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Saturday 2 September 2023

Picture Books for Older Readers : Insights into Endpapers

A previous post reviewed the exciting new database Picture Books for Older Readers produced by the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature (NCACL). This week, Dr Belle Alderman AM, a Director at the Centre, hones in on the contribution of endpapers and how they contribute to the literary engagement and interpretation of sophisticated picture books. Read on to discover how endpapers play an integral role in the storytelling process and also witness the breadth of search possibilities in the database.

On the 30th of June 2023, the NCACL launched its adventurous new database, Picture Books for Older Readers (PBOR). The accompanying flyer, Champions Picture Books for Older Readers, describes these books’ characteristics, how they might be used and their potential audience. 

Some consider picture books are for pre-readers and developing readers. Not necessarily so! Fans of picture books know that the audience is much wider. Firstly, consider what these books are about. Here are a few of the over 300 PBOR searchable subjects in this database: anxiety, betrayal, death, detention centres, environmental destruction, grief, homelessness, refugees and war. These are not your usual fare for young readers. Secondly, the jacket covers, and particularly endpapers, frequently suggest sophisticated, multiple interpretations. It is possible to easily find such discussion.

One exceptional and often under-utilised feature of the PBOR is the long search bar at the top of each web page of jackets. It says, ‘Search by Title and Annotation’. This enables searching for particular words thus diving deeply into annotations for this collection. The annotations are typically 250-350 words in length. They astutely capture the essence of each book in content, intent, style, design and art, including endpapers. 

This targeted ‘free text’ search resembles lateral thinking. The search is capable of illuminating deeper meanings and drawing comparisons between seemingly different but possibly similar concepts. To illustrate this point, a search for the word ‘endpapers’ on the PBOR retrieves 77 books. 

What, for example, might we glean from reading about endpapers in just of few of these 77 books? Such endpapers might, for example:

  • hint at a story deeper than the words alone convey;
  • engage the reader in understanding the story in a certain way;
  • contradict the story and suggest a different meaning;
  • resolve, interpret or open a new way to understand the story; and
  • offer an alternate interpretation of the images. 

There is an additional consideration when working with PBORs. Adults will recognise that a young person’s ability to think laterally can offer different interpretations than those made by adults. Below are 10 books chosen from the 77 results from the ‘endpaper’ search, including a brief excerpt from each annotation. Such annotations lead readers to consider just some of the rich interpretations possible through studying endpapers. 

10 Titles Featuring a Brief Discussion of Endpapers


Abela, Deborah. Wolfie: An Unlikely Hero. Illustrated by Connah Brecon. Penguin Random House Australia, 2017.

The endpapers feature snippets of iconic images from well-known fairy tales encouraging readers to remember their favourites. Hunting for the many visual jokes in Brecon’s illustrations adds immensely to this fast-paced, humorous romp through familiar fairy tale worlds.’ From the annotation

Barbalet, Margaret. The Wolf.  Illustrated by Jane Tanner. Viking Penguin Books Australia, 1991.

‘The Wolf’ is a modern gothic tale about confronting fear. ‘The Wolf’ was one of the first picture books for older readers published in Australia. Its use of visual symbols and metaphors make it a valuable tool for demonstrating visual literacy and understanding literary techniques.’ (From the annotation)

Base, Graeme. The Worst Band in the Universe. Viking, 1999.

‘The front endpapers provide a three-dimensional style map of these worlds, and Base’s trademark intricate and eyepopping details fill out this invented universe.’ (From the annotation)

Clarke, Maxine Beneba. When we say Black Lives Matter. Lothian Children’s Books, 2020.

‘The message of this book is strong, but not too strident although it is necessarily political. The endpapers offer a montage of artwork reflecting protests.’ (From the annotation)

Hathorn, Libby. Way Home. Illustrated by Gregory Rogers. Random House, 1994. 

‘The endpapers appear as crumpled grey paper followed by pages of charcoal and pastel drawings in muted grey, dark green and terra cotta. These crumpled paper endpapers foreshadows both the theme of the story and the way in which street people are ‘thrown away’ by society.’ (From the annotation and Lawrence Sipe and Caroline E McGuire, 2006)

Huxley, Dee, Oliver Huxley & Tiffany Huxley. My Brother. Illustrated by Dee Huxley. Working Title Press, 2016.

‘The endpapers guide the reader’s emotional response from beginning to end. Initial endpapers are light yellow with a bird flying in the bottom right corner, perhaps searching. The back endpapers are a brilliant yellow with orange paint splotches giving warmth and serenity’. (From the annotation)

Rawlins, Donna. Waves: For Those Who Come Across the Sea. Illustrated by Mark Jackson and Heather Potter, Black Dog Books, 2018.

‘The book’s design, particularly the use of the endpapers, gives a clear dateline of the various stories and is a clever and original lead into the book.’ (From the annotation)

Sworder, Zeno. My Strange Shrinking Parents. Thames & Hudson Australia, 2022.

‘The endpapers are exquisite, filled with drawings of a large variety of teapots giving a sense of hearth and home as a place of love and comfort.’ (From the annotation)

Watkins, Ross. One Photo. Illustrated by Liz Anelli. Penguin/Viking, 2016.

‘The endpapers are particularly significant. The front pages are filled with family photographs from earlier times while the back endpapers’ photographs refer to their life after the loss.’ (From the annotation)

Wild, Margaret. Woolvs in the Sitee. Illustrated by Anne Spudvillas. Penguin 2006.

‘The cover and endpapers of ‘Woolvs in the Sitee’ are arresting and immediately engage the viewer. There is the title to ponder, a haunting jacket cover one liner — ‘they spare no won’ — plus endpapers that feature a scribbled animal in grey on glossy black. Prepare to wonder and question what this story is about as no answers are given and many interpretations are possible’. (From the annotation)

This small sample of titles in the PBOR database reveals that endpapers offer additional interpretations of stories. Endpapers tell their own stories just as people of all ages will have their own interpretations of these. This overview of one aspect of the PBOR—endpapers—is designed to provoke all ages to see, read and interpret picture books for older readers in perhaps new and unanticipated ways. 


CBC New England Northwest Sub-branch. (2020, April 20). Booked in! 2020: Endpapers in children’s books, a selection.


Lamond, M. (2018, April 17). Endpapers: Gateways rather than pathways into picture books.


Sipe, L. & McGuire, C.E. (2007, November 7). Picturebook endpapers: Resources for literary and aesthetic interpretation. University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education 


(highly recommended reading)

Staake, B. & Held, K. (n.d.). The art of the end: A visual celebration of the book endpaper.


Parsons, G. (200, August 3). Under the covers: The unique story of the endpaper in picture books. Picture Book Den: Passionate about Picture Books.


By Dr Belle Alderman AM

Director, National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature Inc

1 comment:

  1. I shared this with our staff who are studying Picture Books for Older Readers with their Older Reader students. Sometimes there is so much additional information in the end papers, whilst not being integral to the story, certainly enhances the experience.