Multimodal children’s books

We’ve had a lot of requests recently from students for recommendations of multimodal children’s books. There has been a bit of hesitancy over what makes a book ‘multimodal’; possibly because it actually covers a broader range of books than people first think. The ‘multi’ part of the term is not a problem; multiple, more than one, therefore multimodal means having multiple modes. But what are modes? Modes (in this context) are simply ways of communicating or representing meaning. So multimodal books are those which use multiple ways to communicate meaning to the reader. How the reader chooses to interpret these depends on the knowledge and experience they bring to the text themselves. In this way there can be multiple ways of reading the same book.

To put that into context, let’s look at 4 books which can be considered multimodal:


1. Naughty Bus by Jan Oke (Little Knowall)

Image result for naughty bus jan oke Image result for naughty bus jan oke

What makes this a multimodal book?


  • As well as the words of the story and accompanying photographs, this book uses typesetting (the composition of text) to convey meaning
  • The way the words are written provide the reader with more information about the meaning of the words. Here the reader may choose to interpret the shape of the words above to mean the roads are bumpy because the letters have been jostled about like passengers in a car on a bumpy road. Or are the letters shaky because the bus is scared of the dinosaur?
  • Meaning can also be communicated to the reader through the size, colour, font, or placement of the words (e.g.  a sudden switch to large letters may indicate shouting, whilst red letters may convey anger)

Other books that do this:


2.  Is There a Dog in This Book? By Viviane Schwarz (Walker Books)

Image result for is there a dog in this book Image result for is there a dog in this book

What makes this a multimodal book?


  • It directly addresses the reader (“Help us find our doggy!”) and encourages them to be part of the story
  • It invites the reader to physically interact with the story by lifting the flaps to reveal hidden information
  • The reader chooses the extent and order of their interaction. Do they open all of the flaps or just some, and do they go left to right or biggest to smallest for example? Or do they go straight for a low cupboard because their own dog likes to hide in a similar one at home? They may even talk back to the book; “Yes, I’ll help you! Maybe the dog is in this cupboard?”

Other books that do this:


3. This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Walker Books)

Image result for this is not my hat jon klassen book Image result for this is not my hat jon klassen book

What makes this a multimodal book?


  • The pictures in this book carry more information pertinent to the story than the printed text
  • In This is Not My Hat,  the images convey a different/conflicting story to the reader than the text
  • The reader, if they choose to ‘read’ the pictures as well as the text, may interpret the position of the hat-owner’s eye to indicate that he does actually notice that the hat is gone thank you very much! The reader is then made part of the ‘secret’ story.

Other books that do this:


4. Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett (Macmillan)

Image result for meerkat mail book


What makes this a multimodal book?


  • This book conveys meaning to the reader through multiple perspectives.
  • In Meerkat Mail, there is information contained in the standard text of the story, but also in letters and postcards, blackboards, newspaper reports, travel documents, photo albums, luggage labels, and the cover and endpapers. Other books may use elements such as comic strips, lists, or sets of instructions in a similar way.
  • The reader can choose to make meaning from these elements in various combinations; reading is then performed in a non-linear sequence as the reader chooses in which order to read. Some readers may choose to go back and forth to the photo albums throughout the story for example.

Other books that do this:


For further multimodal book recommendations, see the booklist on the Curriculum Centre catalogue here

I referred to an excellent article on multimodal books from The Reading Teacher journal (2009 Vol. 63 Issue 4) when researching this post and would recommend it for further guidance on the topic:

Theories and Practices of Multimodal Education: The Instructional Dynamics of Picture Books and Primary Classrooms by Dawnene D. Hassett and Jen Scott Curwood

2 thoughts on “Multimodal children’s books

  1. an excellent summary and will be very helpful for all who want to know and identify multimodal texts. We may not have know we were already using them!

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