBSCO Host Research Databases. 16 July 2006. .
Rev. of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, by Mordicai Gerstein. Publishers Weekly Reviews. (1 Sept. 2003): 87. LexisNexis Academic. 16 July 2007. .
Mehegan, David. “Caldecott, Newbery Medals: Kiddie-lit Bestows Top Awards.” The Charlotte Observer. (19 Jan. 2004): 5E.
Nodelman, Perry. Words about Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children’s Picture Books. Athens, GA: U of Georgia P, 1988.
Osborne, Mary Pope. American Tall Tales. Wood Engravings by Michael McCurdy. New York: Scholastic, 1991.
———. New York’s Bravest. Illust. by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Patel, Andrea. On That Day: A Book of Hope for Children. Berkeley: Tricycle P, 2001.
Reading Rainbow. The Tin Forest. GPN/WNED-TV. 2 Sept 2002. DVD. GPN Educational Media, 2004.
Rev. of September Roses by Jeanette Winter. Bulletin of the Center of Children’s Book. 58.1 (Sept. 2004): 45–46.
Sesame Workshop Education and Research Division. “Tragic Times, Healing Words: Helping Children Cope.” Updated 23 Oct. 2001. . 13 July 2007.
Smith, Katharine Capshaw. “Forum: Trauma and Children’s Literature.” Children’sLiterature. 33 (2005): 115–19.
Stewig, John Warren. Looking at Picture Books. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith P, 1995. [End Page 302]
United 93. Dir. and writer Paul Greengrass. Universal Studios, 2006. Film.
World Trade Center. Dir. Oliver Stone. Paramount Studios, 2006. Film.
Ward, Helen. The Tin Forest. Illustr. by Wayne Anderson. New York: Dutton, 2001.
Winter, Jeanette. September Roses. New York: Frances Foster Books-Farrar Straus Giroux, 2004. [End Page 303]

O'Sullivan, Emer, ‘Rose Blanche, Rosa Weiss, Rosa Blanca: A Comparative View of a Controversial Picture Book’, The Lion and the Unicorn 29.2 (2005) 152-170

Rose Blanche, Rosa Weiss, Rosa Blanca: A Comparative View of a Controversial Picture Book

Emer O'Sullivan

Published in Switzerland, the USA, and Britain in 1985, Rose Blanche, Roberto Innocenti's controversial and prize-winning picture book about a young German girl's experience of the Second World War and the Holocaust, has been translated into at least ten different languages. It has remained in print in the United States since publication, and a paperback edition of the British translation was issued by Red Fox in 2004, testifying to the ongoing topicality of Innocenti's story. Its cultural importance was further documented in a recent (2004) article by Susan Stan in Children's Literature in Education about the initial chequered publication of Rose Blanche. Using an English-language translation by a colleague, Stan also explored some of the differences between the texts of the German, American, and British editions of the picture book.
This essay, based on a lecture given at CLISS 2003, addresses the international reception of Rose Blanche and asks how it is bound to such factors as the role of the target culture in the Second World War and its engagement with the subject of the Holocaust. After a brief analysis of Roberto Innocenti and Chrisoph Gallaz's original Italian/Swiss visual and verbal text Rose Blanche, I first review its international reception and translation before moving on to examine the French, American, English, German, Spanish, and Italian versions to question how cultural differences are inscribed into these, even though the pictorial narrations are identical. Close textual analysis of the opening page of the different translations is followed by a discussion of the implied readers of the translations which asks how the texts reflect the cultures' desire or need to tell the story differently. [End Page 152]

Rose Blanche: The Original Version by Innocenti and Gallaz

Conceived and illustrated by the Italian artist Roberto Innocenti1 with a French text by the Swiss journalist and author Christophe Gallaz, Rose Blanche tells of the final phase of the Second World War in a small town in eastern Germany from the perspective of a nine-year-old girl. Set between autumn 1944 and May 1945, it starts with celebratory flag-waving euphoria and ends with destruction, retreat, and the advent of the liberating Red Army. Rose is confronted with the awful truth of the Holocaust after she sees a young boy try unsuccessfully to escape from a lorry. Following it, she discovers a concentration camp in the woods outside the town. She displays instinctive compassion and civil disobedience by sneaking food to the emaciated Jewish child prisoners. In the confusion of the retreat, Rose is killed by a stray bullet. The final page of the book shows spring returning to the forest.
The pictures are composed in a hyper-realistic style obsessed with detail. Red-brick buildings fill most of the pages, creating the claustrophobic confines of the town scenes; grey lorries with blind windows and tanks with soldiers in grey uniforms move from left to right across the page, toward the Eastern Front, until the reversal of the final retreat. Contrasting with the dark, warm color of the bricks is the green hue of the scenes at the edge of the concentration camp; juxtaposing the loud celebrations in the town is the silence of the prisoners. The portrayal of Rose just before her death has visual associations with pictures of Christ: her eyes are downcast, one hand lightly touching her heart, and the other placing a small blue flower in remembrance onto the barbed wire.
The picture on the cover, identical on the hardback editions in all languages, shows Rose framed by the window of a red-brick house, which is used as a mirroring device. In it we see the final movement of soldiers to the front. She is captured here in her prime role as innocent witness who sees, but is not seen. We are looking at her looking at the soldiers going to war; we see pity and compassion in her face. She has discarded her red, Nazi-colored, ribbon of the first pages and exchanged her pink dress for the white one of innocence and purity. The only striking color is the blue of her eyes, which is also the color of the flower she lays on the barbed wire in memory of the prisoners.
Innocenti's pictures are carefully crafted with layer upon layer of historically authentic material. The artist explains how he worked with newspapers, photos, and historical books to create a "scenograph invented by blending, constructed in my manner, brick by brick" (Letter).2 The authenticity of setting is underscored by the use of the German [End Page 153]

Figure 1
Cover of Rose Blanche, by Roberto Innocenti and Christophe Gallaz. Reproduced by permission of The Creative Company.
language in the pictures: "Bäckerei Heinrich" above the bakery, "Verboten" on the signposts, and German graffiti on the walls. There is a tension between accuracy and invention in this semidocumentary montage, between authentic material and fiction, that corresponds to Innocenti's idea of blending a real story with "una fiaba," a fairy tale (Letter). The German town in the book does not actually exist, but the fountain in the first opening is the image of one in Potsdam. The famous photograph of [End Page 154] the boy in the Warsaw Ghetto,3 hands held above his head, is integrated into Innocenti's fictional picture, but it is used in a new context: the boy stands alone in a small town in Germany instead of being in the ghetto crowd. Here he is transformed into the reason for Rose's actions. Through her the readers' helplessness in the face of the historical photo is channelled, retrospectively, into resistance and compassionate action.
Christophe Gallaz's text is sparse and descriptive; there is no direct speech, and it is devoid of an expressed opinion or explanation.4 Opening as a first-person narrative in the present tense, it switches from first to third person, and the basic narrative tense is changed to the past after the climax, the discovery of the concentration camp. The end of the story makes this switch mandatory: Rose's death has to be narrated in the third person. But the narrator of the second part does not differ in voice and scope from the first-person narrator. The shift is subtle and often unnoticed on first reading.
Rose sees what happens, but she doesn't know or understand why; the emotional and cognitive perspectives of a child are kept throughout.5 There is a gap between Rose's limited grasp of events, as narrated in the verbal text, and the details we can see in the pictures. Innocenti conceived Rose Blanche as a book that asks questions, providing "an invitation to respond" (Letter). He imagined an ideal reading situation of children and adults together, with the children asking only what they need to know and the adults—parents, grandparents, or teachers—giving what answers they can or want to provide.
Rose Blanche is a pacifist book that portrays history through German eyes, a view not commonly presented in Allied history. It shows the suffering in the inhuman camps, the mutilation of soldiers, and the destruction of the town. There are no victors in Innocenti's book, only losers in war; with it he wanted to say, "Basta guerra, basta" (Letter). By showing the liberation from the Eastern Front, Innocenti paid tribute to the twenty million Russians who died defeating fascism in the Second World War.6 He wrote that he was enormously grateful for every soldier and member of a resistance movement who helped bring about the end of the war. The title of the book, Rose Blanche, does homage to the German student resistance group at Munich University, "Die weisse Rose" (literally, "The White Rose"), founded by the siblings Sophie and Hans Scholl and others. The Scholls and three of their friends were executed in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.
Rose Blanche addresses a controversial topic for a picture book, a genre traditionally addressed to pre–reading age children, and it presents a controversial approach, as it sticks firmly to the child's perspective. [End Page 155] Italian publishers, approached by Innocenti in the early 1980s, rejected the book with the argument "that it is bad for children to know about such things" (Letter).

