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‘Herbert and Harry’ by Pamela Allen Essay

The genre of picture books is predominantly aimed at younger readers and often referred to as children’s books. Herbert & Harry is a children’s picture book, written by Pamela Allen in 1986, which tells the story of two brothers who have a falling out over treasure they found. It is a picture book which not only tells a story but which possesses moralistic values and ideologies through the story. Together with the written aspects of the text the illustrations fulfil an important role in the message this book expresses. These two main features of any picture book are, quite obviously, what works on the reader to get a certain view across. Picture books are a great way of getting a message to children. Along with other resources and mediums children, in their early learning years tend to do a lot of reading of such books, this provides an effective tool to convey moral and ethical messages to young readers.

It would however, be incorrect to state that all children appreciate the same messages through picture books, for some young students may not appreciate a message at all. In this specific picture book the message is perhaps a little more obvious. While the story does not distinctly state that money does not make you happy, it does state that you can be happy without money, or treasure in Herbert & Harry’s case. Herbert and Harry are brothers who do everything together, happily, one day however they stumble across treasure which Herbert chooses over his brother, this leads onto their parting, while Herbert struggles to hide and guard the treasure he becomes miserable and tired, “Harry, who had not treasure, has always been able to sleep soundly.”(Allen, 1986) This quote sums up the message in the story and is accompanied by an illustration which shows just how happy Harry is without money. The use of these tools is what makes the reader think and feel what the author is attempting convey. The narration of the visual and verbal texts plays a significant part in the affect the picture book has on the reader.

The verbal element this text is very important in analysing what the affect on the reader is. A picture book can use many different tools when writing the words to try and express a certain view or value. In the instance of Herbert & Harry, the words “they”, “same” and “together” (Allen, 1986) are used quite frequently in the first few pages. This repetitive use of these words drums home the idea that the brothers did everything together. While quite insignificant by itself, this message adds a great depth to the final conclusion of the book. The names given to the characters are also important factors.

Herbert and Harry are quite similar, which gives the reader the impression that these brothers are pretty much the same people. Through out the story the verbal text turns its focus on each brother separately; this could perhaps show us that the characters have parted and that perhaps they are not the same person any longer. While fighting over the treasure, Herbert says; “This treasure is mine,” “I pulled it up” (Allen, 1986) while Harry says, “I chose this place to cast our net” (Allen, 1986). The use of ‘our net’ perhaps says to the reader that Harry is a little more selfless than Herbert is, this could encourage the reader to agree that Herbert is acting selfishly.

Another difference can be found in the intended tone they use. Where Herbert “shouted” (Allen, 1986), Harry simply “said” (Allen, 1986) suggesting that Herbert has spoken with more aggression than Harry did. The fact that “Harry was a strong swimmer and managed to get safely home” (Allen, 1986) could propose that, through the use of the word safely, Herbert had put Harry in danger when he pushed him overboard. This is may be where text starts persuading the reader to dislike one character, Herbert. It could also be said that the word ‘home’ in this sentence was deliberately placed there to reiterate that that’s where Harry was going; “safely home.” “Herbert rowed the treasure as fast as he could…until he reached a lonely stretch of coast.” The word lonely plays a key role in this quote and ultimately the rest of the picture book. It sets the scene for where Herbert is for the remainder of the story. Alone and lonely.

Promoting the reader to recognise that the character is alone on his stretch of coast, alone “as far away from Harry as possible.” (Allen, 1986). The author has used repetition in a lot of the verbal text in the story. “The land got emptier and emptier” and “the treasure got heavier and heavier” (Allen, 1986), are examples of this. Repetition enables the author to emphasize a feeling for the reader to understand just how, in this case, empty the land is and how heavy the treasure is. It is a tool that is used to stress a point. Another example of repetition in this story is where Herbert began to chip the rock in order to hide the treasure, “Chip chip, chip chip, chip chip, chip chip, went Herbert.” (Allen, 1986).

