Although picture books are typically structured towards younger children (preschoolers and whatnot), the concept behind the picture book, as well as specific intricacies and peculiarities regarding the design of every page, is extremely complicated. In the world of drama, they say that the best actors are the ones who you don’t realise are acting at all. The same could be said about picture books. The best picture books surreptitiously convey a story through design features such as colour, framing and word location and readers – both young and old – would never realise this.
In this blog, I will be analysing Amanda Noll’s “I Need my Monster,” which is about a little boy, Ethan, who looks for substitute bed monsters as his personal monster, Gabe, is gone fishing. A simple story and concept to execute, of course, but the design of each page is as complex and metaphorical as some of the best paintings out.
Take this page for example. First thing to notice is the vast juxtaposition of colour. Between Ethan and Herbert is a gradient of colour, ranging from bright whites and yellows to dark greys, blues and blacks. This is particularly evident when you scan your eyes across the bed sheet – as you move further down the bed sheet, it gets darker. The colour scheme separates Ethan and Herbert’s personalities and characters, differentiating between the moody Herbert and the bubbly Ethan, whilst as well establishing the “monster at the end of the bed” motif.
Next thing you notice is the interaction of text and image. The movement of the text “hih-huh, hih-huh” down the bed brings life to the character of Herbert. Thus, there is life behind Herbert’s breathing – the subsequent moving down the bed suggests that it isn’t scary to Ethan at all. Furthermore, the usage of smaller font and an isolated paragraph in “Herbert’s panting… it wasn’t enough for me” detaches the reader from the monster’s plea for recognition. Upon reading this paragraph, one might recognise that there is a change-of-pace and shift in emotion, signifying Ethan’s disinterest in Herbert. The positioning and use of small font is simply designed as a detraction from the scene presented.
Finally, and in my opinion the least recognisable aspect but best executed section of the page, is the full-framing of the scene across the spread. The large framing creates a homely feel to the entire “meeting of a monster.” Typically, in horror films (or films trying to scare you), we are presented with a limited field of vision to force us to focus on the scene for extra fright. However, this idea is flipped in this scene – spreading the entire photograph across the two pages makes the reader feel comfortable with the situation of “meeting a scary monster.” The reader is no longer are forced to focus or overthink a certain situation with a limited FOV. Instead, the reader feels at home with nothing to fear as they are able to visualise the entire scene.
In this simple spread alone, there are a variety of interesting design techniques that Noll uses to convey a simple message. In the three I presented alone, a reader experiences a multitude of emotions and shifts in mindsets, from one of eeriness to one of immediate disinterest.
Picture books aren’t just for kids, you know