Visual literacy is ‘the ability to analyse the power of the image and the how of its meaning in its particular context’ (Johnston, as cited in Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl & Holliday, 2010, p.620). Voices in the park, written and illustrated by Anthony Browne (1998), is an excellent example of powerful visual literacy. The story is told from four different perspectives; a mother and her son, and a father and his daughter. The characters are presented as gorillas but are in human form, perhaps to prevent bias from readers. Presenting different perspectives intensifies personal responses (Giorgis, Johnson, Bonomo, Colbert, Conner, Kauffman, Kulesza, 1999). The visual elements add a great depth to this story and allow the reader insight into the four characters and their perceptions of each other as they cross paths in a park.
Font types are an important element and link directly to the personality of each character. The font used for Charles’ mother is a classic style and is a hint that she sees herself as a proper and traditional figure. The font used for Smudge’s father is thick and bold and indicates his depressed nature. The font for Charles is thin and delicate as he is lonely and unsure of himself. The font in Smudge’s story is fun and childish, matching her cheerful persona.
Each perspective is shown through a different season, even though the scenes unfold at the same point in time. There are links from each season to personalities and how the park is viewed by each character. The seasons are evident through the use of appropriate light, colour and clues in the scenery. Autumn colours reflect the demeanour of Charles’ mother with a mix of warm and cool colour tones, while dark winter colours suit the mood of Smudge’s father. Spring pastels represent new growth and change for Charles, although his seasons change from spring as he has fun with Smudge, to winter as he is alone with his mother again. Bright summertime colours signify Smudge’s nature.
Line can be used to draw the eye to what the illustrator feels is important or to suggest movement or establish a mood (Giorgis et al., 1999). Browne (1998) uses lines to create moods and to deepen understanding. For example, illustrations of the mother are framed by neat, straight lines and edges, in comparison to the father whose illustrations are either framed with rough, torn looking borders or no borders at all. Lines also portray the divide between social-class such as in one image of the mother and father on a park bench divided by the line of a lamppost. On the father’s side there is litter and a dirty path; on the side of the mother there is no litter and the path is clean.
In one significant image Charles’ mother’s shadow is cast over him and the shape of her hat reappears in the form of lampposts, the shape of a tree and the outline of clouds. This suggests the overbearing influence of his mother on his life.
There are many more visual elements within this text representing class structure, friendship and assumptions people make about each other which are shown through the appearance of each character, surroundings and other images not immediately obvious to the eye.
Browne, A. (1998). Voices in the park. New York, New York: DK Publishing Inc.
Giorgis, C., Johnson, N, J., Bonomo, A., Colbert, C., Conner, A., Kauffman, G., & Kulesza, D. (1999). Children’s books: visual literacy. The Reading Teacher, 53, 146-153. Retrieved from: http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.utas.edu.au/stable/20204765.
Winch, G., Johnston, R., March, P., Ljungdahl, L., & Holliday, M. (2010). Literacy: Reading, writing and children’s literature (4th ed.). South Melbourne, VIC: Oxford University Press.