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7. Indications of implied reader and audience through layout in two New Zealand informational picturebooks

Nicola Daly is a senior lecturer in children’s literature and language learning at the University of Waikato, New Zealand. Her latest book Understanding ourselves and others in a multiliterate world (2018) is co-edited with Libby Limbrick and Pam Dix.

I examine two New Zealand narrative nonfiction picturebooks published to mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage. I analyse the layout to show that this clearly indicates who the implied reader or audience of the books are. The aspects of layout analysed include the ratio of paratextual to narrative text given, the colour, detail and space given to illustrations, the relative text size, and linguistic landscape.

Keywords: implied reader, audience, informational picturebooks, layout, linguistic landscape


Nikola von Merveldt (2018) notes the lack of research in general about nonfiction or informational picturebooks, “given the importance of informational books in general and informational picturebooks in particular in publishing, libraries and schools, it is rather striking that scholarship on the topic is scarce and scattered” (p. 241). Given the ubiquity of nonfiction children’s picturebooks, this is indeed puzzling, and we can only wonder that maybe this is because people have assumed that fact is fact, and there is nothing to analyse. However, we can distinguish informational picturebooks from textbooks because they popularise knowledge, and use pictures to achieve this. Von Merveldt also notes the creativity which can be evident in informational books, perhaps even more so in books which combine story based on fact, with fiction, which is known as narrative nonfiction (also known as creative nonfiction or fact-based storytelling, Narrative non-fiction, 2019). And yet, when the complexity of the ways in which picturebooks present knowledge is acknowledged (von Merveldt, 2018), it is clear that these books are indeed worthy of analysis and research.

In this chapter, I will examine two New Zealand narrative nonfiction picturebooks published in 2018 to mark the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. These were chosen because of their similarity in publishing date and content. Rather than analysing the content of the two stories, I will analyse the layout of these two books to show that the way these picturebooks are laid out gives clear indications of who the implied reader or audience of the books may be. This analysis aims to reveal the complexity of nonfiction picturebooks and their merit for analysis in terms of their textual and illustrative design. I do not argue that these layout and illustration features are separate from the content; I simply aim to explore aspects of nonfiction picturebook design not previously analysed in relation to intended audience. The aspects of layout analysed in this chapter include the ratio of paratextual to narrative text given, the colour, detail and space given to illustrations, the relative text size, and the linguistic landscape of these picturebooks. These areas are examined and discussed in relation to the notion of implied readers (Larkin-Lieffers, 2010) and Audience Design (Bell, 1997; 20107).

The implied reader is the children who the author imagines as they write. Larkin-Lieffers (2010) defines the implied reader as “the author’s conscious and unconscious thoughts of children to create an implied reader” (Larkin-Lieffers, 2010, p. 76). A related sociolinguistic theory is known as Audience Design (Bell, 1997; 20107), which states that we shape the way we use language according to who our audience is, and that the way we adjust our speech tells us something about our own identity in relation to the groups we identify with, the groups we don’t identify with and the people we are communicating with (our interlocuters).

Book Analysed

The two books I will examine in this chapter were both published in 2018 to mark the 125-year anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand. They each tell a story based on the life of a real person involved in the women’s suffrage movement, and embedded in the fictionalised aspects of each story, they each include many factual elements in the front and back matter and scattered throughout each book to different extents.

The first book, Kate Sheppard. Leading the way for women (hereafter referred to as Kate Sheppard) written by Maria Gill and illustrated by Marco Ivančić is the story of the leader of the women’s suffrage movement. The story is about Kate’s family deciding to move from Liverpool to New Zealand after the death of their father. In New Zealand Kate marries, has children, stops wearing a corset and learns to ride a bicycle; and then she hears an American suffragette speaking in a town hall. Kate sets up a temperance society and started to organise petitions to change the electoral legislation so that women can vote. After the failure of the first two petitions, she organises a final monster petition which garners 32,000 signatures, and the first New Zealand women voters participated in the 1893 election on 28 November. She continued writing and advocating for women’s votes for the rest of her life.

