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Picture Book Review: The Island

Picture Book Review: The Island Free Review Essay

Picture Book Review: The Island

Part 1: Notes on Reading Experience

Text

Rhythm is a prevailing element of the text that can be attained in many ways. It is present in the spaces in text, inducing the reader to be silent before reading the continuation. For example, at the beginning of the story, the islanders notice the man, who has arrived on the island, and ask questions about him, in this section, the text is absent, making readers take a pause, until new text appears about the man noticing people and getting up (Greder, 2007).

Pictures

The dominant colors of the pictures are grey and black, and they are enhanced by the texture created with pencils drawing on paper. Dominant tonality is pale grey, blue and pink. The pictures are massive, extending to more than one page, what contributes to a feeling of confusion.

There is a repetition of the shapes, which represent the islanders and the outsider, including the dead fish and the seagull shot by the islanders. The shapes create a contrast, depicting contradictions and uneasy relationships. The most contrasting figures are depicted in the drawing of a thin and miserable outsider and big, strong and comfortable islanders.

Perceptions of effects

The text and the pictures produce a significant influence on readers’ perception and thinking. The first effect concerns the relationship between the storyline and the reality depicted in today’s media. The second effect has implications on teaching and education. The pictures in the book are sequenced to exemplify a hurried and unethical perception of the outsider i.e. at the beginning, people want to help the man but they are confined by fear and eventually drive him away. Such development of the events points to the importance of considering ethical responses and making decisions based on own thinking rather than group ideas and judgements. The third effect is that the reader is compelled to take sides, and the book helps understand the position of someone who is different, often referred to as “the other” or “alien”.

Part 2: Picture Book Review

Introduction

This paper is a book review of The Island by Armin Greder. It assesses the plot from numerous perspectives with the help of descriptive and analytical evaluation, sociological analysis, and visual analysis as suggested methods for evaluating children books by Horning (2010) and Salisbury & Styles (2012). Greder wrote and illustrated The Island, a storybook about an outsider, possibly a refugee or an immigrant, who moved to the island in an unspecified location. The story is written in the genre of fiction and includes sketch-like illustrations or pencil drawings. The review provides a balanced assessment of the text and images and evaluates the book as a useful masterpiece suitable for diverse audiences and for teaching children to think about being different and ethical responses towards refugees through simple illustrations and limited text.

Analysis

Descriptive analysis. Grender was born in Switzerland and migrated to Australia, his new homeland where he taught illustration (“The Island: Armin Greder,” n.d.). He wrote several books for children and received several recognitions for his work such as the Bologna Ragazzi and a nomination for Hans Christian Andersen Prize (“The Island: Armin Greder,” n. d.). All his books have a similar style of writing and illustration.

The Island is a picture book about the mistreatment of a foreign man who arrives to the island, where people fear otherness and fictional stories by the members of the community. Here, Greder explores the themes of fearing the unknown and otherness in the figure of a newcomer, prejudice, mistreating someone, making offensive remarks that misrepresent the man, and of compassion toward a stranger. The book is illustrated in a primitive style, without describing in detail human figures of islanders but by showing them as a mass of powerful figures as opposite to a slender and weak figure of a foreign man.

Analytical review. The genre of the storybook is realistic fiction. The drawings are made in pencil on white paper, similar to charcoal technique. After the book was first published in English, it received a positive public response [but I did not find the critiques of the book in popular Canadian book review sources]. The reviewers of the book draw on functional attributes of the story in their analysis, for example, GoodReads claims that the book presents a timely and useful story, which can be used to prevent xenophobia and racism and promote human rights and diversity (“The Island by Armin Greder,” n. d.). Furthermore, Allen & Unwin Book Publishers describe the audience of the book as English speakers who are from eight to eighteen years old and praise it as globally accepted and winning international awards (“The Island: Armin Greder,” n. d.). The book’s function indeed is to teach responsibility toward other people and creatures [the islanders attack seagulls in the storybook]. Eccleshare (2008) maintains that the book deconstructs the reality of outsiders and portrays them as controlled by fear and terror comparing to the outsider, similarly to the painting by Edward Munch The Scream.

