In looking at research, I found that one of the most interesting areas for me was learning about the connection of words and images through the years. In his book
, Scott McCloud, using the comic book format, "leads readers through an insightful study of the nature of sequential art by tracing the history of the relationship between words and images."
McCloud emphasizes how much a reader brings to what they are seeing: for instance, he informs the reader that closure which is sometimes used intentionally in order to create suspense is the process of "observing the parts but perceiving the whole."
This is something we as the audience do subconsciously.
McCloud also believes that "words and pictures have great powers to tell stories when creators fully exploit them both."
McCloud has theories on how he believes words and images interact with each other and work together. Although his work deals with comics, many of these combinations can be seen in the story books that we ask our students to read. If we are aware of the different combinations that are used when words and images coincide, we can purposefully choose books that use the combination that will aid in the skill we are asking our students to strengthen. McCloud creates an image for each of these combinations. I will offer my own examples after his definitions. The categories that McCloud has come up with are the following:
Word Specific Combinations
Pictures in this category "illustrate, but don't significantly add to a largely complete text." An example would be an author writing that the boy closed his eyes as he made a wish with the illustration showing a close-up of the boy with his eyes closed.
Picture Specific Combinations
Words in this category "do little more than add a soundtrack to a visually told sequence." An example would be a series of pictures of a baseball player hitting a ball and then running the bases and the crowd cheering as the player reaches home plate with words being shown in the form of the cheers with a brief caption.
In this category "both words and pictures send essentially the same message." An example would be an author writing that the girl climbed the stairs with a look of determination and the accompanying illustration showing both the girl climbing and a look on her face that a reader could conclude is determination.
In this category "words amplify or elaborate on an image or vice versa." With additive combinations, a reader would see text or an image that by itself may convey a meaning, but when put together, the words and images really hit home the point and give the reader deeper meaning. An example would be a girl with a pained expression and the text that says the girl was not expecting a test today. We now know from the text that she has a test, and along with the image we know she probably is not ready for it.
In this category "words and pictures seem to follow very different courses – without intersecting." In this category words and images do not seem to go together. You may have two children walking through a park tossing a ball, but in the text the conversation is about the test they took in school earlier in the day.
In this category, "words are treated as integral parts of the picture." Images in these examples may actually be part of the words or vice versa. If you have words written in such a way that they depict a flower, for example, this demonstrates montage. Another example of montage would be an image of a frazzled teacher with words such as "correct papers," "lesson plans," "parent conferences" splattered all around the image.
McCloud calls these "perhaps the most common type of word/picture combination . . . where words and pictures go hand in hand to convey an idea that neither could convey alone." If an author wants to make a point about someone not being happy about something without other characters knowing, there may be an image of a student smiling at a teacher holding a test while thinking (with text showing) that he is not prepared to take the test.
With all of these combinations to choose from, authors have a lot to think about in terms of what they want their audience to know and how hard they want their audience to have to work in order to gain that knowledge. When teachers choose picture books, they should think about the work they want their students to do. Certain books lend themselves nicely to certain skills (examples can be found in the classroom activities section of this unit). Other books do not have as clear a purpose when it comes to using them for developing specific language-arts skills.