This could suggest that while Herbert does have the treasure and it would seem that he had beaten Harry, in fact it has been more than hard work maintaining the treasure, and perhaps not so fun either. This could be the moral of the story. Allen uses many different tools to stress this point through the use of the verbal and visual texts in the picture book. In the final stages of the story the author has uses contrast to weight the values incorporated into the story. “While Harry, who had no treasure, has always been able to sleep soundly.” This quote ties together the idea that money and in this case treasure, will not always make you happy, in fact one can be happy without it. This use of contrast enables the reader to explore the story and the values within it more objectively.

The verbal text can influence a reader just as much as the pictures or visual text of a book, and normally one will reinforce the other. The pictures in this book are notably significant when assessing the author’s presumed intention. There are several significant illustrations which, combined with the verbal text not only tell the story but reinforce the values which the author is expressing. Children’s books often use the pictures to present a certain moral standing, “their shape [pictures], their style, their composition are also means of conveying information about how viewers are being invited to respond to the story.” (Nodelman et al, 2003), this children’s picture book, and it’s pictures are no different. In the beginning of the story when we are invited to believe that the brothers are equal, the pictures reiterate this.

The brothers look the same, apart from the colour of their clothes they are identical. Perhaps it is this that prompts the reader to show no favoring toward any brother; this however is encouraged later in the story when the pictures start to change. In the beginning of the story the pictures reflect happiness, the brothers are smiling, one could even point out that while fishing together from the same boat, the fish they have caught are even smiling. This is not the case however after they have their falling out over the treasure. Once the story begins to tell of Herbert’s struggle with the treasure and its hiding the illustrations seem to have zoomed out. Where Harry and Herbert were once the largest focus in the pictures herbert has now got smaller in comparison to his surrounding mountainous terrain “Characters depicted as small shapes surrounded by forests or large empty rooms seem threatened or lost. If the figure of the character were enlarged so that it filled the space, the same figure would seem much less bleak.” (Nodelman et al, 2003).

In all of the illustrations of Herbert without Harry he is depicted small, and is in fact surrounded by seemingly empty mountains. This recapitulates the feeling given by the verbal text, that Herbert is alone and threatened “what if someone had followed him and stole the treasure while he slept?” (Allen, 1986). The sentiment of the book so far is that Herbert is not having a good time hiding his treasure and being all alone. His size in the illustrations is somewhat proof of this. Barren colours were used in most all of these pictures, perhaps representing a lack of life and vibrancy. The stark contrast between not only the words, on the last two pages of the book coincide with the overall feeling of the book. On one side, there is a picture of Herbert, in his fort, amoungst the mountains, seemingly skinny, bored, and tired, and on the other page, Harry, plump, happy, warm and surrounded by children, presumably grandchildren.

This contrast in similar fashion as the words expresses the differences their lives have taken. Harry with a smile on his face seems happy and fulfilled, yet Herbert, who has the treasure is alone, small and tired “But still, he cannot sleep.” (Allen, 1986). This use of comparison and opposition echos the view that treasure is not worth the lengths Herbert went to for, and that one can be happy and fulfilled without it. Another question raised with these last two pictures, is perhaps that the reason Herbert could not sleep was not in fact that he was worried about his treasure but maybe he found it hard to sleep because he was alone and didn’t have a family that we see Harry has.

Picture books are quite unique as far as story telling goes, not only do they use verbal text but visual ones as well. Without words the picture would seem incomplete or perhaps tell a slightly different story, the same with the words. It is the special relationship between the two that tell the story to its fullest. A combination of the two that give the author the opportunity to express the views and values intended “the pictures focus attention on specific aspects of the words and cause viewers to interpret them in specific ways.” (Nodelman et al, 2003). A junction of the two aspects of any picture book, the visual and the verbal text allow for the interpretation of any moral, or ideological message within a story.

REFERENCES

Allen, Pamela, HERBERT & HARRY, 1986, Melbourne, Nelson Publishers

Nodelman, P and Reimer, M, ‘Picture Books’, from THE PLEASURES OF CHILDRENS LITERATURE, 3rd ed, 2003, Boston, Allyn & Bacon, pp. 274-301


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