Translation and Reception of Rose Blanche: A Survey

The original edition of Rose Blanche was published in 1985 by the Swiss publisher Edipresse under the imprint 24 Heures. Two very different English-language editions were issued in the same year: Creative Education in the USA published the American translation by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia,7 and London's Jonathan Cape published a retelling by Ian McEwan. Both of these countries have a rich tradition of children's literature of the Second World War, with interest in the Holocaust especially strong in the USA. The fourth version, and third translation, of Rose Blanche published in 1985 was Roosje Weiss, published in Belgium and translated into Dutch by Ingrid Nijkerk-Pieters. There is a strong tradition of children's literature in Dutch about the Holocaust: the first book for children about the fate of Jewish children under the Nazi regime, Clara Asscher-Pinkhof's Sterrekindern (Star Children), was published in the Netherlands in 1946, and today novels by authors such as Ida Vos have produced high-quality, literary accounts of Jewish childhoods during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. The German translation, Rosa Weiss, by Abraham Teuter, followed swiftly, published by his own Alibaba-Verlag in 1986, which simultaneously issued a supplement with documentary material on "Children as Victims of National Socialism" (Beckmann, Klare, and Koch 1986). The Danish Rose Blanche, translated by Inger Christensen, was also published in 1986.8 Within one year of publication, five different translations had been issued by countries that, in their children's literature, traditionally displayed an interest in the topic of the Second World War and, more specifically, the Holocaust. Rosa Blanca, the Spanish (Castillian) translation by Maribel G. Martínez followed in 1987, and in 1988 Rose Blanche was translated into Swedish and prefaced by Rose Lagercrantz, herself the author of an autobiography of her childhood during the Holocaust. Finally, in 1990, many years after the initial rejection of Innocenti's book and after it had received much international acclaim, Rosa Bianca was published in Italian, translated by Paola Moro. Nineteen ninety also saw the publication of the first Japanese translation, Rozu Blanchu, by Koji Nakano, which was followed ten years later by a second one, Shirobarawa dokoni (Where is White Rose?), by Hiroshi Osada.9 According to a Japanese delegate at [End Page 156] CLISS, the first of these translations is based on the American edition of Rose Blanche, the second is a translation of Ian McEwan's freer British version. In 1998 a Chinese translation, based on the American edition, was issued by the Grimm Press in Taiwan; it is the only translation whose title does not use the proper name of the girl. Instead we get a title which translates back into English as "Small flower on the barbed wire," which refers to the small picture on the last page of the book, the close-up of the now wilted flower on the barbed wire. The title could also be taken to signify the fate of a young girl in wartime.10
At least eleven different translations of Rose Blanche have been published to date, with a Korean one due to be published in 2005, but there are no translations of Rose Blanche into any Slavic language11 or into Hebrew. In discussion after the CLISS lecture with participants from Israel, the point was reinforced that this picture book is ultimately a story of a "righteous Gentile" (Walter and March 47). The readers see what happened to Rose and shed tears at her martyr death, but they never find out what happened to the nameless children in the concentration camp who disappear from the pages of the book without further mention. Unlike the good German, the Jewish children are not individualized.
"Rose Blanche," as a proper name, appears in French in the first, Swiss, edition. Bearing in mind that the German language is used in the pictures as a documentary feature, one may wonder why the girl wasn't given the German name "Rose Weiss" in linguistic proximity to the resistance movement, "Die weisse Rose." In four translations the name is translated, but there are no other forms of cultural adaptation in relation to location or names in the book. The translation of the name can be seen as an attempt to transport the reference to the movement into the languages involved. In the German version she is called "Rosa Weiss," close enough to "weisse Rose"; in the Dutch, "Roosje Weiss" (the diminutive ending "je" makes "Rose" into "little Rosie"); the girl in the Spanish translation is called "Rosa Blanca"; and in the Italian "Rosa Bianca." The American and the British versions elected to leave the (French) name untranslated, which reduces it virtually to a proper name only. The reference to the movement which could have been conveyed with the name "Rose White" remains oblique, as the French translation of the (German) name of a German movement. The same applies to the Danish and Swedish translations. The Japanese phonetic equivalent of the French name "Rozu Blanchu" foregoes any resonance of the resistance movement.
The reception of Rose Blanche in the English-speaking world was, after the initial "mixed reception" (Stan 21), predominantly positive. It [End Page 157] was and still is widely appreciated in the USA and Australia, especially amongst teachers, features prominently on webpages on Literature on the Holocaust, and is taught in courses in schools (recommended by the American School Library Journal for Grade 5 up) and universities. An example of the kind of popular enthusiasm it can generate among teachers is a review which declares "Wow!! This picture book works. . . ."12 It was the recipient of a number of international prizes,13 but perhaps one of the most significant prizes that Rose Blanche did not win was the annual German national children's literature award, the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis. The prize for best picture book of 1986 went to Du hast angefangen! Nein, du!, the German translation of David McKee's Two Monsters. Abraham Teuter, translator and publisher of Rosa Weiss, wrote an open letter to the jury accusing them of looking away, just as the townfolk in Rose Blanche had done, and spoke of a scandalous lack of courage, saying that the decision was not so much in favor of McKee as patently against Innocenti. The latter's innovative book was important for Germans and should, according to Teuter, have been given the prize (Teuter/Freitag 2328).
The reception of the book in Germany is obviously unlike that in any other country. It tells of a dark chapter in German history; readers are invited to celebrate the war with the Nazis at the beginning; to discover, with Rosa, the concentration camp with child prisoners in the German woods; to see how she is shot and how Germany was defeated in the war. And they are invited to experience all this on an emotional rather than a cognitive level. Germans are the inheritors of the legacy of war, and parents and teachers may be confronted with children's questions with which they may feel uncomfortable. The question asked of this book in Germany was: is it valid to portray a story of the Holocaust in this form? Shouldn't more historical information be provided? Criticism was levelled at the inaccuracy of Innocenti's pictures, with critics claiming that a concentration camp would never have been built so close to a town, that a child could never have come close to its wire perimeter, and so on. But these questions were dismissed by the German picture book expert, Jens Thiele, as irrelevant and absurd, saying that they were simply an indication of the fears and resistance which the book aroused in German adults. He asked: how can a book possibly show the extermination of children in a concentration camp in an "accurate" manner (Thiele 9)? A further aspect with which the German critical public felt uncomfortable was the fact that with Rose's death, the sole witness to the Nazi crimes in the book disappears; the link between yesterday and today, today and tomorrow is eliminated. The final picture, the reprise of the scene of [End Page 158] Rose's death with a red poppy now occupying her place, shows grass growing over the scene of her death and the camp, and could be taken as an indication that all can be easily forgotten. As the following analysis will show, the German translation tries to counterbalance this possible interpretation of the visual narrative by adding specific elements to the text.

Comparative Analysis of Six Versions of Rose Blanche

An analysis of the verbal narrative of the opening page in the original and five translations, which also addresses how they relate to the accompanying pictorial narratives, will be followed by general conclusions about the translations.
Je m'appelle Rose Blanche. J'habite une petite ville d'Allemagne. Elle a des rues étroites, des fontaines, des maisons hautes et des pigeons sur leurs toits. Mais un jour les premiers camions sont arrivés, et beaucoup d'hommes sont partis. Ils étaient habillés en soldats. L'hiver allait commencer. (Original French text by Christophe Gallaz)
My name is Rose Blanche. I live in a small town in Germany with narrow streets, old fountains and tall houses with pigeons on the roofs. One day the first truck arrived and many men left. They were dressed as soldiers. Winter was beginning. (American translation by Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia)
When wars begin people often cheer. The sadness comes later. The men from the town went off to fight for Germany. Rose Blanche and her mother joined the crowds and waved them goodbye. A marching band played, everyone cheered, and the fat mayor made a boring speech. There were jokes and songs and old men shouted advice to the young soldiers. Rose Blanche was shivering with excitement. But her mother said it was cold. Winter was coming. (English translation by Ian McEwan)
Rosa Weiss lebte in einer kleinen Stadt in Deutschland. Die Straßen der Stadt waren eng; es gab alte Brunnen und hohe Häuser, auf deren Dächern die Tauben saßen. Eines Tages kamen die ersten Lastwagen und viele Männer stiegen ein. Sie trugen Uniformen und winkten. Bürgermeister Schröder hielt eine lange Rede. Überall hingen bunte Fahnen und die Kinder winkten. (German translation by Abraham Teuter)
Rosa Blanca vivía en una pequeña ciudad de Alemania. Sus calles eran estrechas, con fuentes antiguas y casas altas, sobre cuyos tejados iban a posarse las palomas. Un día, aparecieron los primeros camiones y muchos hombres se subieron a ellos. Llevaban uniformes y saludaban. El alcade Schroeder pronuncío un discurso. Por todas partes colgaban banderas de colores y los niños saludaban. (Spanish translation by Maribel G. Martínez) [End Page 159]
Rosa Bianca vivea in una piccola città in Germania. Le strade della città erano anguste; vi erano antiche fontane e alti edifici con i colombi appollaiati sui tetti. Un giorno arrivarono i primi camion e molti uomini vi salirono sopra. Indossavano uniformi e salutavano. Il borgomastro Schröder tenne un lungo discorso. Ovunque sventolavano bandiere colorate e i bambini facevano ampi cenni di saluto.
(Italian translation by Paola Moro)

