Philip Nel > Courses > English 355: Literature for Children (Fall 2008) > Paper #1

English 355: Two Options for Paper #1


in class, 30 Oct. 2008.


3 to 5 pages (for option 1), 2 pages (for option 2).


Option #1 | Option #2 | Guidelines | Useful handouts

Option #1: Picture Books (Essay)

        Study a range of picturebooks by a single illustrator. For example, you might choose any of these: Jon Agee, Molly Bang, Istvan Banyai, Marcia Brown, Anthony Browne, Virginia Lee Burton, Eric Carle, Donald Crews, Leo and Diane Dillon, Wanda Ga'g, Kevin Henkes, Crockett Johnson, Ann Jonas, Leo Lionni, Arnold Lobel, David Macaulay, James Marshall, Barbara McClintock, Robert McCloskey, Christopher Myers, Marjorie Priceman, Chris Raschka, Peggy Rathmann, H. A. Rey, Faith Ringgold, Allen Say, Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss, Shel Silverstein, Peter Sis, Lane Smith, William Steig, Chris Van Allsburg, Rosemary Wells, David Wiesner, Mo Willems. (You may choose an author not on this list, but clear it with with me first.) How would you characterize this illustrator's style? That is, what is characteristic of his or her style of illustration? What is the relationship between the illustrations and the text? What themes does the illustrator treat? Do you see any change in direction or in development over the course of his or her career? Your thesis will be a claim that states what you perceive to be this illustrator's primary concerns and (if applicable) how these concerns have developed over time.

        In the paper, focus on only three books by this author. As you prepare to write the paper, you will want to read more than these three books, of course; however, devote your paper to the analysis of just three. If you see the author's development changing over time, choose the three books from different moments in an author's career (ideally, one early, one middle, and one late). If you perceive little change over time, then when the books were written in the context of her or his career may not matter so much. For more guidance on this option, please see the handout Analyzing Picture Books.

        To support your analysis, cite the text and pictures of the books you're discussing. And, of course, consult the guidelines below.

        To see a sample paper for this option, please click here.

Option #2: Picture Books (Creative Assignment + Short Essay)

        In the Foreword to Molly Bang's Picture This, Rudolf Arnheim writes that Bang's "special talent derives from her natural response to what comes alive when one is open to the elements of vision, the disks and the rectangles, the reds and the blacks. Far from being mere shapes, they transmit joy and fear, awe and gentleness. . . . These simple shapes . . . do more than tell a story: they offer an order, a kind of grammar for the eyes, a recipe for yet further things to say. Therefore, they also teach" (x). These are 10 (though by no means all) of Bang's insights (all are direct quotations from Bang):

  1. Smooth, flat, horizontal shapes give us a sense of stability and calm. See Bang, pp. 42-43.
  2. Vertical shapes are more exciting and more active. Vertical shapes rebel against the earth's gravity. They imply energy and a reaching toward heights or the heavens. See Bang, pp. 44-46
  3. Diagonal shapes are dynamic because they imply motion or tension. See Bang, pp. 46-54.
  4. The upper half of a picture is a place of freedom, happiness and triumph; objects placed in the top half often feel more "spiritual." The bottom half of a picture feels more threatened, heavier, sadder, or more constrained; objects placed in the bottom half also feel more "grounded." An object placed higher up on the page has "greater pictorial weight." See Bang, pp. 54-62.
  5. The center of the page is the most effective "center of attention." It is the point of greatest attraction. The edges and corners of the picture are the edges and corners of the picture world.
  6. Light backgrounds feel safer to us than dark backgrounds because we can see well during the day and only poorly at night. See Bang, pp. 68-69.
  7. We feel more scared looking at pointed shapes; we feel more secure or comforted looking at rounded shapes or curves. See Bang, pp. 70-71.
  8. The larger an object is in a picture, the stronger it feels. See Bang, pp. 72-76.
  9. We associate the same or similar colors much more strongly than we associate the same or similar shapes. See Bang, pp. 76-80.
  10. We notice contrasts; contrast enables us to see. See Bang, p. 80.

        Assignment. Create a picture in which you combine no more than four colors (including background) and distinctive shapes in order to illustrate some aspect of Bang's principles.