Eliza and the White Camellia. A story of suffrage in New Zealand is a bilingual picturebook (hereafter referred to as Eliza) written in English by Debbie McCauley, illustrated by Helen Casey and translated into Māori by Tamati Waaka. It tells the story of seven-year-old Eliza (a real person) whose family had immigrated from England to New Zealand in 1841 where she was born. The narrative in this picturebook is presented in both Te Reo Māori, the indigenous de jure official language of language of New Zealand, and English the dominant but de facto official language of New Zealand. The story begins with Eliza’s father leaving the house to vote in New Zealand’s first general election in 1853. Eliza asks why her mother isn’t also going and is told that women can’t vote. As Eliza grows up and has her own children, the women’s suffrage moment in New Zealand grows, and white camellias are given out to suffrage supporters during the first 1891 petition for women’s suffrage, hence the title for the book. Just two months after a third petition to parliament organised by the leading New Zealand suffragist, Kate Sheppard, in 1893, Eliza and her daughter are able to vote.

While the content of these two informational picturebooks is important, it is given here to provide a context only. In this chapter it is not the facts embedded in these stories, or the literary techniques used to tell the stories which will be analysed; these techniques of course would tell their own story of intended readers or audience. Instead, the focus of this chapter is the exploration of the ways in which information is presented through the layout and typography of text and the features of illustrations, and how these features links to the implied readership or audience of the two books.

Method and Analysis

In the rest of this chapter, I explore the implied readership or audiences for these two informational picturebooks in four ways:

  1. analysing and comparing the ratio of paratextual information given;

  2. analysing and comparing the range of colour and detail used in the illustrations;

  3. examining and comparing the typographical aspects of the main text; and

  4. exploring and describing the Linguistic Landscape of the text layout.


Von Merveldt (2018) states that paratextual information has a strong presence in the informational picturebook, being a defining, if not an essential, feature. Indeed the hybridization of forms which Pappas (2006) states is a strong trend in informational texts in recent years, means that sometimes it is the presence of paratextual information such as author’s notes, bibliographies, photographs, maps, and timelines which identifies the picturebook as being informational. Both of the picturebooks being analysed in this chapter feature a great deal of paratextual information, including maps, timelines, and photographs. These features act to confirm to the readers the accuracy of information presented in the books.

Kate Sheppard has end papers which show a map of Kate’s family’s voyage to New Zealand when her family migrated there in 1855. The back endpaper is another world map in which countries have been given different colours according to when women got the vote (see Fig. 7.1). In the back matter of the book, three doublespreads of paratextual information are given including a glossary of terms used including corset, parliament and telegram; a series of facts entitled ‘Did you know?’; and a timeline of women’s suffrage in New Zealand featuring images of Kate Sheppard and New Zealand’s three female prime ministers.

Figure 7.1

Kate Sheppard. Leading the way for women (2018), by Maria Gill and Marco Ivančić, Scholastic New Zealand.

Reproduced with permission.

The words which are defined in the glossary indicates an audience who are not familiar with corsets or penny farthings or telegrams, again suggesting younger novice readers who may read this book independently. In addition to these word choices for the glossary, the typeface used throughout the paratext of the book is of a size and font which indicates a younger audience may be reading this text. Even on the timeline in the paratext, the typeface never gets smaller than 12 point and is a typeface with long descenders and ascenders, indicating suitability for novice readers (Vanderschantz, 2008). The maps featured as end papers in Kate Sheppard have very little text (see Fig. 7.1) and use clear keys which suggests an audience with not too much experience could interpret the information presented.

Taking into account the size of the typeface, the vocabulary included in the glossary, and the ways in which the maps and timelines are presented, we get a sense of the implied readers or the audience for Kate Sheppard being children with some reading experience who can interpret uncomplicated maps and read glossaries to support understanding of unfamiliar vocabulary. The nature of the maps, the words included in the glossary and the typeface and size used all align with the reader potentially being a confident child of maybe 8–10 years.

