Reviews 2017

Jedna priča – dva pripovjedača: slikovnica kao pripovjed [One Story - Two Narrators: The Picturebook as Narrative]

Jedna priča – dva pripovjedača: slikovnica kao pripovjed [One Story - Two Narrators: The Picturebook as Narrative]. Smiljana Narančić Kovač. Zagreb: ArTresor naklada, 2015. 447 pages. HRK 360,00 (hardback).

With her latest publication, Senior Assistant and Research Associate at the Faculty of Teacher Education in Zagreb Smiljana Narančić Kovač definitively confirms her status as the leading Croatian expert on picturebooks. Based on her doctoral dissertation, the monograph Jedna priča – dva pripovjedača: slikovnica kao pripovijed (One Story – Two Narrators: The Picturebook as Narrative) is in many ways a pioneering work of Croatian scholarship. Not only is it the first theoretical examination of the picturebook written in Croatian, but also the first to consider its subject – previously almost exclusively confined to the realm of pedagogical and educational research – through a theoretical, humanities-based lens.

The main focus of the study is the narrative picturebook, specifically its semantic structure and means of narrative communication. Narrative perspective is accorded special attention and inspires the most novel and original claim of the study. Namely, Narančić Kovač challenges the widely-held belief that the picturebook has a single, verbal narrator, suggesting instead that the story is actually told by two distinct narrators – one verbal, the other visual. The majority of scholarly writings insists on the existence of two separate stories in the picturebook, especially in cases when the information conveyed by the verbal and visual text differ significantly (e.g. in Pat Hutchins’s Rosie’s Walk, 1968) or stand in opposition to each other (Satoshi Kitamura’s Lily Takes a Walk, 1987). Narančić Kovač claims that this is not the case: on the contrary, the story is one and the same, but the perspectives from which it is told differ. Furthermore, the existing literature recognizes only the verbal narrator, largely overlooking the possibility of multiple narrators/discourses in the picturebook. In contrast, Narančić Kovač argues for the existence of both a verbal and a visual narrator, which work together to create "the narrative’s multiplicity of meaning" (123; all translations are mine).

Informed primarily by (intermedial) narratology and semiotic theory, the research presented in Narančić Kovač’s study encompasses an extensive corpus of around 140 contemporary English and (to a lesser extent) Croatian narrative picturebooks. The book is divided into eight chapters, followed by a bibliography, alphabetical list of analysed picturebooks and a lengthy summary in English. The first, introductory, chapter describes the subject of the research – the picturebook – as a literary work situated "at the intersection of verbal and visual art" (8), characterized by its dual discourse, length and implied readership (usually children). The chapter also presents the threefold aim of the research: 1) to establish a (narratological) theoretical model of the narrative picturebook; 2) to explore the relationship between the two narrators and the characteristics of each of the two discourses; and 3) to examine the manifestations of different narrative perspectives and the strategies employed to communicate them.

The following two chapters provide a comprehensive overview of literature on narratology (Chapter two) and picturebooks (Chapter three). Chapter two also presents the theoretical and methodological framework of the present research (with special emphasis on the works of Gérard Genette and Seymour Chatman) and defines the relevant terminology. The author consistently reflects on Croatian translations of key terms (especially "narrative") and their (in)appropriateness. In addition to international research, special attention in Chapter three is dedicated to the (still modest) study of picturebooks in Croatia, from their first, brief mention in a scholarly text (Milan Crnković’s Dječja književnost/Children’s Literature, 1967), through the influential collection Kakva je knjiga slikovnica? (What Kind of Book is a Picturebook?, 2000) edited by Ranka Javor, until today.

Chapter four proposes a theoretical model of the picturebook and presents the previously mentioned central claim about the existence of two narrators, which are further described in Chapter six. Chapter five discusses the fundamental differences (predicated on the different media to which they belong) between the visual (polyphonic, multilinear) and verbal (sequential, linear) discourse of the picturebook, the different strategies they use and how they affect the reading process. The chapter also considers picturebooks in which the two discourses are intertwined. However, as Narančić Kovač argues, even in cases when they overlap or merge, the two discourses retain their specific traits and remain separate in the reading process. The picturebook discourse is therefore always double rather than dual (211).

The differences and similarities between the two narrators of the picturebook are the topic of Chapter six. Depending on the narrator, the author distinguishes between the following types of picturebooks: 1) picturebooks featuring only extradiegetic narrators (further divided depending on the hetero- or homodiegetic nature of the narrator, narrative strategies, focalisation, etc.); 2) picturebooks featuring intradiegetic narrators (differentiated depending on the type of story insertion); and 3) wordless picturebooks and picturebooks with few words, in which the verbal narrator is supplanted by readers’ verbalization. Chapter seven expands the discussion on narrators to include other participants in the communication process (real/implied author/reader) and reflects on the applicability of the narrative communication model to the theoretical model of the picturebook, while Chapter eight provides a summary of the main results and findings.

Throughout the book, the picturebook is examined in relation to other media, such as film, comic books and illustrated books, in order to establish its distinctive, unique features. The main results of each chapter are graphically presented in the form of graphs and tables, which – coupled with the exhaustive overview of literature and accessible theoretical discussions and analyses – make the book a valuable resource for university students and other novice readers interested in picturebooks. Its novel and well-argued ideas are sure to draw the attention of scholars working in the fields of picturebook, children’s literature and media studies, and other related disciplines. Ultimately, this innovative and stimulating monograph succeeds in addressing and, to a large extent, filling the gap between narratology and picturebook studies identified in Chapter three, and as such is more than likely to become the starting point for future research.

Nada Kujundžić
University of Turku, Finland
University of Zagreb, Croatia