Marvellous Imaginations: Extending Thinking Through Picture Books

We can now look back at the IBBY UK/NCRCL MA conference that took place in November. It was, as always, a day packed with interest, taking as its theme the importance and power of the visual image in conveying messages and inspiring empathy. Readers will be able to find out more about the presentations on the website, and read the ‘drawn notes’ of Emma Dunmore and Laura Davis, two MA graduates who attended conference at

Our issue of IBBYLink continues with the theme as Anna McQuinn explores with us what she wanted to achieve in publishing What Are You Playing At?, a picture book aimed at the youngest readers, which uses the illustrations to challenge received opinions and beliefs in both the children and the adults.

For many of us, the term ‘picture book’ will probably conjure up something where the text and the pictures will mirror each other – or, as in the best picture books, extend or even comment on each other. The reader is the audience.

However there are picture books where the reader is very much invited into the illustrations, which will be full of life and busyness. This is a genre that has its own name – they are wimmelbücher, wimmelbooks. Elys Dolan, herself an illustrator, introduces us to this particular form when she describes the research she has been conducting into these books and how they achieve their effects.

If wimmelbooks come to us from across the Channel, Raymond Briggs is a very well-known name here. June Swain reflects on his book The Bear, reminding us why his work tells powerful and engaging stories.

And story, storytelling, is indeed powerful, no more so than when combined with visual images. It creates a valuable means to engage young readers, bridging divides, and opening young minds to other lives and other possibilities, allowing them to empathise. No one would argue with this. However, as Helen Limon’s thought-provoking article suggests, this might not be the whole story.

Then another aspect is highlighted in the work done by Jane Ray for The Nightingale Project, which is on display at the South Kensington and Chelsea Mental Health Centre. Marvellous – and perilous – imaginations, indeed.

Ferelith Hordon