The paratextual information in Eliza is also extensive. In addition to sepia reproductions of newspaper cartoons about women’s suffrage from the time of the story, there is some front matter – a poem about suffrage from the White Ribbon (the first newspaper to be owned and operated solely by women published in 1899), and a table of contents – a feature strongly associated with an informational book. It is interesting to note that the items listed in the table of contents are only in the paratextual features of the book with no reference made to the narrative.

The back matter is extensive and covers eight doublespreads, including copies of women’s suffrage petitions, photographs of Eliza’s home, text boxes of, for example, Eliza’s 12 children, excerpts from newspapers, a New Zealand timeline of the life of Eliza and her parents, the women’s suffrage movement in New Zealand and the world suffrage timeline from 1755–2015. There are three pages of activities to make camellias, a suffragist hat, a suffragist sash or bunting, and classroom activities about organising a petition, holding an election campaign, voting, writing poetry and more. There is a suffrage quiz, a glossary, and lastly an index.

The existence of the table of contents referencing the factual paratextual elements of the book, indicate that the narrative is secondary in this book. The inclusion of classroom activities in the paratextual material of the picturebook, also appears to indicate that at least some of the intended readership are classroom teachers. Beckett (2018) explains that many picturebooks indicate their implied crossover audience by means of their paratextual material. The types of words in the glossary include words linked to politics that we might expect an adult to know (election, illegitimate, parliament, petition), and so, as well as classroom teachers, the intended implied reader can also be interpreted to be children, but older children than those implied in Kate Sheppard. This is implied both by the size of the typeface and the lack of words with historical referents such as telegram or corset, found in Kate Sheppard’s glossary. For Eliza, there is, it seems, a dual audience of both child and adult.

Illustrations – colour, detail, and space

Painter (2008) explores and affirms the role of colour in semiotic system of children’s picturebooks. Still thinking about the implied reader or the audience for both of the books being analysed in this chapter, it is worth considering the colour, detail and space given to the illustrations. In Kate Sheppard across the 17 doublespreads which constitutes the body of the book, the illustrations by Marco Ivančić usually take two thirds of the space, with a space for the text created with the use of some Victorian styled decorative lines (see Fig. 7.1). The facial expressions of the characters depicted are clearly shown, and often Kate, the main character, is placed centrally to the page layout (Serafini, 2009: Sipe & Ghiso, 2005). Certainly these full colour images contribute to the meaning imparted by the text. We see period costumes for women, with bustles and hats and scenes from early colonial New Zealand with dirt roads and penny farthings. Through facial expressions we also see how each character feels (Sipe & Ghiso, 2005) and we are introduced to characters not mentioned in the text.

Through the body of Eliza, the narrative is placed in a white panel which takes a third of the page to the far right of each doublespread. The first two thirds of the page (if we are reading left to right) consists of paratextual information, photos, paintings, articles and adverts from newspapers, cartoons and fact boxes. In order to fit this amount of information in, text boxes and framing around images are used. While there is colour in the images associated with the factual two thirds of each doublespread, the illustrations associated with the narrative about Eliza on the right hand are black and white images with the addition of a green accent only (see Fig. 7.2). These illustrations are small and much less detail is given in them. Thus in every way, the factual aspect of Eliza is given more space than the narrative. It is the space which is afforded each element which most emphasises this, but also the range of colour afforded to images.

Figure 7.2

Eliza and the White Camellia. A story of New Zealand suffrage, by Debbie McCauley and Helen Casey, translated by Tamati Waaka, Mauao Publishing.

Reproduced with permission.

The difference between the two books in terms of the colour, detail and space given to illustration on each page indicates that Kate Sheppard privileges full colour image over text, with detailed illustrations bleeding to the edge of the page, inviting the reader to feel fully involved in the actions depicted (Serafini, 2009; Sipe & Ghiso, 2005). Detailed facial expressions also invite emotional connection with the characters illustrated, and the historical costumes and setting give the reader information not supplied textually. While there is a textual mention on opening 3 of ‘her long skirts and many petticoats’ and on opening 5 of ‘her dreaded corset’, no other mention is made of the detailed period costumes worn by the men, women and children featured in the illustrations by Ivancic, nor of the historical buildings and street scenes. Thus the implied audience for Kate Sheppard would appear to be a younger audience who will read a great deal of information from the full colour, detailed, and borderless illustrations. By contrast, Eliza’s audience would appear to be older. Much less space, colour and detail is given in the illustrations accompanying the text. Most space is given to paratextual nonfiction information given across two thirds of the doublespread in a smaller font, thus implying an older audience who will read more of the information than take it from illustration.