Grey and black colors that are dominant in the storybook express sadness and agony. The author uses dark and grayish colors to tell a sad story. The lines are jagged and uneven, pointing to destruction, unease and rough relationships. As for perspective, it places the shapes of islanders in focus while downplaying the figure of the man, thus achieving a contrast between the islanders and the outsider. Greder uses space in between pictures to draw attention to the broken relationships, isolation of the man and the silence in interactions with him.

The text and the pictures have no clear demarcation lines and pictures take up most of the space in the book. Illustrations help the reader comprehend the text, clarify the meaning of the story, and add new meaning where text is absent, as in the case of a drawing of the face at the bottom of the soup plate of a scared child.

The images in Opening 5 and Opening 6 depict the reaction to the man, when he reappears in the town upon arrival. The first image shows a figure a person who bites her fingers and has bulging eyes; and the second image depicts the gathering of men in a crowd pointing in the direction of the man and carrying weapons of destruction. These images avoid excessive detail and only depict the essential elements helping the reader grasp the seriousness of the islanders’ fear. Pictures are effective as they engage the reader and add the meanings to the text (Horning, 2010). They powerfully explain the second encounter with the man and challenge the reader to understand more about what it means to fear someone. Both images have the rhythm in the lines, texture, and similar dark and moody colors. The pictures achieve some dominant elements (Horning, 2010) i.e. the shape of gathered men and the shape of fear (shown as a human being).

The visual elements combined show what fear is like during a meeting with an outsider. Compositional elements of the pictures also contribute to the gloomy mood (Horning, 2010). i.e. the men swirl together into a group to whisper and plot something evil against the man. The visual elements tell a compelling story of how it feels to fear and act upon it. These elements produce an impression upon the reader. In addition, the achieved effect is informs the audience about the horrid experience of the foreign man on the island.

Sociological analysis. The book’s themes do not create a controversy but rather express an individual style and own interpretation of otherness by Greder. As Salisbury and Styles (2012) argue that The Island can be recognized by the younger audience as an account of personal experience of the author, due to his signature style in text and illustrations. The picture book is effective in teaching readers to think with the help of illustrations (Salisbury and Styles, 2012), where images and words tell a powerful story about a refugee. Viewed through the lens of social interactionalist perspective, The Island presents the symbols for understanding and interacting with foreigners. In fact, symbolic communications help associate refugees with poor, naked, miserable and often mistreated persons who need other peoples’ help; the fish in the sea is plentiful and can feed many people; and the sea outside the borders of an island is a dangerous terrain. Despite the presence of allegoric symbols, the storybook is timeless, it does not refer to any specific place, and gives an opportunity to make own conclusions.

Conclusion

Researching and reviewing The Island allowed me to better understand how today stories for children can be told via combined text and images. The images need to harmonize with the text and enhance its meanings as in the case of The Island, where the pictures illustrate the scale of fear in the community of islanders in response to the arrival of an outsider.

Visual elements of a book for children need to be present, and some elements need to dominate to create a desired mood or effect. In addition, repetitions and rhythm are useful elements when creating a compelling illustrated story. While a book can have social meanings and follow certain theories of inclusion and diversity, an author’s viewpoint is unique and is the main basis for interpreting the book.

Significant findings are the fact that children can view The Island story as fictional, characteristic to a specific author and his style of writing and illustrating. In addition, readers can learn in the process of reading and make own conclusions about the state of the island and the man. Meanwhile, critics responded with own social and cultural perspectives, connecting their reviews of the storybook to modern realities. Various audiences, both adults and children, should read The Island. It is useful for teaching, understanding and responding to the outsiders who are today’s refugees and immigrants.

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