Figure 2
Opening page of Rose Blanche. Reproduced by permission of The Creative Company.
The French and American versions of the first page can be discussed together, as the American translation is a fairly true account of the French source text in English.14 In the first two sentences of the French original text the first-person narrator introduces herself—her name and her country—to the reader in simple, short main clauses. A description of her town follows, some of the elements of which—a fountain, high houses—can be seen in the picture. This is all the background information the readers are given before a change is registered with regret: "Mais un jour les premiers camions sont arrives" ("But one day the first trucks arrived"). There is a switch to the past tense to describe this event, the following page continues in the present tense. From Rose's childish perspective the men who left the town were not soldiers, but "habillés en soldats," "dressed as soldiers." The first-person narrative is situated in the present; the eyewitness account creates an immediacy and an illusion of presentness that position the readers alongside Rose as participants in the story. The picture validates what Rose says but it also provides much more information than she can. The contrast is great between the sparse, simple verbal narrative that reflects the young girl's limited perception and the hyper-realistic visual narrative which shows the Nazi flags, the mayor with his Hitler moustache, the cheering of the crowds and, later, scenes of war and destruction, persecution and genocide beyond the cognitive reach of the young narrator-witness. Things are shown in the [End Page 160] verbal narrative whose signfiers never occur in the verbal text: "Nazi," "war," or later, "concentration camp." With the final foreboding sentence, "Winter was beginning," the season is used to frame the story, which ends with the coming of spring and the somewhat sentimental final sentence above the scene of blossoming flowers "Le printemps chantait," "Spring sang." Natural phenomena are used throughout the story to shed light on Rose's state of mind: "everything was frozen," "the sky was grey."
The British translation by Ian McEwan15 starts with a global statement on the nature of war by a third-person omniscient narrator and intimates a tragic ending. The narrator is firmly in charge and provides an interpretative framework for a story about war and about, but not of, Rose. Rose doesn't address the readers in McEwan's version; they don't experience her version of her story directly. Unlike in the original, Germany is not introduced as Rose's country but as the country "the men from the town went off to fight for," placing the readers in a different position regarding the events narrated. They are presented with a distanced view of another time and another place rather than events which are unfolding before a young girl's eyes. Rose's mother, the waving, the marching band, the cheering, the fat mayor—these are all verbalized elements of the picture; McEwan doesn't trust the visual narrative to tell its story, or the readers to decipher it, and reduces the pictures to mere illustrations of his verbal text. McEwan's "verbally didactic" narrative (McCann and Hiller 53) shifts the balance between the visual and the verbal narratives.16
The German translation by Abraham Teuter transposes the original text into a third-person narrative in the past tense—"Rose Blanche lived in a small town in Germany. The streets of the town were narrow, there were old fountains and tall houses with pigeons on their roofs"—placing a greater distance between narrator, the events narrated, and the reader. The third-person narrator is not omniscient, however; the perspective remains that of a child, both in language and in scope. There are some additions and one omission in this passage. We are told that the "men wearing uniforms waved" and that "Mayor Schröder made a long speech. Colorful flags were hanging everywhere and the children waved." Although he can be seen in six of Innocenti's pictures, the unnamed mayor is actually only mentioned twice in the original text, both instances during the episode of the boy's escape and recapture. Bürgermeister Schröder is given a name and an individual identity in Teuter's text; he is mentioned no fewer than seven times and features prominently at the beginning and the end of the narrative. Indeed, the [End Page 161] mayor has the last word on the final opening; the postwar postcript in which the German text accompanying the picture (in the original: "Le printemps chantait," "Spring sang") does not refer to the season but to the goings-on in the town: "In der Stadt waren die Kinder gemeinsam mit ihren Müttern damit beschäftigt, die Trümmer wegzuräumen. Bürgermeister Schröder war weit weg." ("In the town the children and their mothers were busy clearing away the rubble. Mayor Schröder was far away"). The final text leaves the reader wondering about failed justice, and the whereabouts of Nazi enforcers and watchdogs while others were left to rebuild Germany. The omission at the end of the passage on the first page is the reference to winter, just as the reference to spring is omitted from the end. The German translation thus resists the cyclical time structure and its "idyllic mode" (Stan 24).
The Spanish and Italian translations begin, "Rose Blanche lived in a small town in Germany. The streets of the town were narrow, there were old fountains and tall houses with pigeons on their roofs." In both "el alcade Schroeder" or "il borgomastro Schröder" gives a speech—the same mayor who made his first appearance in the German edition. These translations are not based on the French original or its American translation, as are the Dutch or Danish ones, for example, but are translations of the German version, even to the extent of adopting a translational error made by Teuter.17 The Italian translation is—with only one small omission—a word-for-word translation of the German; the Spanish translation has a few minor omissions and three additional sentences which were in the French original but not in the German version, showing that the translator obviously worked with both. The only significant change occurs at the end: the German text about the town-dwellers and Mayor Schröder is replaced by "Habia llegado la primavera" ("Spring arrived")—a less poetic version of the singing spring in the French original.
Innocenti wrote of the translations: "There are things in the books which have appeared in different languages which are also a mystery to me" (Letter). One can imagine his surprise at the appearance of a "borgomastro Schröder" in the Italian version when, five years after its initial publication, the book was finally issued in his native language. But how can we explain the mysteries of the different translations? [End Page 162]

The Implied Readers of the Translations

The comparison of the opening passage of the original and five translations has revealed significant variations. The story of Rose Blanche is told differently to disparate audiences. In each the pictorial verbal narrative remains the same; the variable elements are the verbal narrative and the relationship between the verbal and visual narratives. What does each version reveal about the implied readers constructed by the translations?18
The narrator of the American translation tries to mimic that of the French original, reproducing in a different language the tone and content of the source text. With no major shift in tense or perspective, leaving the same narrative and cognitive gaps, it constructs implied readers of the translation of whom no more and no less is expected than of those of the original version. Both verbal texts leave the pictures to do a lot of the narrative work. The text indicates a possible way to read the pictures, but doesn't dictate how they are to be read. By emphasizing universal elements rather than specific elements of a certain culture, the verbal text has the character of a fable. With the first-person narration in the present tense, the distance between readers and protagonist is minimized.
With his initial global pronouncements and change in person and tense, the omniscient narrator of the British translation positions the readers at a greater distance from the protagonist and the events. There is almost a sense that British readers are being protected from having to identify with a German character and story. This is underscored by the positioning of Germany at the outset as the country for which the war was fought (and by implication, Britain's enemy), rather than the country the young girl comes from, with whose story the readers are about to engage. McEwan's amplified version is emphatic; it leaves the readers little space in which to negotiate their responses to what they see and what they read.19 McEwan casts his narrative in the mold of a realistic, historical novel, describing, for instance, everyday living conditions of the townspeople during the war illustrated in the pictures. But he also adds explanations such as the following: "There were long queues outside the shops, but no one grumbled. Everybody knew that food was needed for the soldiers who were always hungry."
Unlike readers from most other cultures, German (adult) readers of Rosa Weiss are implicated in the story that is told. In the pictures they see scenes from their history. The propaganda graffiti—mere documentary decoration for readers of other languages—can be deciphered by them: they can appreciate the bitter irony of the writing on the wall in the [End Page 163] eleventh opening "Deutschland siegt an allen Fronten" ("Germany will be victorious on all fronts"), in front of which maimed German soldiers are retreating, or the saying on the wall as backdrop to the scene in which the Red Army troops liberate the town, "Den Krieg gewinnen wir und kein anderer" ("We will win this war, and no one else"). The German translator Teuter was aware of the difference between the German audience and that of the original text and wrote that "Germany is the land of the heirs" (Schulte 1653). His translation was, therefore, specifically for the heirs. This translation for German readers refers to issues beyond the tale of Rose. Added to the story of the saintly German girl—told here in the third person, perhaps to distance the German reader from an easy identification with the positive figure—is the Bürgermeister Schröder subplot about a Nazi who got away in the end, raising the questions of guilt and retribution. A larger canvas of responsibility is offered by opening the verbal narrative to include more than the fate of one innocent child. Also added to the German translation are references to returning Holocaust survivors from the camps after the defeat of the German troops: "Mit den Soldaten in den fremden Uniformen waren auch Leute gekommen, die vor einigen Jahren aus der Stadt verschwunden waren. Sie suchten nach Freunden, oft vergeblich" ("With the soldiers in foreign uniform people also arrived who had disappeared from the town some years previously. They looked for their friends, frequently in vain.").20
It is a moral translation for German readers, but it is not a moralizing one. It gives the readers space to think their own thoughts, doesn't force a message upon them. Dispensing with the nature symbolism and ending with the pragmatism of the immediate postwar phase and talk about reconstruction, it is, overall, a less poetic narrative than the French original, less a tale of universal deeds and more rooted in historical fact. Perhaps the translator didn't feel that the story could or should be told "poetically" in German(y).
These elements were introduced for the implied German readers of Teuter's translation with their special relationship to the story. It is therefore surprising to see that the Spanish and Italian translations are based on the German version. An initial reaction to the Italian decision (less direct in Spain's case) is to ask whether it could have something to do with the shared fascist past of the Italian and German allies in the Second World War. Could the same desire persist in Italy to work through this period in (children's) literature, to point an accusatory finger at the perpetrators in their own country? But unlike in Germany there are virtually no Italian children's books about the fascist period. A more probable explanation is that the perspective of the German translation [End Page 164] proved more attractive to the other translators (or their publishers) not because of the cultural identity of the implied readers, but because they felt that the verbal story told in this manner—a third-person narrative that does not focus exclusively on the fate of one innocent child—was more accessible to or acceptable for child readers.
The French original and the American translation give the readers a greater sense of freedom in interpretation, but, as Hugo McCann and Claire Hiller remark, "it depends upon one being able to interpret the pictorial detail and combine it with Rose's words in a very informed way" (54). The book places child readers who know nothing of the historical situation in an uncomfortable position, even arguably subjecting them to some sense of responsibility for what happens without understanding what it is about. This could be why McEwan undertook to overwrite the information, to make the story more accessible (in his opinion) for children. The copious details and explanations added by him in his realistic fictional mode may help child readers to make sense of elements in the story. But, as Susan Stan remarked, in its attempt "to make Innocenti's story into realistic historical fiction, McEwan has reduced it from a text with multiple meanings to a history lesson" (31), which was neither an aesthetic nor a critical success.
Rose Blanche raises all kinds of audience issues. How much do the readers know, how much do they need to know? Where should they be placed in terms of distance to the events narrated? Where should the verbal narrative place the readers in relation to the pictorial narrative sequence? We have seen these questions addressed by each translation in its own way. The discussion of the translation and reception of Rose Blanche in the respective countries has shown how acceptable this picture book treatment of the war and Holocaust topic was deemed to be and how translators tried to make it accessible specifically for readers in their languages.
Emer O'Sullivan is Professor of English in the School of Cultural Studies at the University of Lüneburg, Germany. She has published widely in both German and English on comparative literature, image studies, children's literature and translation. Her Kinderliterarische Komparatistik (2000) was awarded the biennial IRSCL Award for outstanding research in 2001; an English-language version, Comparative Children's Literature, was published by Routledge in 2005. [End Page 165]


