Anno, Mitsumasa 1926–

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Mitsumasa Anno


Japanese author and illustrator of picture books.

The following entry presents an overview of Anno's career through 2006. For further information on his life and career, see CLR, Volumes 2 and 14.


Anno has been praised as one of the most original and accomplished picture book authors and illustrators in the field of children's literature. Using pen-and-ink and watercolor, as well as collage and woodcuts, Anno is known for creating highly detailed illustrations that display his love of mathematics and science, as well as his interest and appreciation for foreign cultures. His drawings, which have been compared to those of Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher, abound with visual trickery and illusions, and also display the artist's playful sense of humor. Many of Anno's books contain hidden jokes and pranks which are intended to amuse and lead readers into imaginative thinking about numbers, counting, the alphabet, or more complex concepts involving time and space. Addressing readers of various levels of sophistication, Anno's books appeal to both children and adults, and his universal approach has made him popular around the world. He has received numerous awards, including the Kate Greenaway Award and the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration, the latter awarded every two years for the most outstanding accomplishment in international illustration.


Anno, the son of Yojiro and Shikano Anno, was born on March 20, 1926, in the western mountains of Japan in the isolated community of Tsuwano in Shimane Prefecture. A talented student in the arts at a young age, Anno nonetheless decided to become a teacher and attended the Yamaguchi Teacher Training College. World War II interrupted his plans, however, and he was drafted into the Japanese military. Anno survived the war relatively unscathed and returned to school where he completed his teaching degree in 1948. After moving to Tokyo, he became known as an animated teacher, full of humorous anecdotes and spirit, popular with his students at the primary schools where he taught from 1947 to 1961. Upon his retirement from teaching, he was encouraged by editor Tadashi Matsui at Fukuinkan Shoten publishers to try his hand at children's literature. His efforts resulted in Fushigi na E (1968; Topsy-Turvies: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination), a playful, Escher-inspired collection of little men framed in unlikely and mind-bending positions. The book achieved mild recognition in Japan. However, as Anno recalled in a 2004 interview with Japanese Children's Books: "Since it made the publisher's listings, it happened to catch the eye of editors in the U.S. and France. As a result, it was released in those two countries in 1970. Although this book had originally been published in Japan, it was only after the huge foreign response that it became popular here as well. After my success abroad, I began receiving regular inquiries on what I planned to write next." Over the course of the following decade, he issued five more picture books that crossed over cultural and language barriers. In 1974 his ABC no Hon: hesomagari no afurabatto (Anno's Alphabet: An Adventure in Imagination) was honored with a prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal commendation for achievement in illustration. In 1977 Anno began perhaps his best known series of picture books with Tabi no Ehon, which was released in 1978 to Western markets as Anno's Journey. Based in part on his early travels in Europe in 1963, the book presents an overlay of the cultural history of Europe recorded through painstakingly detailed illustrations of scenes depicting the lives of regular citizens of Northern Europe throughout the centuries. He followed Anno's Journey with four more books chronicling the lives and histories of several Western nations, including Italy, England, and Spain. His personal visits to the United States in 1977 and 1981 resulted in Tabi no Ehon IV (1982; Anno's U.S.A.). In 1985 he received the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration. In appreciation, Anno announced that the sixth book in his "Anno's Journeys" series will be focused on Denmark. During the 1990s, Anno collaborated on two books of poetry featuring the work of his wife's cousin Machio Mado and translated into English by the Empress Michiko of Japan. Today, he lives in Tokyo with his wife of fifty years. He is also the father of two children, his son Masaichiro (who is his co-author on several books) and daughter Seiko.


Stylistically, Anno's picture books feature graphic illustrations of tremendous scope and intelligence. Whether depicting the cultural evolution of a nation or explaining the dynamics of factorials and other mathematical principles, his pictures evoke a greater understanding of how a child's mind operates. While some of his books utilize an ongoing narrative style more typical of most children's literature, such as 1976's Okina Monono Sukina Osama (The King's Flower), most of Anno's publications are more focused on his illustrations, a format that has enabled international audiences to easily embrace his works without any apparent language barrier. Anno's first two picture books reflect his love of playing with visual perception. Topsy-Turvies plays visual tricks with perspective and logic, while Sakasama (1969; Upside-Downers: More Pictures to Stretch the Imagination) contains illustrations that convey different images depending on the angle or direction from which they are viewed. Many of Anno's picture books illustrate abstract mathematical concepts for young readers. Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar (1983), co-written with son Masaichiro, demonstrates the concept of factorials through a series of interconnected illustrations that make the ever-expanding quantities concrete: one island contains two countries, each of which contains three mountains, each mountain being divided into four kingdoms, and so on until ten factorial is reached. Similarly focusing on the mathematical discoveries that have advanced scientific knowledge, Tendo setsu no hon (1979; Anno's Medieval World) chronicles the discovery in medieval Western Europe of the fact that the Earth is a round planet that revolves around the sun.

