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Picturebook, in one word and three pillars



The Original French Version Here


“A picturebook is text, illustrations, total design”: just forty years after its invention by Barbara Bader[1], the innovative formula, like the conception that it implies of books designed in this way, should perhaps still be promoted…


Few English speakers make the difference between “picture book” and “picturebook”. Yet, to use one or two words for this notion is not at all a spelling risk. Following Barbara Bader, quite a few researchers have indeed taken up again this composition in one word, so as to mark a precise type of work, that closely associates text and image and that makes indivisible instances, “interdependent”, to use the terms of the American author.


For researchers, a book presenting a pre-existing text, provided with illustrations realized afterwards, is thus of another nature than a book in which the text and the images are interdependent. I have for my part followed the other way in determining the term album illustré, so as to designate albums corresponding to “picture books”, whereas the French term album corresponds to the English “picturebook”.


What can surely appear to be a terminological quarrel – even completely vain – is not so much when one looks into the internal functioning of these books. Whereas picture books most often call on the work of an author and illustrator whose contributions can be dissociated as much in time as in space to be joined by the publisher at the heart of a book, picturebooks necessarily require the joint and complementary realization of texts and images in the framework of a creation shared by author and illustrator, or rather (it’s the most frequent case) the fact of a sole author-illustrator.


For the reader, these are indeed two types of reading that are summoned. Reading a text and its illustrations indeed does not equate to the same cognitive activity as reading a composed ensemble of interdependent text and images, whose meaning emerges from putting the two together. The picturebook is indeed this object that makes a whole.


This is where the “total design” of Barbara Bader takes on all its meaning. When text and image are interdependent to this point, then they are necessarily composed on the material of a book. The materiality of a book, its format, and its layout are equally a part of the overall expression of a book. The picturebook is this overall object, a coherent whole, whose text and images, as well as the material dimension, are rigorously indivisible.


This object, which is a veritable

medium, the material of an artistic expression wholly apart, surely still remains to be highlighted in its current form. If the Anglo-American research has largely worked in this field of publishing, European countries, whose production in this sector is very rich, creative and diversified, still struggle to give all its theoretical dimension to a major form in publishing for children, which so many artists have taken hold of since the beginning of the twentieth century.


In this domain, as in others, the battle of terms is far from being anodyne.



[1] Barbara Bader, From Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, New York ; Macmillan, 1976

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