Exploring Pictures in Picture books – Mat Tobin — June 27, 2020

Exploring Pictures in Picture books – Mat Tobin

A couple of weeks ago Mat Tobin (@Mat_at_Brookes) did a zoom CPD exploring pictures in picture books. And I was fascinated. I never realised how much depth and meaning was in an illustration in a children’s book. I realised that the images portrayed the story, but it goes a lot deeper than that.

The location of the character. The size of the character. The frame around the image. All have an impact on how the reader perceives the story and the emotions linked to it.

I’m not going to discuss every aspect in the zoom, but I will pick out some key aspects within the discussion.

Position and size

If a character is on the left hand side of the page, it shows that the character is starting a journey. It evokes feelings of safety and comfort. If a character is on the right side of the page looking to the left or moving towards the left it shows that they are finishing their journey and returning home.

Perspective and viewpoints

If the character is looking at you, the reader, it shows that they are inviting you on the journey with them. If you can’t see their face, it is an invitation to think about their feelings. When reading picture books, often we understand how the character is feeling by looking at the illustrations and the emotions portrayed on their face. When you can’t see their far, it puts the reader on edge, as they are unable to see the emotions portrayed.


If there is a thin frame around the illustration, it invites you to observe as an outsider. It is like looking through a window, you can see what is happening, but you are not part of the action. If the image is breaking free from the frame it suggests that the character is escaping or is liberated.


Colours are well known to be linked to emotions, and this is no different in illustrations in picture books. Bright colours in an illustration suggests that the story or character is joyful, whereas dull colours suggest that there is sadness.

Illustrations in picture books are very powerful and can be analysed as much as the words can be. Even more so, when you are reading a wordless or pure picture book where the story relies on the images.

I never realised quite how powerful and impactful illustrations could be, I will never look at a picture book the same.