Anno's popular "Journey" picture books bring readers into the worlds of geography, sociology, and practical applications of education through art and entertainment. Alice Morrison Mordoh has described Tabi no Ehon III (1981; Anno's Britain) as "present-[ing] not only a merging of artistic interpretation with folklife or ethnographic research, but a merging of folklore and literature, and of reality and fantasy. Each page is small journey for the viewer, through dimensions of time and space and contexts of fantasy and reality. Each page is a puzzle and a game, of discovery and identification, as well as a visual pleasure." However, there is also a playful side behind the depth of Anno's text and illustrations. In Mori no Ehon (1977; Anno's Animals) Anno includes a game wherein he asks readers to find animals hidden among his detailed layouts, a task reminiscent of Martin Handford's later Where's Waldo? books, which could be considered one of Anno's stylistic successors. Often he includes small visual prizes hidden in the dense fabric of his illustrations, such as the inclusion of Laurel and Hardy in a crowd or the iconic ducks from Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings in Anno's U.S.A. Anno's illustrations reflect an intense dedication to creating new avenues for instructing his readers, a fact demonstrated by the Japanese Children's Books interview in which Anno reacted to a review for Anno's Alphabet: "But thanks to all the trouble we took in getting this book just right, there was someone who recognized the worth of my book and said, 'ABCs have been in use throughout the ages since Roman times, but never have they been expressed before in three-dimensional form'. This review made me happier than any other words of praise I received for this book. In other words, the reader appreciated the fact that I had succeeded in drawing the alphabet using trompe l'oeil or illusionism. Having someone say 'in a form never expressed before' was an acknowledgement of my originality, so being praised in this way moved me deeply."


Anno's international popularity has been evidenced by his numerous awards and accolades as well as the rare level of support he has received from Western publishers generally not known for their strong support in translating and promoting Asian writers in American and European markets. His unique and pioneering style of graphic illustration has routinely been the most consistently acclaimed aspect of his picture books. Zena Sutherland has called Topsy-Turvies "an amazing collection of improbable constructions filled with impossible perspectives and angles in the watercolor paintings people by tiny figures in ingenious confusion." Anno has also drawn praise for the accessibility of his texts for young readers, particularly since his books often feature potentially confusing abstract concepts. Janet Dawson Hamilton has characterized Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar as a "deceptively simple picture book with meticulously detailed illustrations [that] cleverly introduces the concept of factorials. It begins with a blue jar that contains an island that has two countries, each of which has three mountains, each of which has four kingdoms, and so forth, continuing until the number of items grows to "10 factorial,' or 3,628,800.' The same numbers are then shown with tiny red dots to illustrate the concept in another way." However, Anno's myriad works have also attracted deeper analysis, with several critics asserting that Anno's texts have greater intent behind their deceptively simple format. Kenneth Marantz has argued that Anno attempts to instill more than just facts in Kitsune ga hirotta Gurimu dowa (1991; Anno's Twice-Told Tales: The Fisherman and His Wife and The Four Clever Brothers), asserting that, "Anno continues to inspire readers to become involved in his creative process … Here he raises a question: how do pictures mean?… The juxtaposition of the artist's interpretation of text with the fox's verbal interpretation of the artwork is thought-provoking and cleverly done."