1. Roberto Innocenti, the international prize–winning, self-taught Italian illustrator of stories by E. T. A. Hoffmann, Charles Dickens, Carlo Collodi, and others, was unable to find a publisher for his first book Rose Blanche. Thanks to the patronage of Etienne Delessert the book was published in Switzerland in 1985. Susan Stan provides a detailed account of the publication history.
2. I am very grateful to Roberto Innocenti, who sent a generous and copious response to my written inquiry, in which he told about the background to and his work on Rose Blanche. Quotations from this letter have been translated by me with a little help from Susan Cox and Diego Ceroni.
3. The photograph was taken by the SS Officer Jürgen Stroop, who documented the activities of the Nazis in Warsaw.
4. Innocenti had composed a very slim text to accompany the pictures and wrote that Gallaz's was in the same vein, even keeping some of his phrases, such as "the fleeing soldiers saw in every shadow the advancing enemy" (Letter).
5. The perspective reflects Innocenti's own experience of the war—he was born near Florence in 1940. He wrote that he wanted to illustrate how a child experiences war without really understanding it.
6. Innocenti reported that an American teacher wrote to him about how astounded her pupils were to see the Russians in the liberation scene; only through his book did they discover that the Russians were the USA's allies in that war.
7. Susan Stan tells us that there was "dissatisfaction with Coventry's translation" and that Graglia "was brought in to rewrite the translation" (23).
8. Thanks are due to Anette Øster Steffensen for sending me a copy of the Danish translation.
9. Yoshida, Junko kindly provided the details of the Japanese translations as well as the transcriptions of the titles and translators' names.
10. I am grateful to Mieke Desmet for the copy of the Chinese edition of Innocenti's picturebook published by Grimm Press, for her helpful remarks on the translation, and for romanticizing the bibliographical details. For information on the Grimm Press and its translation policy, see Desmet.
11. A possible reason is the costly production of such an opulent picture book in a market that traditionally focused on producing "affordable" books. (Tom [End Page 166] Peterson, Innocenti's publisher at The Creative Company, disagrees with this theory, stating that he has sold a number of the author's books to Eastern European countries. He believes that the subject matter is a difficult one in this region; furthermore, he has had no contact with Eastern European publishers, so they may not be aware of Rose Blanche's existence.) I am indebted to the postgraduate Serbian student, Tijana Obradovic, who checked through all the online library catalogues in the Cyrillic alphabet on my behalf.
12. "Wow!! This picture book works on so many different levels. I just read it to my 23 sixth graders. Very powerful stuff. As an introduction to the Holocaust, I'd rank this book # 1 . . . it will evoke a boatload of questions amongst your readers (and listeners!). Excellent writing craft to study!! The unfolding of the story will make readers predict and predict. (. . .) Buy it, read it, buy one for a friend!!" (Frank Murphy, review on
13. The Gold Medal at the Biennial of Illustrations in Bratislava (BIB) in 1985, the American Library Association's Mildred L. Batchelder Award in 1986, Special Mention by the Jury at the Premio Gráfico at the Bologna Fair in 1986, and the German Gustav Heinemann Peace Award in 1987.
14. The American version has only some minor variations; the adjective "old" is attributed to the fountains, the second and third sentences of the source text are run together, "mais" (but) is omitted in the fourth sentence, and only one truck rather than a number of them is mentioned. Where the present tense is used throughout much of the first part of the French original, the American text often switches to the past. The historic present, which is the present tense as basic narrative mode common in French and German children's stories, is frequently translated into the past tense in English (see Lathey).
15. According to Innocenti, the editor at Jonathan Cape, the publishers of the British version, wanted a longer, more narrative text for the British version. Ian McEwan was already an established author at Cape when he was approached by them to write his version of Rose Blanche, with the published titles First Love, Last Rites (1975), In Between the Sheets (1978), The Cement Garden (1978), and The Comfort of Strangers (1981). It is tempting to ask whether his first foray into the world of children's literature with Rose Blanche (his children's novel The Daydreamer was published in 1994) inspired the comic passage in his 1987 novel, The Child in Time, in which he describes the acute discomfort of an author who wanted to write an adult novel finding himself placed in the children's department of his publishing house.
16. It is not uncommon in translation of picture books for the pictures to stimulate the translator to verbalize elements of the visual narrative, thus filling semantic gaps of the source text and sometimes even demoting the images to [End Page 167] mere illustrations of the verbal story by the narrator of the translation (see O'Sullivan, "Translating").
17. The French text accompanying the scene in which Rose discovers the concentration camp reads: "(. . .) Et derrière eux, des enfants qui se tiennent immobiles, et des maisonnettes de bois" (Behind [the electric barbed wire] children who were standing motionless, and small wooden huts). The German translation writes "Dahinter standen Kinder, unbeweglich wie Holzpuppen" (Behind it children were standing, as motionless as wooden puppets), obviously having read "marionnettes" for "maisonnettes." The Spanish and Italian translations follow suit, writing about "niños, inmóviles como muñecos" (immobile as wooden puppets) and "bambini, immobili come il legno" (immobile as a piece of wood).
18. In my book Comparative Children's Literature I have developed a theoretical and analytical tool that links the fields of narratology and translation studies and operates with the categories of "the implied translator," "the narrator of the translation," and "the implied reader of the translation."
19. This is especially apparent in the text of the final page. In the French and American versions the readers have to decide how to resolve the juxtaposition of Rose's death and spring, with the verbal text describing the season change, and the picture retaining the memory of what happened on that site. In McEwan's version the language of war is tastelessly used to describe spring invading the landscape: "The cold retreated, fresh grasses advanced across the land. There were explosions of colour. Trees put on their bright new uniforms and paraded in the sun. Birds took up their positions and sang their simple message. Spring had triumphed."
20. Susan Stan sees Teuter's insertion of this new material as "intended to mould the events into a more palatable outcome" (29), "minimizing the reality of the six million who did not survive" (28). I cannot agree with this interpretation. In contrast to the French original, Teuter's verbal text draws attention to the victims of the Holocaust—to those who didn't return—and raises questions of guilt and responsibility.

Works Cited

Beckmann, Rolf, A. Klare, and R. Koch, eds. Kinder als Opfer des Nationalsozialismus. Materialienband zu Rosa Weiss. Frankfurt: Alibaba, 1986.
Desmet, Mieke. "Connecting Local and Global Literatures or Driving on a One-Way Street? The Case of the Taiwanese Grimm Press." Children's Literature Global and Local: Social and Aesthetic Perspectives. Ed. Emer O'Sullivan, Kimberley Reynolds, and Rolf Romøren. Oslo: Novus Press, forthcoming. [End Page 168]
Innocenti, Roberto. Letter to the author. 23 June 2003.
Innocenti, Roberto, and Christophe Gallaz. Rose Blanche. Lausanne: Editions 24 Heures, 1985.
_____. Trans. Inger Christensen. København: Gyldendal, 1986.
_____. Trans. Martha Coventry and Richard Graglia. Mankato, MN: Creative Education, 1985.
_____. Trans. Rose Lagercrantz. Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren, 1988.
_____. Roosje Weiss. Trans. Ingrid Nijkerk-Pieters. Doornik, Belgium: Casterman, 1985.
_____. Rosa Bianca. Trans. Paola Moro. Pordenone: Edizioni C'era una volta, 1990.
_____. Rosa Blanca. Trans. Maribel G. Martínez. Salamanca: Lóguez Ediciones, 1987.
_____. Rosa Weiss. Trans. Abraham Teuter. Frankfurt am Main: Alibaba-Verlag, 1986.
_____. Rozu Blanchu. Trans. Nakano, Koji and Nagai, Kazuma. Tokyo: Heiwano Atorie, 1990.
_____. Shirobarawa dokoni. Trans. Osada, Hiroshi. Tokyo: Misuzu shobo, 2000.
_____. Tie s wang shàng de xiao hua. Trans. Lín Hai In. Taipei: Grimm P, 1998.
Innocenti, Roberto, and Ian McEwan. Rose Blanche. London: Jonathan Cape, 1985.
Lathey, Gillian. "Time, Narrative Intimacy and the Child: Implications of the Transition from the Present to the Past Tense in the Translation into English of Children's Texts." Meta 48 (2003)1–2: 233–40.
McCann, Hugo, and Claire Hiller. "Narrative and Editing Choices in the Picture Book. A Comparison of Two Versions of Roberto Innocenti's Rose Blanche." Papers—Explorations into Children's Literature 5 (1994) 2+3: 53–56.
Murphy, Frank. Review of Rose Blanche, by Roberto Innocenti and Christophe Gallaz. 27 July 2003. <>.
O'Sullivan, Emer. Comparative Children's Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 2005.
_____. "Translating Pictures." Signal 90 (1999): 167–75.
Peterson, Tom. E-mail to the author. 28 Dec. 2004.
Russell, David. "Hope among the Ruins: Children, Picture Books, and Violence." Para*doxa. Studies in World Literary Genres 2 (1996) 3–4: 346–56.
Schulte, Birgitta M. "In dieser Drastik beispiellos." Börsenblatt 43 (1986): 1652–54. [End Page 170]
Stan, Susan. "Rose Blanche in Translation." Children's Literature in Education 35 (2004) 1: 21–33.
Teuter, Abraham, and Anne Freitag. "Jury hat sich für das Wegschauen entschieden." Börsenblatt 72 (1987): 2328.
Thiele, Jens. "Offener Brief an Anne Freitag und Abraham Teuter vom Alibaba Verlag." Eselsohr (1987) 8: 7.
Walter, Virginia, and Susan March. "Juvenile Picture Books about the Holocaust: Extending the Definitions of Children's Literature." Publishing Research Quarterly 9 (1993) 3: 36–51.

Derrien, Marie, 'Radical Trends in French Picturebooks' The Lion and the Unicorn 29.2 (2005) 171-189

