I often only examine one visual element when reading a book with a class of primary school students. I thought I would describe a number of features that could be explored with students for one of my favourite books by Anthony Browne.
Piggybook by Anthony Browne is a picture book that explores the way a family can become dysfunctional if the members don’t appreciate each other and don’t work together. Through the story the characters undergo a transformation that is initially unpleasant but brings about resolution and balance in the end.
Offer and demand
This visual element is a feature of the cover illustration as the four characters gaze out at the viewer inviting them into their story in a visual demand. The way the characters are positioned off centre and have turned their heads to face the viewer engages the viewer rather than confronting them.
The initial illustrations display relatively high modality. The four main characters, mum, dad and two boys are drawn with realistic body shapes and skin colour. However the lack of shading give the family a ‘two dimensional’ feel. This is matched with the written text as the book only looks at certain aspects of each character.
As the story progresses we read that mum is fed up with the family taking her for granted and she disappears from the house and the illustrations. The male characters then start to morph into pigs, metaphorically, in their actions and visibly, in the illustrations. This lowers the modality and highlights the issue.
Anthony Browne’s illustrations give richness and depth to his stories with the layered illustrations of Piggybook being good examples of this.
The cover illustration summarises the family situation by showing the character of mum piggy backing the rest of the family, symbolizing the way she shoulders the burdens of the family.
Browne includes many images of pigs in the furnishings of the house, on the wallpaper, tiles and knickknacks, to symbolically show the unpleasant transformation of the Piggot males.
One particularly intricate use of symbolism is the inclusion of the portrait of Mr and Mrs Andrews (http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/thomas-gainsborough-mr-and-mrs-andrews) hanging above the mantle piece in the Piggot loungeroom. Symbolically the figure of Mrs Andrews is missing from the painting. However, the symbol goes deeper for those who know a bit about the artist. Gainsborough was an English oil painter in the 1700’s. Although he had a love of landscape painting, he could not pursue it for financial reasons. Instead he used highly paid family portrait commissions to indulge his passion and show off his skill with scenery. It seems that Gainsborough’s situation would resonate with the character of mum from Piggybook as she works hard at a job she dislikes and finds unrewarding.
These three features are only some of those that could be discussed and the many features of Piggybook deserve exploration over multiple readings to allow the viewer to take on the full meaning of the issues and truly enjoy the book.