Time to get out of the bath, Shirley: An Ecological Analysis of a Contemporary Picturebook

Ang Hui Hoon

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2003


Many researchers, in the examination of multimodality in picturebooks, study the interaction between words and pictures, focussing on either the angle of text-image interaction or that of book-reader interaction. These two strands of analysis are pulled together in this study of a contemporary picturebook using the metaphor of ecology. This mode of analysis propounded by Lewis (2001) regards the interplay between the visual and verbal texts and of that between the book and the reader, as akin to the kind of interactions that take place between organisms in an ecosystem; such an ecological perspective is capable of capturing a more comprehensive picture of the complex and fluid dynamics of a picturebook.

More specifically, this study investigates how words and pictures in a picturebook interact and how the book comes to life in a reading event. The picturebook in question is John Burningham's Time to get out of the bath, Shirley (TGBS), which exemplifies the dissonant quality between the verbal and visual texts and also the disjunction between the facing pages. In order to understand the dynamics between word and pictures in TGBS, a multimodal analysis of the book was carried out using Halliday's Systemic Functional Grammar and Kress & van Leeuwen's Grammar of Visual Design. To gain insights into the way TGBS comes to life in a reading event, think-aloud sessions on the readings of the book were conducted with four primary school children.

The results of the study reveal areas of convergence between the meanings made by the readers and those teased out in the functional analysis of the picturebook text. For instance, both pointed to the book's construction of the two distinct and separate worlds of banal everyday life and that of adventurous fantasy. Furthermore, the distant relationship between the book and the reader constructed by the visual text is mirrored in the actual readers' adoption of a stance of detachment, rather than one of identification with the events and the main characters in TGBS. Conversely, divergence between the textual and reader response analysis also was observed. On the one hand, the distant relationship between the two main characters in TGBS revealed in the textual analysis was not mentioned by the readers. On the other, the readers brought in a wide array of intertextual links which the multimodal analysis missed out.