An image is a concrete concept, not an abstract one.
It doesn’t require much from the viewer to decipher its meaning.
Just a pair of eyes.
Culturally, we could misinterpret images, of course.
But we’ll still ‘get’ it much easier than if it were a word, for which we need to learn how to read, a dictionary to translate it if the word is foreign (even learn how to use a dictionary), and, again, a context (cultural or other) in which to grasp its intended meaning.
It’s easy for kids to decipher images, illustrations.
Kids can’t read, so images come in handy when we want to introduce new vocabulary, especially to toddlers.
Kids understand when the illustration shows kids with ‘sad’ and ‘scared’ faces thrown in a pool of water and a woman above them spitting fire (see image below).
I was tidying up my kids’ mini library yesterday. It contains so many books, classical stories, modern stories about airplanes and firefighters, books in Bulgarian, books in English, French rhymes books, colour books, books for counting, books for shapes, books inherited from my kids’ cousins.
Some were old.
And others were odd.
Mainly because of their illustrations.
I read some of them, checked the pictures of some others and piled those ‘weird’ few on the side.
To toss or not to toss them, I wondered?
This is how my argument for this dilemma went.
…I certainly don’t want to spoil my kids and read to them stories about princesses and richness only, but throwing kids to the crocodiles? Isn’t it a little too far?
Wait a minute. I demurred.
Poisoning them with apples, turning them into birds, or cooking them to be eaten, isn’t any more innocent than the Hot Pepper woman story in the image above.
Yes, but at least, the images from Snow White, The Wild Swans, and Hansel and Gretel, aren’t as ‘legible’ to kids. (At least from the illustrations of our editions at home).
I thought about these images (above) and the images portrayed on TV, in video games, in movies, like Batman, the Dark Knight Rises. (For the latter, with the memory of the recent horror in Colorado.)
There are so many studies conducted on the subject of media and violence in children.
There is no unanimous agreement among them that media consumption leads to more violent kids.
Yet, all of them find that a correlation exists.
I have my own presentiment as to why we can’t blame it on media portrayals of violence for the violent outbursts of our children.
It is not media alone.
Media – the Hot Pepper Queen, the Joker from Batman – aren’t the cause of our evil.
Our motives are.
As one of my favourite authors, a psychologist and a Harvard professor, Robert Coles follows in one of his books “The moral life of children”, kids will pick who the good guy is in the story.
They will want to aspire to the good guy, the hero.
The way my son looks up to Fireman Sam and sings his made-up song, “I’m flying the helicopter to save the children from fires” (direct quote).
We are born with a moral code which helps us distinguish the good from the evil.
But then our surrounding environment and the reality presenting real life to us complicates our way of accepting or rejecting this good and evil.
Meaning that, if a kid witnesses the murder of his parents, while no “Fireman Sam” comes to the rescue, what would he make of these heroes and the hope for good?
Of course, that will never justify him murdering in return, but the moral understanding of good and evil is already corrupted in his little head.
And all the while, that same kid may have never even heard of the Joker or seen images of the Hot Pepper Queen, Cruella Deville, or the devil himself.
The reality, in which some kids grow up, are much harsher than any frightening fairytale could ever tell or an image could depict.
The difference is that fairytales always end well, besides that they are fictional.
But what about the horrible reality in which millions of kids around the world live in – those who deal with rape, murder, molestation, maiming, before they have even learned to read?
That puts the silly illustrations into perspective.
I think, I’ll keep the pile of odd books after all.