Radical Trends in French Picturebooks

Marie Derrien

Although their impact in the English-speaking world has been slight, French picturebooks have been highly regarded for their innovation and creativity in recent years as evidenced, for instance, by the lists of prize winners at the Bologna Book Fair. In 2003, two Bologna Ragazzi awards, bestowed by an international jury to books "on the basis of their creativity, educational value and artistic design" (Bologna Book Fair website) went to French picturebooks. In 2004, the Bologna jury honored French quality again by giving one Ragazzi award to La Grande Question, created by Wolf Erlbruch for the French publisher Etre, while three other picturebooks received honorable mentions. The seminar I was invited to lead at CLISS, part of the Radical Visual strand, focused on texts that challenge established ways of creating and reading visual narratives, and explored the particular cultural and institutional conditions which are enabling innovative—or radical—forms to flourish in France.
At CLISS, where I had an hour and a half to introduce books and additional time for those present to handle and explore them, I worked with approximately two dozen examples. It is impractical to attempt to cover so many highly visual texts here, so I have concentrated on three that show well the adventurousness of the best French picturebook makers and publishers, and from which many features of a postmodern aesthetics emerge. With remarkable boldness and in spite of their postmodern characteristics (which can be challenging even to experienced readers), the books I have selected are marketed for very young children: those usually put in the category of the "pré-lecteurs," the prereaders, preschoolers, or whatever "pre" is used to signify inability to read. In their conviction that such young children are as capable and worthy of witty and demanding books as any adult reader, these works typify the radical trend explored in the CLISS session. [End Page 171]
In Search of an Ideal Balance Between Market and Creation
In France, the privileging of the book within the general market has been enshrined in the Lang Law, which has been regulating book prices since 1981: "The book is not a mere commodity like any other: it is an intellectually-inspired creation which should not be exclusively subjected to the market" (Journal Officiel 5). In this spirit, the state has deployed various measures aimed at promoting creative publishing through specific loans and grants distributed to publishers, authors, and translators. Similarly, several departmental councils (Conseils Généraux) and boroughs have decided to support publishing projects for picturebooks aimed at very young children, whose publication would otherwise have been unlikely because of their innovative form and high cost. For example, in one notable Paris suburb, the Val-de-Marne, since 1990 the council has given one picturebook (which is also distributed free to libraries, council nurseries, and family health centers) to each of the 19,000 babies born in the area. Because of the council's support, special market conditions attend the publication of the Val-de-Marne baby gift book. For instance, with pre-publication sales of 21,000 copies, the publisher (who is selected by the artist whom the council chooses to create the book) can considerably reduce production costs and so the final price, further stimulating sales. In this way, public sector organizations and local administrations can work with the most creative authors and publishers to resist market forces. Moreover, by addressing these high-quality picturebooks to very young children (thus appealing to whole families) they also help to fight cultural exclusion.
Although such projects involve an extremely small number of titles compared with the whole production of picturebooks in France, this policy has demonstrably influenced the general quality of the sector. With such support, innovative literature for very young children reaches an extremely diverse audience. One of the picturebooks I have chosen to discuss here, Tout un monde (2000), is already regarded as a classic in France and is now available in seven foreign countries (including the UK). Since the 1980s, several influential French editors—including Christian Bruel, Nicole Maymat, Jacques Binstock, and more recently Olivier Douzou and Thierry Magnier—have provided admirable and bold creative support for picturebooks. Although the contents of such picturebooks have certainly contributed to revitalizing and reconceptualizing ideas about childhood and children's books, nonetheless I would suggest that a more radical transformation is currently in process regarding the way the books address children. Children's books, [End Page 172] once generally assumed to be a foretaste of a far-off adult literature, affirm themselves more and more as authentic literary experiences, nourishing child readers' imaginary and critical intelligence as well as their senses from a very early age.
"Ways of Seeing": Postmodern Texts for the Little Ones
According to Peter Brooker, "[Postmodern art] splices high and low culture, it questions all absolutes, it swamps reality in a culture of recycled images, it has to do with deconstruction, with consumerism, with television and the information society" (3). Our postmodern age, facing a flood of simultaneous messages from the ubiquitous media, has had to transform radically its perception of reality. A crucial question then emerges: whose truth about what is "real" prevails? In one respect, all values and representations regulating Western lifestyle have to be questioned and deconstructed. A postmodern aesthetics arises from and gives rise to an art of relativism and self-reflexivity; an art that splits hierarchies, canons, and norms, and having fragmented them, reconstructs a multiform image through endless and playful recycling.
The picturebook genre, which uniquely combines visual and verbal messages, also integrates the physicality of the book in the narrative process, offering an ideal playground for postmodernism's infinite games of deconstruction and re-creation. The texts examined here demonstrate both the energy and the inventiveness of postmodern aesthetics, borrowing a particular predilection for metalinguistic and metafictional discourses, uncertain narrative closures, intertextualities, and fragmentations: all devices which many regard as the hallmarks of contemporary adult literature. Using words and images, or sometimes images alone, these texts for babies and toddlers explore the major areas of interrogation in postmodernity through narratives which rely on the active collaboration of the reader to release the pleasures of the text.
Le Livre le plus court du monde (The Shortest Book in the World)
My first case study is based on the book given to newborns of the Val-de-Marne in 2003. Le livre le plus court du monde (The Shortest Book in the World) (2002) is the creation of Paul Cox, who has made a remarkable contribution to French picturebooks. Le livre le plus court du monde, although obviously aimed at the youngest readers as evidenced by its thick cardboard pages bound by a robust spiral, nevertheless immediately challenges established conventions associated with the book through its very fabric and design. [End Page 173]
The first impression readers have of this book is of a rectangular green and red picture showing the figure of a diver. In the upper left-hand corner of the picture, there is only one word: "Cependant . . . " —which can be translated as either "meanwhile" or "however." As the only text (and because of its ostentatious typography and prominent place on the front cover—or on what is assumed to be the front cover) Cependant . . . is identified as the title of the book. However, on turning the pages, it becomes apparent that this layout is scrupulously duplicated on every page of the book: one picture solidly filled in with primary colors and the word "Cependant . . . " inscribed in the same upper angle on each page. Working through this succession of identically structured pages, including the back cover (or what is assumed to be the back cover), it gradually becomes clear that "Cependant . . . " is not the title of the book, but the "text" of the narrative, and its sole verbal comment. Given this circumstance, the absence of endpapers and title page comes to mind, raising questions about what this absence means.
Closer examination of the supposed front cover reveals a discreet line of text: "LE LIVRE LE PLUS COURT DU MONDE PAUL COX EDITIONS DU SEUIL" (THE SHORTEST BOOK IN THE WORLD PAUL COX LE SEUIL PUBLISHING). This minimal editorial information—title, author, and publisher's name—constitutes an ersatz title page, which is identically reproduced on each page of the book (fig. 1). (The complete colophon actually appears under a picture on a random page of the book.) Although "Cependant . . ." seems to fulfil the conventional function of the title, the systematic repetition of the word on each page imbues it with a narrative function. This playful ambiguity, which certainly undermines editorial conventions, encapsulates the full meaning of the narrative.
The dual function of cependant as title and text becomes increasingly meaningful as the book is read. Le livre le plus court du monde sends its reader on a lightning trip around the globe through its collection of images capturing the same instant in every part of the world: here a diver is spotted in action, "meanwhile . . ." a baby is fed by his mum; "meanwhile" a soccer match is played on TV; "however —?— . . . " an earthquake explodes; "meanwhile," a young lady dreams of a love story; "meanwhile," a diver. . . . One hundred sixteen simultaneous scenes are displayed on screen-format pictures, echoing the ubiquitous power of hypercommunication. Similarly, this never-ending narrative, with no editorial markers to enclose it, may invite readers/viewers to practice "zapping" between images, choosing whether to focus on individual pictures or to create links between them: is the lady on the phone in conversation with the man living somewhere on the other side of the [End Page 174] planet and seen on a previous page? (or, indeed, on a later page, depending on where the book is open) (figs. 2 and 3).

Figure 1
Cependant. . . . From Le livre le plus court du monde by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2002

Zapping through the screen-format pages of the book offers multiple possible readings, and so encourages readers to question reality and its representations. The same soccer game, for example, is played in three different pictures: the game fills the whole frame of the picture in one image, suggesting direct representation of the event; another picture shows the same moment of the action, but this time, through the eyes of two children who sit watching it on a TV screen, while in a third illustration, two different children demonstrate their joy at watching the same instant of the game on their TV (figs. 4–6). These fragmented scenarios—the scenes are separated by other pages—draw the attention of the reader to the artificial nature of representation by visually deconstructing the all-pervasive nature of television, and showing that point of view affects perception. Depending on where you are watching from, the reality of the same event may be quite different: one is losing "meanwhile/however" one is winning, and both statements are equally true.
This crucial issue is inherent in the physical construction of the book: the spiral binding certainly resists vigorous little fingers, but it also provides the means by which narrative is endlessly structured and restructured. By moving the pages around this spiral as if it were the axis [End Page 175]

Figure 2
Man on the telephone. From Le livre le plus court du monde by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2002.

Figure 3
Woman on the telephone. From Le livre le plus court du monde by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2002.

[End Page 176]

Figure 4-6
Three different views of the same soccer game. From Le livre le plus court du monde by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2002.