Author and Illustrator

Fushigi na E [Topsy-Turvies: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination] (picture book) 1968
Sakasama [Upside-Downers: More Pictures to Stretch the Imagination; translated by Meredith Weatherby and Suzanne Trumbull] (picture book) 1969
Dr. Anno's Magical Midnight Circus [translated by Meredith Weatherby] (picture book) 1972
ABC no Hon: hesomagari no afurabatto [Anno's Alphabet: An Adventure in Imagination] (picture book) 1974
Kazoetemiyou [Anno's Counting Book] (picture book) 1975
Okina Monono Sukina Osama [The King's Flower] (picture book) 1976
Mori no Ehon [Anno's Animals] (picture book) 1977
Tabi no Ehon [Anno's Journey] (picture book) 1977
Tabi no Ehon II [Anno's Italy] (picture book) 1978
Nippon no uta (picture book) 1979
Tendo setsu no hon [Anno's Medieval World] (picture book) 1979; translated into French as Comment la terre est devenue ronde, 1979
Anno Mitsumasa no Gashu [The Unique World of Mitsumasa Anno: Selected Works (1968–1977)] (picture book) 1980
Mahotsukai no ABC [Anno's Magical ABC: An Anamorphic Alphabet; with Masaichiro Anno] (picture book) 1980
Tabi no Ehon III [Anno's Britain] (picture book) 1981
10-nin no yukai na hikkoshi [Anno's Counting House; with Masaichiro Anno] (picture book) 1981
Tabi no Ehon IV [Anno's U.S.A.] (picture book) 1982
Tsubo no Naka (picture book) 1982
Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar [with Masaichiro Anno] (picture book) 1983
Nomi no Ichi [Anno's Flea Market] (picture book) 1983
Anno's Math Games (picture book) 1987
Anno's Sundial (picture book) 1987
Inai Inai Baa no Ehon [Anno's Peekaboo] (picture book) 1987
In Shadowland (picture book) 1988
Niko Niko Kabocha [Anno's Faces] (picture book) 1988
Anno's Aesop: A Book of Fables by Aesop and Mr. Fox (picture book) 1989
Anno's Math Games II (picture book) 1989
Omen no Ehon [Anno's Masks] (picture book) 1989
Anno's Math Games III (picture book) 1991
Kitsune ga hirotta Gurimu dowa [Anno's Twice-Told Tales: The Fisherman and His Wife and The Four Clever Brothers] (picture book) 1991
Anno's Counting Book Big Book (picture book) 1992
Fushigina tane [Anno's Magic Seeds] (picture book) 1994
Sango jugo (picture book) 1999
Furusato e kaero michi (picture book) 2000
Seishun no Bungotai (picture book) 2003
Tabi no Ehon V [Anno's Spain] (picture book) 2003

As Illustrator

Akai Boshi [Anno's Hat Tricks; written by Akihiro Nozaki] (picture book) 1984
Sanbiki no Kobuta [Socrates and the Three Little Pigs; written by Tsuyoshi Mori] (picture book) 1985
The Animals: Selected Poems [written by Michio Mado; translated by Empress Michiko of Japan] (picture book) 1992
Fushigi na poketto [The Magic Pocket: Selected Poems; written by Michio Mado; translated by Empress Michiko of Japan] (picture book) 1998


Alice Morrison Mordoh (essay date fall 1985)

SOURCE: Mordoh, Alice Morrison. "Folklife in the Work of Mitsumasa Anno." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 10, no. 3 (fall 1985): 104-08.

[In the following essay, Mordoh suggests that Anno's children's works offer an ethnological portrait of folklife born from artistic impression.]

Pioneer America is a journal devoted to the study of material culture and folklife; Pierce Lewis is a geographer. So I was pleasantly surprised, while flipping through a past issue of the journal to discover an article by Lewis on an unlikely subject: "Book, Tube and Picture: Being an Appreciation of Peter Spier's Illustrated Books for Children." Lewis justifies his interest in Spier by suggesting that Spier's "special affection lies with traditional cultural landscapes of the past, mainly near the shores of the North Atlantic" (21). Cultural geography, the study of humankind's imprint on landscapes, is indeed a fitting topic for Pioneer America, and Lewis believes it is a significant element in successful illustration for children by artists as diverse as E. H. Shepherd and N. C. Wyeth: it is the "good geography," I think, that helps convert good art into good illustrations for children. It combines a love of place with a respect for the reader's taste and intelligence, irrespective of the reader's chronological age. The good artist-geographer is trying to tell the truth about the world—not necessarily the literal truth—for it is doubtful whether even the most exact photography can do that. Rather, it is the artist saying, "This is a truthful vision of the world as I see it." (19) Lewis finds Peter Spier's work to be preeminent in such a portrayal of geography, historical cultural geography in particular; in fact Lewis ascribes almost academic credentials to Spier's work: "Any teacher who wanted to show his pupils what a Delaware Valley town looked like on the brink of the Industrial Revolution could hardly do better than direct the students' attention to the paintings in To Market! To Market!"