Comparative text size

Given that, as Horning (1997) says, ‘Children are surprisingly sensitive to typeface. If they decide it’s too small, they’re likely to reject a book as “too hard”. If they decide it’s too large, they may scoff at a book as babyish’ (1997, p. 5), the size of type is important in deciding who the intended reader or audience is. Comparing the narrative text in the two books analysed in this chapter, it would appear that the intended audience for Eliza with a typeface of 12 point is older than the intended audience for Kate with a 15.5 point font. A study by Abubaker and Lu (2012) indicates that the size of font has an effect on the ability of children to read accurately. While Abubaker and Lu’s (2012) study showed that 10–12 year old children read smaller Arabic script (10 point) less accurately than larger Arabic script (16 point), similar studies of Latin script have not been found. The variation in text size between the two picturebooks analysed in this chapter indicate a differentiation of audience or implied reader.

Linguistic landscapes

As mentioned earlier, Eliza is a bilingual text, featuring both English and Te Reo Māori, the indigenous language of New Zealand and one of its two official languages. In this section I analyse the bilingual text using a sociolinguistic framework I have used to analyse many multilingual picturebooks, called Linguistic Landscape (Landry & Bourhis, 1997). A Linguistic Landscape looks at the way printed language populates public spaces, and this is seen as a measure of the status and vitality of the community associated with the different languages, known as a language’s ethnolinguistic vitality. This approach has previously been used to examine bilingual Spanish-English picturebooks (Daly, 2018), Māori-English picturebooks (Daly, 2016) and multilingual picturebooks with as many as 11 languages on each page (Daly, 2019).

The approach developed for using the Linguistic Landscape approach in picturebooks is as follows (Daly, 2016; 2018; 2019):

  1. The order of languages presented are examined, taking into account the normative order of reading, depending on the script being used, for example, the Latin script is read top to bottom, left to right.

  2. The relative size of the fonts and any other differentiation made between typefaces (e.g., italics, bold) is analysed.

  3. Lastly, information presented in each language is compared to see if it is equal.

If we refer back to Figure 7.2 from Eliza, the first thing to note is that if we follow the convention of reading top to bottom, the English text comes first and the Te Reo Māori text comes second, so English has immediate dominance. However, the font and size of typeface are identical, and so the langauges are afforded equal status both in terms of space on the page and content delivered for the narrative part of this narrative nonfiction picturebook. Interviews I conducted with the authors of bilingual texts featuring Te Reo Māori and English (Daly, 2020) suggest that the reasons for including both Māori and English on the page in books such as these relates to affording a symbolic acknowledgement of the official status of the Māori language in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

The colour of the print for the two languages is also differentiated, the English being in the dominant and normed black typeface, and Māori in purple, a colour associated with the suffragist movement. Dowd Lambert (2017) notes that often different coloured texts can be used to denote the voices of different characters in a book, and here the same principle seems to be applied for different languages. Nonethless, it is English which is given the normed black coloured type.

In terms of space and information, Māori and English are equal on the page; in terms of order and colour, English is given priority. And if we take into account the full text on each page, both narrative and informational, the informational text is only presented in English, and so in fact there is an imbalance in content communicated in each language, supporting the existing language hierarchy (Daly, 2018b) which exists in New Zealand where, despite English not actually being an official language by law (it is de facto), it is the language with the most speakers and dominates most linguistic landscapes in most settings in New Zealand. The inclusion of two languages throughout the narrative of Eliza suggests a New Zealand audience specifically. However, because any text given in Māori is also given fully in English, the intended audience need not speak or read Māori because the text is given fully in English, and all information boxes and paratextual information are given only in English. It would seem that the presence of Te Reo Māori (Māori language) is a symbolic acknowledgement of the indigneous official language of New Zealand.