[End Page 177]
of the Earth, readers physically comprehend the cycle of time and its immutable continuity. The physical embodiment of the inescapable nature of time encourages readers to contemplate everyday experiences from a new perspective. Whatever tragedies or intense pleasures fill human existence, none of them is important enough to stop the movement of time. Moreover, the spiral's ability constantly to revise what constitutes the first and last pages of the text suppresses hierarchies between the various events represented, since no page invariably comes ahead of another.
Le livre le plus court du monde tells the story of our postmodern age in one hundred sixteen fragments of the vast world, carefully constructed from countless tiny dots resembling pixels. Depending on your distance from the pictures, depending on your point of view, in these dots you may also recognize the colorful plastic pegs that children endlessly arrange, deconstruct, and reconstruct in order to make a picture on a board. This is an ingenious artistic expression, requiring readers to participate in the kind of reflexive reading that provokes and maintains awareness that a picture is a construction, a representation. These one hundred sixteen little pleasures, great felicities, necessary activities, pains, and dramas, all displayed in no apparent order, expose contemporary ways of perceiving and experiencing the world, as it is shaped by screen culture and overcrowded by a continuous stream of disconnected images, cut to fit the rectangular shape of the ubiquitous television screen.
While some of these metatextual dynamics are only available to mature readers, young readers of Le livre le plus court du monde also are encouraged to develop their own ways of watching and telling the world in response to its pages. Its puzzles and enigmas promote critical reading, which in turn seeks to resist the levelling of minds characteristic of mass media. By playing with the conventions of linearity through the physicality of the book, Paul Cox, with exemplary lightness, achieves here a true work of postmodern literature, addressing existential issues for very young readers.
Tout un monde (A Whole Big World)
The book chosen for Val-de-Marne babies at the start of the new millennium was Tout un monde (A Whole Big World) (1999), by Katy Couprie and Antonin Louchard. It too rewards examination from the perspective of postmodern literature. Although this collection of wordless pictures could be dismissed on first sight as a mere picture-dictionary, in fact, its singular design leads readers (infants and others) [End Page 178] far beyond a literal naming of things through pictorial games. As in the previous example, this enables readers to deconstruct the representations that organize our comprehension of the world.
However, this small, square paperback clearly announces a different kind of exploration of the world, through its title and use of a more classical format than that of Le livre le plus court du monde: its many pages are firmly enclosed within the two covers and sewn in. Title, publisher, and authors' names are clearly displayed on the front cover. But all is not as it appears: uncertainty erupts on reaching the back cover, which provides a new title, Le Monde en vrac (A Topsy-Turvy World), confirming the reader's dawning realization that this is a text with two covers that can be read both forwards and backwards, with all the attendant anarchic repercussions for textual inventions this implies (figures 7 and 8).
Unlike Cox's book, clearly identifiable covers exist here, but the back one can both close and open the narrative. Although this stratagem does not impede the linearity of the reading, nonetheless it defies the conventional left-to-right way of reading by providing an alternative direction, since readers are equally encouraged to read the book from right to left. By showing that books can be read the other way round, this device foregrounds the culturally specific nature of Western reading. The deconstruction of this textual convention was more firmly undermined a year later with the publication of a second picturebook: Un monde palestinien (A Palestinian World) (2001), designed in a similar style by the same editorial team. The new picturebook, created in cooperation with a Palestinian publisher, has to be readable from right to left; so the title, written both in Arabic and in French, is located on the inverted—from the Western point of view—front cover, making the deconstruction of Western left-right hegemony irrevocable.
Tout un monde extends the blurring of editorial conventions to the very title page, where the title appears through a mise en abyme (an internal reduplication of a literary work, often suggesting infinite regress) of the book: a young reader made of papier mâché is represented holding the very book, while the same boy appears again on the last page with the book left open on this title page; a metafictional strategy that alerts readers to the nature of the book as representation and provides them with the key to enter the narrative. Tout un monde: Le monde en vrac proposes a sophisticated reflection upon the nature of the sign (words and pictures) by questioning the relationship between signifier and signified.
Tout un monde is a collection of about two hundred fifty pictures that together display the sensuous daily pleasures of early childhood (such as [End Page 179] tenderness, flowers, food, tickling grasses, and prickly plants) while ignoring human tragedies (such as a volcanic eruption, which becomes a subject of curiosity about nature since the image includes no human beings). An extraordinary artistic heterogeneity, from woodcut, photogram, oil pastel, linocut, ink, gouache, and watercolors, to sculptures and photographs, through installation and digitalized pictures (this list is far from exhaustive) presents these fragments of the world through a juxtaposition emphasized by the total absence of words and lack of frames. No explicit narrative links appear to emerge from its accumulation of ill-assorted pictures. The deepest scrutiny is required to find out the laws that organize this jumble.

Figure 7 and 8
Front and back covers of Tout un monde/Le monde en vrac by Katy Couprie and Antonin Louchard. Reprinted by permission of Editions Thierry Magnier. Copyright © Thierry Magnier, 1999

Close reading suggests that despite the fact that they change throughout the narrative: a painted picture of a feeding bottle comes before a woodcut of a bowl of milk, which is followed by a photographical scene of a girl's breakfast with a plastic bottle of milk, whose nature as well as its white color on a black background anticipates a painting of the skin of a cow, which in turn is opposite a photograph of an entire cow grazing in a meadow, whose bushy grass resembles the prickly beard of a man, followed by a picture of cactus, and so on. The links between the different pictures operate according to a recognizable logic. They may emerge either from the nature of the things represented, or from pictorial associations, but there is more to it than this. For instance, some connections depend on lexical resemblances or from related ideas: the picture of a computer mouse woven into a handmade tapestry calls for a monotype of a mouse-animal that calls for an oil-painting of a cat. The [End Page 180] proximity of so many different artistic devices to depict identical objects or identical words or identical functions draws attention to the constructed nature of the signifier: that is, the words and images we accept as representing reality. Indeed, to which signified does the word "mouse" relate: animal or computer tool? What is the nature of their verbal association? (figs. 9–11). And when a colored photograph of a garden chair is connected by "nature" to a black-and-white woodcut of a dining-room chair, followed by a set of four other kinds of acrylic painted seats, a potty, and a toilet seat, many questions emerge about the relationship between words, things, and categories. How can a picture of a chair be a chair since a picture of a chair is not identical to another picture of a chair? Why are all the things one has to sit on not all chairs?
Tout un monde requires active collaboration on the part of readers, who play with their own words and the book's pictures to discover the connections which tie the images to make a coherent reading. As suggested on the closing endpapers, which present the exhaustive list of techniques used by the authors/ illustrators and are arranged so as to form a globe, readers of Tout un monde must make "a whole world" from a "topsy-turvy one" by constructing the narrative themselves.
Though clearly marketed for young children, Tout un monde may be understood as an art book for the issues it raises, as well as for the outstanding artistic diversity displayed in its two hundred thirty-four images. However, the soft covers, the glossy unframed pictures, and the singular thickness of its format may recall magazines or popular mail order catalogues, leaving educators skeptical about its value as a children's book. This ambivalent identity—I came across a German copy in the art department of a famous and popular French bookshop—epitomizes the postmodern deconstruction of cultural values that continually questions the legitimacy of our productions.
Ces Nains portent quoi??????? (These Dwarves Carry What???????)
Paul Cox's inventiveness and excellence are once again apparent with Ces nains portent quoi??????? (These Dwarves Carry What???????) (2001), a book commissioned by the borough of Nanterre to be given to children starting school in 2002 (all three-year-olds attend "l'école maternelle" in France). In this book, which is perhaps the most original work of my selected trilogy of postmodern literature for young children, Paul Cox pushes the pleasures of deconstruction to their utmost through a jubilant and meticulous exercise of fiction, dismantling fiction itself, words, pictures, art, colors, and many other representations. [End Page 181]

Figure 9-11
Sequence of images designed to provoke playful, plural readings of a computer mouse—and a cat. From Tout un monde/Le monde en vrac by Katy Couprie and Antonin Louchard. Reprinted by permission of Editions Thierry Magnier. Copyright © Thierry Magnier, 1999.
[End Page 182]
As in the picturebooks examined above, the publisher's peritext (material components of the book, those peripheral to the main narrative), to borrow Genette's terminology, is scattered with clues indispensable for entering the narrative. The limping syntax of the title on the cover is certainly confusing until you spot the seven question marks hidden in the illustration, which represent seven dwarves—probably escapees from another famous children's tale—each carrying a heavy bag. On each bag, a question mark is drawn, which restores the coherent—although rather unorthodox—interrogative structure of the title. But beyond this literal meaning, French readers of any age are likely to hear as well, "C'est n'importe quoi (It's nonsense)," a colloquial French expression with identical sonority, but whose occurrence is surely more frequent in conversations than references to dwarves (fig. 12). The jubilant dismantling of the signs is already in process with this four-word title full of wacky promises: whatever the enigma about several dwarves, it will be "nonsense." Paul Cox takes particular delight in uncrowning, at one and the same time, consecrated forms of representation including child's mythology, art, and the book, through a remarkable sense of self-irony that undermines his own oeuvre. The childlike drawing of the illustrations exhibits an assumed mauvais gout (bad taste), emphasized by the fluorescent colors, considered by eminent French historians of color such as M. Pastoureau as "une mode répugnante" ("a disgusting fashion") (94). This expression of popular taste mischievously infects even the immaculate dust covers, amplifying the provocation: in France, dust covers are never used for picturebooks and are traditionally associated with prestigious collections of classical literature. Moreover, because the dust cover duplicates exactly the cover of the book, it may be contemplated as "a sign of distinction, like every wasteful act of wasting" (Genette, Paratexts 27). The sacrilege in process, committed upon the book as an object and upon art—both regarded as true symbols of social distinction—is magnified through the unscrupulous scribbling on the illustrations that spoils the back cover of the book as well.
Despite the fact that neither the dwarves nor Snow White is pictured in any of the one hundred eighteen illustrated pages of the book (nor, indeed, do any bags appear), Paul Cox nevertheless tells the tale of the long walk of several dwarves—who are mentioned every ten pages using the unvarying phrase "ces nains" (these dwarves)—carrying any number of presents to Snow White, whose name eventually appears for the first time in the very last sentence of the book as part of its disclosure of a happy ending: "Ces nains portent tout cela pour l'offrir à Blanche-Neige dont ils sont éperdument amoureux." (These dwarves carry all this stuff to offer it to Snow White, with whom they are madly in love.) (118). [End Page 183]

Figure 12
Cover of Ces Nains portent quoi??????? written and illustrated by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2001.
Boundless indeed is the dwarves' love for Snow White, if we go by such an avalanche of presents carried through a one-hundred-eighteen-page trek, only briefly interrupted at ten-page intervals intended for them to catch their breaths during the recurrent beginning "Ces nains portent . . . (These dwarves carry . . .):
Ces nains portent: une porte, des provisions, une lampe, une écharpe, une pantoufle; une lettre, une autre lettre, un lit, une grue démontée dans une boîte, une fraise, un cornichon, une salade et une banane; un cheval derrière un mur, une tente, de la soupe, des souliers neufs, des pétales de roses, des écorces d'orange. (These dwarves carry a door, some food, a lamp, a scarf, a slipper; a letter, another letter, a bed, a dismantled crane in a box, a strawberry, a gherkin, a salad and a banana; a horse behind a wall, a tent, some soup, some new shoes, roses petals, orange peels.)
. . . [End Page 184]
Ces nains portent aussi: une scie, un outil, dix peignes, (These dwarves also carry a saw, a tool, ten combs.)
. . .
Ces nains portent également: du poisson . . . (These dwarves also carry: some fish . . .)
. . .
Ces nains portent encore . . . (These dwarves carry as well . . .)
. . .
Ces nains portent en outre . . . (These dwarves carry besides . . .)
. . .
Ces nains portent enfin . . . (These dwarves carry finally . . .)
Of course, this patient and devoted hike, which echoes the famous return journeys from the mines long ago, is not the real subject of the book. Through this inventory of the craziest presents ever found in any lover's bag, comprising more than two hundred illustrated things, words, feelings, abstract concepts, all described in minimalist prose, Paul Cox dexterously proceeds to undermine the most rudimentary signs, destabilizing their whole foundations.
Through a logorrhoea of impertinent counterproposals, he demonstrates that either homonyms, or the names of colors, pictorial representations, or the use of a book as well as the alphabetic system—an invented alphabet is available to be tested in the book itself—are exclusively built upon accepted and shared conventions. Even the pagination of the book at times is rather erratic; although the number 118 is written on the last page, intruders appear; for instance, page 21 follows 28, a mischievousness that indicates the arbitrariness of the names of our numbers and in passing strongly invites a fragmented reading and challenges linearity (fig. 13). Some conventions, such as words, alphabet, and colors, are more institutionalized than others and need particular kinds of knowledge. At other times, the conventions are not so fixed, but depend on the immediate environment: they are stated at one moment, related to one particular context such as a historical or fictional context. The viewer is required to know these fluctuating conventions to understand the sign—whether pictorial or verbal. Paul Cox enjoys playing with these random realities sharing their proximity to nonsense: as when [End Page 185] on page 42: "Ces nains portent encore . . . de la neige, du sucre" ("These dwarves carry as well . . . some snow, some sugar . . ."), three basic circles and three parallelograms represent each element. Meanwhile, on page 85: "Ces nains portent . . . du sucre de la neige" ("These dwarves carry . . . some sugar, some snow"), both elements are represented by similar rough triangular shapes (figs. 14 and 15).