The idea that an illustrator of children's books might contribute to the fields of cultural geography and folklife intrigued me; I promptly went out and ordered To Market! To Market! and discovered a slice of nineteenth century Delaware depicted as accurately as Lewis suggests. I began to wonder if other contemporary illustrators also portrayed details of past folklife. I found that many do; and I would like to discuss one other illustrator of children's books who specializes in presenting traditional cultural landscapes and folk architecture with admirable accuracy.

Mitsumasa Anno was born in 1926 in Tsuwano, a small historic town in the western part of Japan. He graduated from Yamaguchi Teacher Training College, and then worked as a primary-school teacher before starting his career as an artist. Anno's first visit to Europe in 1963 resulted in the publication of Anno's Journey. Since then he has traveled extensively, and his near reverence for traditional material culture and folklife is evident in his accurate and detailed depiction of it.

In Anno's Journey, a traveler rides a horse through preindustrial northern Europe, traversing farms, villages, towns, and cities. Each page represents a rich slice of the folklife of this area, interjected with Anno's own particular whimsey as he includes details from contrasting centuries and examples from well-known folktales and literature. The traveler first arrives in a rowboat on the coast of Scandinavia, observed by a reindeer standing on the tundra. He passes on horseback through a geographic border area settlement, a farm surrounded by both evergreen and deciduous trees. There is a watermill, a woman washing, another woman carrying buckets with a shoulder yoke. Men are logging and chopping firewood; brushwood is stacked; a woman milks a cow while another winnows grain, and two more women are sickling the harvest. According to Alexander Fenton, the foremost Scottish folklife scholar,

In one form or another, sickles are as old as cultivation itself…. In the Northern Isles [Scotland], a small, half-round sickle with a rather broad, smooth blade is known to have been in use from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, though it is likely to be older and to have been more widespread in the north and west. This, like the toothed sickle, was chiefly, but not exclusively, used by women…. The toothed sickle cut only small bunches at a time, and because of its rasping action, it was easier to cut the stalks low down where they were firmer. For this reason it was especially used by women, who are said to be physiologically better adapted to bending than men. The scythe-hook, however, was a man's tool, used with a slicing motion over a breadth measured by the strength of the arm, or else with a swinging motion called dingin' in, more in the manner of a scythe, which gave 50% more speed.


Anno regularly depicts women sickling while men usually carry scythes, demonstrating a remarkable knowledge of historical agricultural detail.

The traveler in Anno's Journey moves south, and comes to a wine harvest. People are picking grapes; men carry traditional baskets strapped to their backs, and a woman stands and stretches, arching and rubbing her back which aches from bending over. With such a portrayal of a character's aching back, Anno has interjected a human element that is missing in strict ethnography, and he has made a story of his illustration. While his portraits are perhaps unrealistically tidy, Anno displays some of the harsher realities of life, along with the beauty and equilibrium which he clearly perceives existed in the peasant rural lifestyle. In Anno's Britain, for example, there is a tiny house overflowing with one family's numerous children, and in Anno's U.S.A., a poignant representation of a pioneer funeral—and always, people are working, working, working.

In conjunction with the wine harvest in Anno's Journey, a cooper is at work making barrels for the wine, and women bake round loaves of bread laid onto wooden peels, (flat, wooden tools with long handles, used for placing and removing bread, pies, etc. from bake ovens). As usual, children are at play, and Anno accurately portrays their ancient, traditional games; in this illustration, two little girls and a lad play hopscotch. The traditional stone architecture, houses, barns and outbuildings with their storage of wooden carts and wagons and many tools, is also accurate.

Next, the traveler passes through a village complete with small plots of varied crops, perhaps the most striking difference between today's single, cash crop farms and the smaller, family farms of the past: there is a field of grain, one of vegetables, and a grazing green where children play jump rope. A stonemason is at work nearby. Anno demonstrates his accurate knowledge of history and past lifestyle in his constant depiction of the many traditional rural craftsmen at work.