While the content matter is very similar for these two picturebooks published to celebrate 125 years of women’s suffrage in Aotearoa/New Zealand, it is clear that the two implied audiences for the two publications are distinct. Aside from any content analysis of the stories told, by carefully analysing the layout and space afforded to text and illustration, fact and fiction we can see this distinction.

Kate Sheppard has more dominant and more colourful images, which I suggest implies a younger reader. It uses a larger typeface (15.5 point) also indicating a younger audience (Horning, 1997). The paratextual informational content which supports the informational character of the narrative presented includes simple maps, timelines, and glossaries explaining vocabulary from the era in which the story is set which may not be familiar to a younger audience. While the story is about a famous New Zealander who probably has more salience for an audience of New Zealand readers, there is nothing to limit this audience from also being English speaking from anywhere in the world.

Eliza has smaller text (10.5 point) than that used in Kate Sheppard which is associated with older audiences or readers (Horning, 1997). It also gives very little space to black and white illustrations with a green tint supporting the narrative on each page (only one sixth of the page) in comparison with the copious number of text boxes containing information and facts relating to the story populating two thirds of each doublespread, including letters to the editor, timelines, maps and more. This ratio of more fact than fiction, I would suggest again, implies an older reader or audience, and indeed there is evidence that this picturebook has a dual audience of older children and teachers (Beckett, 2018). In addition, the inclusion of two languages throughout the narrative of the picturebook suggests a New Zealand audience specifically. That audience need not speak or read Māori because the text is given fully in English, and all information boxes and paratextual information are given only in English. But it symbolically represents New Zealand’s indigenous official language on each page alongside the dominant language of New Zealand, English.


So, to conclude, there are many aspects of these two books which point to different intended readers or audiences (Larkin-Lieffers, 2010; Bell, 1984). Firstly, the ratio of informational features to narrative features leans heavily towards the informational in Eliza, where between five and nine paratextual boxes are included on two thirds of each page, and there are eight doublespreads of factual information at the end of the narrative, compared with three doublespreads in the endmatter of Kate, and five notes of factual information (three footnotes and two letters to the editor) are given in the body of the picturebook. The nature of the paratextual information given in Eliza also appears to address a dual audience of older children and teachers.

With respect to illustration, in Kate Sheppard the images are dominant on each page, and if we are to assume that there is an inverse relationship between the dominance of the image and the age of the intended audience, this suggests that a younger audience is intended than for Eliza where the image is placed between text on one third of the page, taking approximately one sixth of the page in total. In addition the larger illustrations in Kate Sheppard have more colour and detail, and again, assuming more colour and detail is indicative of a younger intended audience who may be relying on illustration rather than text due to their developing reading skills, this contrasts with the use of black, white and green only for the Eliza illustrations which would appear to be aimed at an older audience with more advanced reading skills.

Horning (1997) has pointed out that children are particularly sensitive to the typeface in the books they read, with larger text being considered too babyish by older readers. The size of text for the narrative text in Eliza at only 10.5 point is much smaller than the 15.5 point typeface used in Kate Sheppard, also indicating an older audience (Abubaker & Lu, 2012). Lastly, with regard to the Linguistic Landscape of the two picturebooks, one features English language only, thus implying an audience of English language readers; whereas, Eliza gives the narrative information in both Te Reo Māori and English, and the information given in the extensive paratextual parts of the book in English only. Thus we have several implied readers or audiences here. The narrative part of this picturebook could be read by monolingual English or Māori readers, or bilingual readers. Whereas the information available in the extensive paratextual features of this picturebook are only available to an English language audience.

Thus the ways in which these books indicate implied readers, or audiences appear to include several techniques quite outside the content of the stories, but rather linked to layout, typographical, and illustrative features, including Linguistic Landscape. These approaches include the ratio between paratextual information and narrative, as well as the proportion of illustrations, the colours used in illustration, and the space afforded to these illustrations. They also use typeface to indicate the age of implied readers, and in the bilingual book, Eliza, order and information given in different languages are used to indicate the linguistic repertoire of the implied readership.


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