Figure 13
Images appearing out of sequence in Ces Nains portent quoi??????? written and illustrated by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2001.
But conventions often are internalized through cultural immersion to the point where they are invisible to the community members. Thus when a picture shows an ordinarily-dressed man described as "un chef de gare sans son uniforme" ("a station master with no uniform") (49), we naturally accept this verbal statement because we all know that a station master wears a special kind of suit; without this shared knowledge, the statement either is a lie or just nonsense (fig. 16). The most jubilant example of this kind, perhaps, is the illustration of "a Sunday" by a roast chicken: a private contemporaneous and urban French code as indecipherable as a foreign language to vegetarians, not to say to a vast part of humanity for whom "Sunday" does not occur on that day of the week but on Friday, and may well not revolve around a roast dinner (fig. 17)! [End Page 186]

Figure 14 and 15
Playing with the semiotic conventions of sugar and snow in Ces nains portent quoi??????? written and illustrated by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2001.
According to John Berger, "The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled" (3). Through his carnivalesque tribute to Snow White, Paul Cox explores precisely ways of seeing, and demonstrates that ignoring the codes that organize our representations turns the whole world into a festival of nonsense. The author/artist raises here a true philosophical question, which beyond its postmodern undertones is central to childhood. The socialization of young human beings indeed must go through the deconstruction of codes: the most truculent non-senses, which are constantly recreated by adult humor, always emerge from this cultural initiation. The three picturebooks examined in this article seem to have borrowed directly from the "quality of being a child" that Peter Hollindale has named "childness" (47): here, a penchant for nonsense as well as endless collections—a playful initiation to relativism—of little things, pictures, and words. However, Louchard, Couprie, and Cox are not pretending to be children. Far from being condescending to their young readers, they enable them to reflect upon some serious issues of our present times by sharing with them some pleasures of intelligence. Transforming the young child's intuitive need to list and to classify the most incongruous things and to deconstruct norms into a lucid interrogation about cultural truths, aptly meets what should be the duty of postmodern citizens. [End Page 187]
Figure 16
A station master without his uniform. Ces nains portent quoi??????? written and illustrated by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2001.

Figure 17
A roast chicken representing Sunday dinner in Ces nains portent quoi??????? written and illustrated by Paul Cox. Reprinted by permission of Les Editions du Seuil. Copyright © Le Seuil, 2001.

[End Page 188]
Although the use of pictures in children's books has long been associated with educational intention of over-simplification, it may not be accidental that the authors of the most audacious examples of contemporary children's literature are creators of pictures but not, strictly speaking, children's authors. These unorthodox authors who are neither "people of letters" nor educationalists, who are indeed unfamiliar with the codes and etiquette of children's literature, de facto, often disturb our assumptions about it. As long as these highly skilled and eclectic artists do not let themselves become pigeonholed as "children's artists," the picturebook in France seems likely to remain a very dynamic area, enabling the most innovative forms of children's literature to flourish.
Marie Odile Derrien is a librarian currently working in a "street" library for children in a deprived area of Lyon, France. She holds an MA in Children's Literature from the University of Surrey, Roehampton.
Works Cited
Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. 1972. London: Penguin, 1977.
Bologna Book Fair Website. "Bologna Ragazzi Award (2004)." June 2004. <>.
Brooker, Peter. Modernism/Postmodernism. London: Longman, 1992.
Collectif Thierry Magnier. Un monde Palestinien. Paris: Thierry Magnier; Ramallah: Le Petit Shourouk, 2001.
Couprie, Katy, and Antonin Louchard. Tout un monde/ Le monde en vrac. Paris: Thierry Magnier, 1999.
_____. A Whole World. London: Milet Publishing, 2002.
Cox, Paul. Ces nains portent quoi??????? Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2001.
_____. Le livre le plus court du monde. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2002.
Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.
_____. Seuils. Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1987.
Hollindale, Peter. Signs of Childness in Children's Books. Stroud, UK: Thimble P, 1997.
Journal Officiel, Assemblée Nationale, 2'eme séance du 30 Juillet 1981. 5.
Pastoureau, Michel. Les couleurs de notre temps. Paris: Bonneton, 2003.

Chick, Kay, 'Fostering an Appreciation for all Kinds of Families: Picturebooks with Gay and Lesbian Themes' Bookbird  46.1 (2008) 15-22.

Fostering an Appreciation for all Kinds of Families: Picturebooks with Gay and Lesbian Themes

Kay Chick

Because conservative groups voice strong opposition to gay-themed books, and parents, teachers and librarians tend towards self-censorship, publishers have little desire to print titles that cannot compete in a school and library sales-driven market (Garden 1997). In 1978 Harvey Milk and the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, were shot and killed by another member of the Board of Supervisors, who did not agree with the gay rights movement.

