Text-Related Variables in Narrative Picture Books: Children's Responses to Visual and Verbal Texts

Article excerpt


The description of text-related variables in narrative picture books detailed in this article developed from a larger study of the beginning reading behaviour of young children who were learning English as a second language (L2) (Walsh 1997). Several variables were investigated that may affect `reading' from the perspective of a socio-psycholinguistic model of reading (Walsh 1997, 1999a). Reader-related variables for both learners for whom English is their first language (L1) and L2 children were identified and compared with their reading behaviour (Walsh 1999b). A framework of text-related variables was formulated and investigated.

The investigation of text-related variables had a two-fold purpose. Firstly, to identify those cultural and language features of a text that may be difficult for L2 learners compared with L1 learners (Wallace 1986; Steffenson 1987). Secondly, since narrative picture books are regularly used in reading lessons for Infants' classes, the whole aspect of `reading pictures' compared with `reading words' was examined within the developing emphasis on visual literacy.

The framework of text-related variables in narrative picture books

The framework of text-related variables for narrative picture books derives from a model of reading (Walsh 1997, 1999a, 1999b) that incorporates the wider-sociocultural context that exists within the written production and reading of a text. This model, represented in Figure 1, shows that reading is a constant interaction between reader-related variables, text-related variables and the immediate and wider context of reader and text, as well as author. It represents an interactive view of reading with each component dependent on the other, with the interaction between text-related variables and reader-related variables occurring at a number of levels. Each variable is separate, as indicated by the broken lines through the middle, yet interdependent within the reading process, as indicated by the circles. The relationship between the reader and the text within the whole reading process is a two-way recursive interaction, with both reader-related variables and text-related variables contributing to reading behaviour. These occur within both an immediate context and a wider socio-cultural context.


Within this context a narrative is developed through both verbal and visual texts. Thus the framework of text-related variables comprises:

* the wider socio-cultural context

* the narrative

* the verbal text

* the visual text.

Following is an explanation of these text-related variables as they occur in narrative picture books.

Wider socio-cultural context

A wider socio-cultural context exists in both the production and reading of any text. It incorporates the notion of a wider context or context of culture (Halliday 1985; Martin 1992; Wallace 1992) along with the ideological positions embodied in the social construction of a text (Luke 1995). This wider socio-cultural context may include either explicit or implicit ideology or both. For example, a multi-layered text such as Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are presents explicit, if ironic, ideology for a young reader about behaviour and parental love as the narrative shows Max learning the limits to being a `wild thing'. The implicit ideology embodies an underlying discourse of childhood being a time for imaginative play and fantasy, reflecting a changed view of childhood that had developed in Western society when Where the Wild Things Are was first published in 1963.

Different literary genres are part of the wider socio-cultural context of reading literature, as are the literary devices that comprise such structures, and intertextuality (Halliday & Hasan 1985; Meek 1988; Stephens 1992b). Readers draw on their expectations of different genres, e.g. realism or fantasy, when they experience a new text. …