I. Pinto1, A. Carvalho2

This paper addresses the functional relationship between children’s plays and the illustrations accompanying them in a corresponding book edition, in terms of its consequences for reading skills and didactic paths to be explored at school. Although we take a specific genre of texts as case study, we aim at enlightening some aspects of the discussion around the more general dynamics between text, illustrations and child reader (Fang 1996; Nicholas 2007; Jalilehvand 2012).

In the case of children’s plays, illustrations can be interpreted and used as leading clues to a first mise-en-scène imagined by the reader. The reader, by a well oriented effort of imagination, will thus articulate the different elements depicted to compose the scenery, and to entail the interaction between characters on a stage, filled with light and sound, even if only imagined. In this way, the plot will be set in motion, i.e. developing in synchrony with the reading (Pinto 2009). This role of illustration acquires special relevance when applied to stage 1, 2 and 3 of reading development (Indrisano & Chall 1995).

At the present time, the lack of children’s plays with illustrations comes as an unpleasant market surprise, for they are quite hard to find even at the main bookstores. Looking from a historical perspective, one is keen to remember the first edition of Comédies et Proverbes, by Comtesse de Ségur, in 1865, profusely illustrated by Émile-Antoine Bayard. In the book, the illustrations show important scenes of the plays, and they tend to underline the expressions, feelings and states of mind of the characters. They help contextualizing the dialogues, mainly in terms of space, and how characters behave when sharing it. In fact, one of the major goals of Émile-Antoine Bayard seems to have been capturing the characters interrelations, reinforcing detail in what concerns the physicality of their active body, i.e. the embodiment they are capable of.

Baring this in mind, we have selected three Portuguese children’s plays, with illustrations, used at different learning levels: Teatro às Três Pancadas [Theatre with Three Punches] (2003), by António Torrado, read at the 4th year of primary school; O Príncipe Nabo [The Turnip Prince] (2000), by Ilse Losa, read at the 5th year of the second cycle; and Os Piratas [The Pirates] (1997), by Manuel António Pina, read at the 6th year of the second cycle (in this case, ‘illustrations’ refers to scenery and costume sketches). As pointed out before, in these plays the illustrations, quite different from one another, help the reader transposing the plot to the world of theatre, promoting an embodiment of the text well beyond the typical relation with the written page (Pinto 2009), sustaining many advantages for textual comprehension and interpretation. In other words, illustrations maximize the effect of a text claiming for scenic consequences and accomplishments.

Hence we will present didactic approaches of this corpus, arguing for the relevance of this specific kind of book for initial readers or readers in seek of learning new information (stages 1, 2 and 3 of reading development), on the basis that a first form of embodiment occurs during the reading, determining the reader’s rate of engagement with the written text, as he searches for an interpretation of its own.