'Good-bye Antonio,' a sleepy voice calls out as Antonio leaves for school. It is Leslie, his mother's partner. She waves through the bedroom window, as she does every morning. Antonio runs up to the window and presses his hand against the glass, his small hand against her bigger hand.'
(from Antonio's Card, González 2005)
The issues, problems and biases experienced by non-traditional families are often complex and confusing, even for adults. Gay-sensitive picturebooks, however, such as the one quoted from here, can help young children to understand themselves and others while modelling for them what is important in homes, schools and society (casement 2002). Picturebooks help to define the issues and translate them into experiences and language that young children can understand and identify with (Cooper 2000). Gay-themed literature also affords children of gay parents the opportunity to validate their experiences and see themselves and their families in the books they read. Young children's understanding of family and their role in it is paramount to their sense of belonging. Stories shape, empower and validate children and their actions and experiences (Chapman 1999).
Books with gay and lesbian characters are valuable resources for teachers and parents who may not feel comfortable broaching the topic of diverse families on their own. This literature also has important benefits for students. While adolescents who identify themselves as gay or lesbian have higher rates of suicidal thoughts, those rates declined in schools that included gay-themed literature in the curriculum (Sennett 2001). Jacqueline Woodson, author of From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun, writes, 'My goal is ... to show the one queer kid in class that he or she isn't all alone ...' (Garden 1994). While more research needs to be done in this area, it appears that children's literature with gay themes may help to meet the needs of acceptance, belonging and visibility in children who are experiencing the stresses of a homophobic society (Chapman 1999).
However, gay-themed literature brings its share of controversies and challenges to families, schools, libraries, communities and children's authors. Although research suggests only positive outcomes from the inclusion of children's literature with gay and lesbian themes in homes, schools and libraries (Chapman 1999; Cooper 2000; Garden 1994; Sennett 2001), we know that it is rarely present. Although the number of titles is increasing, there is still only a limited number of picturebooks with gay and lesbian themes available. Gay characters have been described as 'the most rare and controversial characters in children's literature (Casement 2002). The omission of such characters reflects the societal view that gay and lesbian parents and youth should, at best, be treated as if they are invisible (Henkin 1998).
The controversies surrounding children's literature with gay and lesbian characters extends to children's authors and publishers. Publishers, both large and small, are hesitant to print literature that is controversial and may not be widely purchased (Garden 2001). Because conservative groups voice strong opposition to gay-themed books, and parents, teachers and librarians tend towards self-censorship, publishers have little desire to print titles that cannot compete in a school and library sales-driven market (Garden 1997). In addition, all titles, including those that are considered high-quality literature, quickly go out of print (Casement 2002). For these same reasons, many authors are reluctant to write gay-themed books, which further limits the titles in print. Censorship and reluctant publishers, coupled with threats and lost movie contracts, have forced authors to face difficult decisions about their choice of characters and subject matter (Garden 1994). Self-censorship by authors has been described as 'one of the most dangerous by-products of attacks on books' (Garden 1994).
Although titles are limited, high-quality literature from several countries, including Australia, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States, is now available to readers. Two of the most widely recognised of these are Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite and Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman. According to Michael Willhoite, his book is designed to be 'a mirror in which children of gay parents can see themselves' (Afterword). It is the story of a little boy whose parents divorce. The father moves in with his roommate, Frank, and they enjoy working, shaving and sleeping together. The little boy enjoys visiting his dad and Frank, and his mother helps him to understand what 'gay' means. She explains that 'being gay is just one more kind of love'. Heather Has Two Mommies tells the story of Mama Jane and Mama Kate and their quest for a baby. They go to see a special doctor so that she can 'put some sperm into Jane's vagina' and that is how Heather is conceived. In the tenth-anniversary edition of the book, the author responded to criticisms from doctors, psychologists, parents and teachers. She shortened the text and deleted those sections of the story that dealt with Heather's conception and birth, in the hope that the book would reach a wider audience and be more acceptable for story time.
Both Daddy's Roommate and Heather Has Two Mommies represent pioneering efforts to expand the definition of 'family' in children's literature. However, as time has passed, educators have begun to question their literary quality. The illustrations in Daddy's Roommate represent stereotypes of gay men, rather than reality. The bias portrayed by the 'muscle-shirted' father and his roommate, as they put suntan lotion on each other, only reinforces the homophobic messages that are already present in our society. The lack of developmentally appropriate content and believable characters in Heather Has Two Mommies makes it difficult for children to identify with the story's plot or protagonist. Young children are not developmentally ready to hear the specifics of Heather's conception and birth. In any case, the children of gay parents are more likely to have two parents who are now divorced, rather than to have started life through artificial insemination, as was Heather's experience. That content, coupled with a lack of fully developed characters, makes the book a poor choice for preschoolers and tedious for children in the elementary grades.
More recent additions to gay-themed children's literature incorporate well-written stories and the somewhat more subtle inclusion of gay characters. Multiple themes are represented, affording buyers and readers the opportunity to make selections based on the issues presented in each title.
Family diversity is a theme addressed in information books such as The Family Book by Todd Parr, which illustrates how families are alike and different. The simple text and colourful drawings are very inviting for preschool- and kindergarten-age children. Family differences such as size, colour and appearance are highlighted, and both animal and human families are introduced. When discussing types of families, the author mentions that 'Some families have two moms or two dads.' The strength of this book lies in the developmentally appropriate content and illustrations. Another information book, All Families Are Different (Sol Gordon) is most appropriate for children in grades one to three. In addition to descriptions of various kinds of families, this book discusses differences in race, religion, wealth and level of education. Gordon also presents issues that affect families, such as divorce and illness, and emphasises the importance of showing kindness to family members. The most important message from this book is that differences are good and there is no such thing as a perfect or normal family.
Several picturebook selections help children approach the confusion and uncertainties experienced by those whose parents or relatives are gay or lesbian. These titles tell stories of children who experience a range of emotions and deal with both tension and hurt, yet come away with positive outcomes. Antonio's Card (La Tarjeta de Antonio), by Rigoberto González, is the story of a young boy who lives with his mother and her partner, Leslie. Antonio is a sensitive, caring child who is unsure how to handle the teasing that occurs every time Leslie picks him up from school. He must deal with feelings of love, pride, hurt and confusion. Antonio's mother is very supportive and demonstrates great confidence in her son. The young boy expresses the love he feels for his mother and Leslie with a Mother's Day card that he displays at school. The acrylic paintings capture the story's message and the emotions of the characters. This book is written in both English and Spanish, making it an ideal selection for bilingual and Spanish-speaking families. The publisher's website has a teacher's guide for this text, which includes literacy activities, cross-curricular activities and additional resources and book titles (Children's Book Press 2006).
A little girl's confusion about her two moms is explored in Molly's Family, by Nancy Garden. In preparation for kindergarten open house, Molly draws a picture of her family for the bulletin board. When the other children tell her that she can't have two mommies, Molly feels unsure and shares her confusion with Mommy, Mama Lu and her teacher. They all help her and the other children to understand there are many kinds of families in this kindergarten class. This picturebook is an excellent resource for teachers and parents to share with children who are feeling unsure about their family structure.
Children can begin to understand and discuss some of the difficulties gay families experience by reading My Two Uncles by Judith Vigna. It is the story of Elly and her two favourite uncles, Uncle Ned and his friend, Uncle Phil. During plans for her grandparents' golden wedding anniversary party, Elly discovered that Uncle Phil would not be attending the festivities. Grampy would not allow it. Judith Vigna does a commendable job of expressing Elly's confusion and hurt, through both text and illustrations. Because the story ends on a positive note, this book can give hope to those children who are experiencing the tensions of a homophobic society.
Adoption experiences in gay and lesbian families are a frequent theme in picturebooks. Fiction and non-fiction selections tell stories of children who were adopted by same-sex couples (or same-sex animal life!), with vivid descriptions of the emotions experienced by partners who yearned for a baby to complete their family. King & King and its companion book, King & King & Family, by Linda Haan and Stern Nijland, were first published in the Netherlands. They tell the story of a prince, whose mother, the queen, insisted that he get married. She brought in princess after princess, but the prince was just not interested. Finally, a princess arrived with her brother, and the two princes fell in love and married. In the sequel, the princes travel to a faraway jungle for their honeymoon. They notice all of the animals with their babies and begin to yearn for a child of their own. To their surprise, when they unpack after their trip, they find a little jungle girl hidden away. They quickly adopt her and there is a fabulous celebration. Children will love the very busy, brightly coloured illustrations in this fantasy-filled story.
While You Were Sleeping, by Stephanie Burks, is a very simple picturebook that is most appropriate for preschool children. Each page begins with the words, 'While you were sleeping,' and the story tells of the trip that two men make to the hospital to pick up their new baby. This book is an excellent way for families to initiate discussions of the birth experiences of their own children. A similar theme is evident in Andrew Aldrich's How My Family Came to Be - Daddy, Papa, and Me, written so the author's son would have an explanation of how their family evolved. The characters are Daddy, Papa and the baby they adopt, and the story is told from the child's point of view. The love these two Caucasian men feel for their African-American child is evident. They celebrate his adoption, read to him, care for him when he is teething and, above all, demonstrate their love and affection.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is the true story of two male penguins, Roy and Silo, who 'fell in love' at the Central Park Zoo in New York City. They built a nest together, just like all the other penguin couples, but had no baby penguin to care for. Another penguin couple hatched two eggs, but could only care for one. A zookeeper put the extra egg in Roy and Silo's nest, and they became the proud parents of Tango. Roy, Silo and Tango continue to live as a family in the Central Park Zoo. This delightful story addresses the subject of same-sex couples and adoption in a 'kid-friendly' manner.
Several authors have embedded same-sex couples into stories in very subtle ways. These stories do not directly address the issue of gay and lesbian families, but instead tell stories with characters who just happen to be of the same sex. Some selections include children as characters, while others, such as Ingrid Godon's Hello, Sailor, simply portray two same-sex friends who long to be together. Hello, Sailor, a picturebook published in both the Netherlands and Great Britain, tells the story of Matt, a lighthouse-keeper who spends his days watching the sea for his friend Sailor, so they can sail around the world together. Matt's friends try to convince him that Sailor has forgotten about him, but Matt has faith that his friend will return. Late on the night of Matt's birthday, Sailor arrives at the lighthouse. The two friends have a joyful celebration and depart for their trip around the world. While Hello, Sailor is a delightful story, parents, teachers and librarians should be cautioned that Matt and his friends enjoy a bottle of rum on two occasions.
Best Best Colors (Los Mejores Colores) by Eric Hoffman can help young children to learn their colours while hearing and seeing important messages about diversity. Nate is a little boy with two 'mammas', one Caucasian and the other African-American. He lives 'in the moment', as many preschoolers do, and has trouble choosing his favourite colour, his best friend and his best mom. His mammas reassure him that he can have many favourites. The story is in both English and Spanish, making this book a significant contribution to a multicultural pre-school curriculum.
Going to Fair Day takes place in Sydney, Australia. Created for pre-school and primary-school children by Brenna and Vicki Harding, this book describes a little girl's day at the fair with her two 'mums'. They enjoy eating hot corn on a stick, playing in the jumping castle and watching a dog show. The thrill of the day comes when they get to take Jack, one of the trick dogs, home to become a part of their family.
Ultimately, most picturebook authors preserve a positive, upbeat tone in gay-themed stories for children. However, Kari Krakow diverges from the norm to tell a true story. The Harvey Milk Story is a biography of the life and death of the first openly gay elected city official in the United States. Harvey Milk was elected to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977. He worked to improve San Francisco's schools, parks and housing, and introduced a gay rights bill that would protect gay people from discrimination at work or when buying a home. In 1978 Harvey Milk and the mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone, were shot and killed by another member of the Board of Supervisors, who did not agree with the gay rights movement. This picturebook brings both hope and sadness to those who read it.
While the books discussed here are an accurate representation of the titles that are available, they are not a true representation of society. For example, many children with at least one gay parent come from homes where the parents are divorced. These children live with one parent, but have opportunities to visit or communicate with the other parent. While in Antonio's Card there is mention of a father, most gay-themed children's books do not address this type of family structure or the experiences of children within divorced families.
Picturebooks with gay and lesbian characters also tend towards families with only one child. In fact, there seem to be no titles available with multiple children. This gap in the existing literature leaves no opportunity to explore issues between siblings or differences in the ways that children in the same family manage problems and emotions. In an ideal text set of gay-themed literature, there would be multiple representations of all of the various family structures.
More important even than this, however, is the general lack of such titles and the reluctance of authors and publishers to produce books of this type, which are so sorely needed to help to counteract the marginalisation of gay- and lesbian-led families.

Children's books cited
Aldrich, Andrew (2003) How My Family Came to Be - Daddy, Papa, and Me Oakland, CA: New Family Press
Burks, Stephanie (2004) While You Were Sleeping Victoria, BC: Trafford
Garden, Nancy (2004) Molly's Family New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
Godon, Ingrid (2003) Hello, Sailor London: Macmillan
González, Rigoberto (2005) Antonio's Card San Francisco, CA: Children's Book Press
Gordon, Sol (2000) All Families Are Different Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books
Haan, Linda and Stern Nijland (2000) King & King Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press
Haan, Linda and Stern Nijland (2004) King & King & Family Berkeley, CA: Tricycle Press
Harding, Brenna and Vicki Harding (2002) Going to Fair Day Sydney: Bulldog Books
Hoffman, Eric (1999) Best Best Colors (Los Mejores Colores) St Paul, MN: Redleaf Press
Krakow, Kari (2001) The Harvey Milk Story Ridley Park, PA: Two Lives Publishing
Newman, Leslea (1989) Heather Has Two Mommies Los Angeles, CA: Alyson
Newman, Leslea (2000, tenth anniversary edn) Heather Has Two Mommies Los Angeles, CA: Alyson
Parr, Todd (2003) The Family Book New York: Little, Brown
Richardson, Justin and Peter Parnell (2005) And Tango Makes Three New York: Simon & Schuster
Vigna, Judith (1995) My Two Uncles Morton Grove, IL: Albert Whitman
Willhoite, Michael (1990) Daddy's Roommate Los Angeles, CA: Alyson
Woodson, Jacqueline (1997) From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun New York: Scholastic


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