Katherina Manolessou

Looking Through the Frame: Depictions of Place in Illustrated Non-Fiction Children’s Books


This presentation will focus on the depiction of places (real or imagined) in illustrated non-fiction children’s books. Non-fiction is an umbrella term covering a wide range of books such as atlases, encyclopaedias, biographies, visual dictionaries, and search-and-find books. My particular interest lies in the practices of illustrators and editorial teams who use the double spread as a frame, or window, to offer children a view of a specific place. This view could be understood as an ‘edited’ representation of that place.

In her analysis of framing in picturebooks, Carolle Scott1 looks beyond the design and making of the illustrations to examine borders in pictures as a reflection of social and psychological boundaries. I will consider Scott’s distinction between two approaches to framing in picturebook illustration: perceptual framing (which focuses the attention by excluding what is not needed) and architectural framing (used to construct and organise) an illustration.

I would like to apply her understanding of framing on double page spreads from a selection of non-fiction titles as well as my own practice (a search-and-find book to be published by Frances Lincoln in 2017).

One of the emerging themes from my study of real locations depicted in these books, is that the spreads offer views of an ever expanding variety of far away and exotic landscapes, including places that children might never set foot in. At the same, time the real world that children experience and move in seems to be shrinking (with a recent study showing that children actively travel only up to 25% of their neighbourhood).

Another point of discussion will be the way in which frames can create a focus of attention and therefore a hierarchy in the way that a place is depicted. An example is Eurocentric atlases and maps used by children all over the world. Another is the dominance of human activity over the landscape, resulting in landscapes depicted as mere backdrops.

Dr Katherina Manolessou is an illustrator and Senior Lecturer in Children’s Books Illustration at Anglia Ruskin University. She originally studied chemistry before moving into animation and going on to study at the Royal College of Art in London. Her doctoral research, at Anglia Ruskin University, focused on animal characterisation in picturebooks.
Her practice includes editorial, book covers, self publishing, and more recently writing and illustrating children’s books: Zoom Zoom Zoom (Macmillan, 2014), T-Veg (illustrator, Frances Lincoln, 2015), Mummy and Me (Macmillan 2017).


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