        Use a particular moment from a poem, fairy tale, a nursery rhyme, or some other well-known story as the inspiration for your picture. Or re-illustrate a scene from an illustrated work we've read. Or provide an illustration for a moment not depicted in the illustrated work. Please identify which work and scene you're using.

        Strong emotions are easier to depict than weak ones. Don't be too realistic: follow the abstract style of Bang's depiction of "Little Red Riding Hood" (where she relies on a red triangle to characterize and represent the heroine). Use construction paper -- experiment with different sizes, shapes, colors and arrangement. Tape it together.

        Write a 2-page (typed) explanation of your final picture. Tell me what you originally wanted to produce (in terms of effect, with a particular focus on emotion); tell me how you experimented before finalizing the project and what emotion you're trying to evoke, what you're trying to accomplish with your arrangement. If you need a model for structuring your essay, consult the essay guidelines below. Your final picture doesn't need to be pretty, but it does need to demonstrate that you have learned something from your exposure to Picture This. So, make use of Molly Bang's principles in your analysis.

        Bang's finished picture (p. 40) may serve as an example of what a picture might look like. Or, to see one student's paper and the illustration she created, click here. For more on how this assignment will be evaluated, please see the Guidelines for Grading this assignment.

Guidelines for Writing an Essay

Getting Started…

1. Read and Reread. Read and reread the work or works you've decided to write about, with a mind to the topic you have chosen. As you take careful notes (making note of all relevant words, phrases, images, and illustrations), consult the "Imagery and Figurative Language" handout and any other relevant handouts.

Writing the Paper…

1. Formulate a thesis. Make sure your thesis is specific enough to be covered adequately in the space of your discussion. Remember: merely noting a difference or similarity does not constitute a thesis. So, it would not be sufficient to say that Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1937), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), and The Lorax (1971) all are versions of the "quest" narrative. True enough, but so what? Instead, you might argue that the changing nature of the "quest" narrative in Dr. Seuss's The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (1937), Horton Hears a Who! (1954), and The Lorax (1971) shows an increasingly political engagement with real-world issues: from a fairly mild indictment of an unjust king, Seuss's concerns grow to include threats of anihilation and environmental catastrophe. Refer to the handout titled "Thesis vs. Topic."

2. Each paragraph should begin with a claim. Just as a thesis claim guides the paper as a whole, a paragraph's claim (often referred to as a "topic sentence") guides a paragraph. So, at or near the beginning of each paragraph, include a topic sentence that states your paragraph's central argument. The topic sentence serves as a bridge between thesis and paragraph by making an interpretive claim that indicates how the paragraph will support your thesis.

3. Provide support. To persuade your readers to your position, you will need to provide some evidence in support of your claims. Quotations from the poem, or illustrations and text from a picture book should be used as evidence to prove your assertions.

4. Analysis and explanation of evidence. Be sure to analyze the quotation and discuss its significance. Explain for your reader how your evidence supports your claims.

5. Conclusion. Your last paragraph should synthesize, not summarize. You should resolve -- and not merely repeat -- your argument. Think of a conclusion this way: it both reminds your reader of where you've been and suggests new areas to explore. For these papers, I suggest you devote your conclusion to practical applications of your thesis. What implications does what you've proven have for the teaching of these children's books? How would you put your ideas into action, in the classroom?

And, after you finish your draft…

1. Revise and edit. Read your paper out loud to yourself. Often you will hear what your eyes will miss.

2. Grammar and structure are important. To help yourself proofread and revise with both of these ideas in mind, please see the handout titled "Keys to Structure and Style."

3. When in doubt, get help. My office hours are on the syllabus, and by appointment. My email address is Also, please make use of a grammar handbook and of the handouts linked to this paper assignment: "Imagery and Figurative Language," "Thesis vs. Topic," "Keys to Structure and Style," Sample Essay #1, Sample Essay # 2, and Grading for the Bang Assignment.

Useful Handouts: Imagery and Figurative Language | Analyzing Picture Books | Close-Reading | Thesis vs. Topic | Keys to Structure and Style | Sample Essay #1 | Sample Essay # 2 | Grading for "Bang" option

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Paper assignment #2 adapted from Anne Phillips. Paper assignment #1 adapted from Naomi Wood. Any modifications to the above are copyright © 2001-2008 Philip Nel, but Molly Bang's text is copyright © 1991, 2000 Molly Bang. All rights reserved. Please read the Disclaimer.
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