Reading different type styles to get meaning.


REALpictureBOOKS are examples of authentic up-to-date visual and linguistic literacy experiences. They are constantly changing like the society they mirror. Many of their visual experiences reflect the new commercial type styles seen on TV, advertising or on food packets some even in English or Roman letters in non-English language societies.


Visual experiences in REALpictureBOOKs are becoming increasingly challenging for young readers, and more especially for those learning English as a foreign language, as creativity spreads across a double page from the illustration to the presentation of the text. Texts may be laid out in different type styles in non-traditional ways to portray movement, excitement, fear or fun. Some words may be highlighted in different ways to give added value and express deeper meaning. A glance at the front and back covers of this issue show examples of some of these new challenges.


In some recently published REALpicturestoryBOOKS visual experiences have become more holistic as the picture and the language (text) closely interact to support and expand each other making decoding quicker and understanding possibly deeper. In REALpictureBOOKS written for younger children, where the balance between the text and picture is unequal, the text being shorter, the child will get most information from the details in the picture. Young children are used to doing this in their home-language activities; since many cannot yet write a lengthy text, they compensate by putting their detailed information into their pictures.


In today's REALpictureBOOKS image, language, type style and layout have been created and designed as a whole unit to give the reader an aesthetic and pleasurable experience with no conscious educational aim. REALpictureBOOKS differ from YLs' EFL textbooks where frequently illustrations have been added to text later with the aim of clarifying the meaning of the teaching text. Like this a young child from a different culture is presented with as little ambiguity as possible, especially in the early stages of learning English. This aim for clarity is also reflected in the choice of type style which is generally a simple print-style (sometimes with handwriting a and g) following traditional punctuation rules and grammatical conventions like capital letters only at the beginning of the sentence except where the author wants to add more emphasis.

When this is the case the text may be more like that used in advertisements.


On any computer today's child has access to a long list of type styles, which at a click can be flashed on the screen and printed out. A wider choice is available to designers, authors and editors who in creating REALpictureBOOKS are not constrained by the educational needs of teaching children to read. Some illustrators like Lucy Cousins  create and copyright their own print style. This enables them to create their own holistic picturebook experience, which children soon recognise as the author-illustrator's 'trade mark'.


Children are used to change; most find adapting easier than many older adults! Children spend their early years adapting to newness - new circumstances, new people and new voices. Most seem to take adapting in their stride learning to accept ambiguity as much of what they see and hear may not be clear to them until they have taken part in related experiences. This leaves them open-minded, ready to accept newness with few preconceptions and at the same time be willing to take some of the risks that go with uncertainty.


Children accept the divergence in reading different type styles as a challenge. For native speaker children the initial getting-used to the newness may be difficult, but the challenge is even greater for those who write with non-roman alphabets like Chinese, Japanese, Urdu and Arabic or where eye movements differ as children read from right to left across the page or top to bottom.


The Teacher as a Mediator

The teacher's role is that of mediator between the child and the REALBOOK, not openly teaching but looking at text and type styles together and talking about them. Children, especially boys, like making their own codes as well as un-scrabbling other people's secret languages. This enthusiasm can be re-treaded as children are using some of the same strategies to do this as they use when decoding a page of unconventional text in a REALpictureBOOK.

Developing strategies for decoding for meaning

Teachers can help children read more easily and quickly by helping them transfer some of their decoding strategies from their home-language, even if they are only emergent readers. To do this children need the following information in order to talk about the type styles.

Information on the shapes of the standard forms of the alphabet - small and capital letters - as this will be the reference for comparison necessary for decoding. Without a solid knowledge of the standard alphabet shapes decoding takes longer and could be frustrating and so de-motivating.

The names of the letters of the alphabet. Without knowing the names of the letters it is difficult to talk about words and their letter content. The sounds of the letters have a different role and there are some complications - like the two sounds for the letter c. Many parents do not know the letter sounds correctly and often as a result confuse their children. However most adults know the names of the letters, and many can even sing the alphabet song, and can therefore give some backup at home.

Facilitating decoding for meaning

Every experience helps a child build up his own visual bank of type styles, which form a resource to draw on when decoding. Talk about:

  • Lay out of text and what is shows - movement, excitement etc
  • Size and shape of capital and small letters and their use - words in capitals only.
  • Talk about speech marks, speech balloons, think bubbles
  • Talk about exclamation marks. How their use differs from language to language - French language uses them differently, Chinese language is just introducing them.

Way of decoding a spread

Any one who is used to reading Picture books with a young child will have noticed that when a child turns a page to a new spread he nearly always looks at the picture first following the same routine of Skim, Scan and Review. 

Skim  The child gets a general impression looking at the picture first and then the text. (The child is used to getting more information from pictures. Compare this with the adult who generally reads the text first and second glances at the picture regarding it as decorative but not necessary.)

Scan The child looks at the picture scrutinising detail. The child moves from place to place in the picture moving on only when he has obtained sufficient information for his present needs.

Review The child when satisfied that he has gleaned sufficient information, returns to review the whole picture incorporating the connections made between the details and his own experiences.

The child then appears to pass through the same routine in looking at the text, possibly reading sentence by sentence or blocks of text. Where different type styles are used little is known about how he decodes. Does he read the speech bubbles first? Does a general pattern emerge?

Browse The child needs opportunities to return again and again to the visual experience in order to make new connections and obtain deeper meaning. Picture and text provide multi-layered experiences, which alter each time the child returns to the book as the child is older, more mature and experienced. He possibly has added confidence too, as his newly acquired daily-life experiences make additional connections to the decoding experience so deepening meaning. What we see is not simply given but is the product of past experience and future expectations.' Gombrich.


REALpictureBOOKs provide a drive to communicate through exciting experiences in different forms of visual literacy. Apart from learning English through REALpictureBOOKs, we can help children become confident with newness of both illustration and type styles so that they know how to decode for meaning. In doing so we are helping them develop valuable life-long skills for use in both English and home-language in this media led world where visual literacy is becoming more influential each year.


Children reading Pictures by Evelyn Arizpe and Morag Styles

Publisher Routledge-Falmer ISBN 0-415-27577

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