How Does Beatrix Potter??™s the Tale of Peter Rabbit Use Picturebook Techniques to Tell a Story

How does Beatrix Potter??™s The Tale of Peter Rabbit use picturebook techniques to tell a storyThe Tale of Peter Rabbit is a true picturebook in that you need both picture and text to tell the intended story. It is a book that I think Beatrix Potter intended both parent and child to read together. The pictures, rather than the text, dominate the page. A child could look solely at the pictures and get an idea of the story but the text adds more detail and fills in the gaps. The print is linear, uniform in size and quite small in comparison to the pictures. The illustrations support the text but do not tell the whole story. An example of this is the simple picture of Peter walking through Mr McGregor??™s garden. The text explains further that Peter was ???feeling rather sick??™ and that ???he went to look for some parsley.??™ You would not get all this information from the picture alone.
The idea that the illustrator helps the reader to extract the intended meaning is something discussed by Parkes who states that ???signs are embedded in the illustrations??™ and that ???illustrations compliment and extend the written language bringing characters, settings and events to life??™1.
The illustrations have a very real feel to them; the soft pastels used are realistic colours that are true to nature. We know straight away that there are different types of birds in the story; a robin, sparrows and blue tits. The birds share Peter??™s adventures and a repeated theme in the pictures throughout the book is the idea that all the birds are Peter??™s friends, especially the robin. They are always pictured close by in the adventure; encouraging Peter not to give up when he is caught in the net, showing him the way to the gate and gathering around the captured blue coat and shoes that Mr McGregor is using as a scarecrow. This seems to be the moment that Peter reverts back to behaving like a wild rabbit running on all fours. The anthropomorphic mixture of rabbit and human seen all the way through the book in the use of the blue coat and shoes, among other things, comes to an end.
On only a couple of pages are we given an idea of the vastness of Mr McGregor??™s garden. In these instances the feeling of space and Peter being dwarfed by this space are used to great effect to create a tension in the story. This feeling of suspense and that something terrible could happen to Peter is a technique used to great effect throughout the book. The first example is seeing Peter squeeze himself under the gate ??“ when we??™ve already been told the fate of Peter??™s father in the same garden. We see Peter upside down, tightly caught by his foot and buttons in a net. We are also shown his narrow escape from Mr McGregor when we see how close the sieve gets to him and how near Mr McGregor??™s boot is to a fleeing Peter. The way the pictures seem to zoom in on the important action and white out the periphery is a very clever way to draw in and include the reader in Peter??™s narrow escapes and heightens the tension.
(Word count 548)BIBLIOGRAPHY
J. Doonan, Looking at Pictures in Picture Books (Glos: Thimble Press, 1993)
1Brenda Parkes, in What??™s in the Picture , ed. by Janet Evans (London: Sage, 1998), p. 46.

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