The large number and variety of these specialized craftsmen of the past are startling to the modern inhabitant of the factory age: There were chair bodgers, cloggers, wattle hurdle markers, hoop makers, charcoal burners, thatching spar makers, weavers, thatchers, basket makers, truggers, rake makers, broom squires, gate hurdle makers, brewers, coopers, blacksmiths, farriers, brick makers, potters, stone masons, carpenters, coracle builders, wheelwrights, chair makers, lip-workers, straw plaiters, dry stone wallers, slaters, wool workers, rope makers, net makers, tanners, curriers, saddlers, bootmakers, clogmakers. Few people today are aware of the crucial roles played by so many skilled craftsmen (including women, of course) for thousands of years prior to the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century, and of the many human skills which are now irretrievably lost in history because the last practicing craftsman has died, usually in the mid-twentieth century, and often without even being documented. As two famous modern proponents of such handcraftmanship, Helen and Scott Nearing, once said,

Mankind has worked for ages with hand implements. Machine tools are a novelty, recently introduced into the realm of human experience. There can be no question but that machines have more power than humans. Also there can be no question but that they have watered down or annihilated many of the most ancient, most fascinating and creative human skills, broken up established institutions, pushed masses of "hands" into factories and herded droves of anonymous footloose wanderers from urban slum to urban slum. Only the historian of the future will be able to assess the net effect of the machine age on human character and on man's joy in being and his will to live.


Anno's beautiful depiction of these "old ways" and "old things" (as they were once described to me by a Welsh woman, with her conflicting emotions of pride and disdain) lends them their true dignity, balancing a common stereotype about the "primitive" conditions of life prior to industrialization, and does its small part to preserve this past, without over-romanticizing it.

One scene in Anno's Journey presents the enclosed conclave of a European farmstead, the stone buildings, replete with corner blocks and slate roofs, etched in accurate representation. Close examination here reveals Anno's portrait of a land-owning peasant's general farm: there is a mixture of livestock, including pigs in a pen, chickens being sprinkled seed by a woman, and a small herd of cows being led to the barn by a cowherd. Other hired workers mill about; one man carries a scythe, another a pitchfork, while another transports milk crocks with a horse and cart. Miscellaneous wooden barrels, benches, buckets, troughs, wagons, and a wheelbarrow, stacked and stored grain lie about. Sacks of grain are being transported to the mill and an early tractor plows a field near a vegetable plot where three women in traditional garb try to pull an enormous turnip out of the ground (this is Motif Z49.9, in Stith Thompson's Motif-Index, "Pulling up the turnip," a folktale motif familiar from Slavic and Germanic folklore). Up by the windmill Don Quixote is charging. Move back and view the scene as a whole, and a representational bit of historical folklife is infused with life.

As the traveler moves on through further villages and towns, some traditional half-timber construction appears, and lime-washed mud, clay, and stone cottages with thatched roofs, and even a longhouse, a sort of building once common throughout Europe which housed both a family and its livestock. This is a veritable survey of traditional Western European folk architecture. According to a publisher's note, Anno's Britain was planned "in praise of Britain's countryside"; that comment demonstrates the depth of affection which Anno has for his subject. Britain's vast array of folk architecture is sampled in this book, from the lowly charcoal burner's hut to stone, brick, and slate-roofed farmhouses. Half-timber construction is prominent, and the gentler lines of the small houses produced by traditional cruck construction and thatched roofs, often with thatched gables or hipped roofs, are interspersed amongst the rectangular symmetry of most of Britain's architecture. In one scene, the whole cruck frame of a house is displayed, as men work on it using traditional tools, a saw and a froe, and people nearby cut rushes for the thatching. The cruck frame is among the earliest structural systems, and is believed to be in part imitation of the tent structure of the most rudimentary huts. The poles that were leaned towards each other to support a ridge pole were copied on a much larger scale with the sections of tree trunks or "crucks". In another scene, a thatched roof is being repaired. Anno's depictions of thatched roofs do not show shaggy toadstool heads on squalid hovels, as the popular imagination might suggest; his are finely etched examples of traditional craftsmanship which might last eighty years with minor repairs, as was the reality in most cases.

Across a stream from the cruck house being constructed, men and women are flailing, threshing, and sacking grain near a gypsy cart inhabited by Toad and Rat of Grahame's The Wind in the Willows. In another scene we see more traditional craftsmen at work: a cooper, a wheelwright, a man on a shaving horse or cooper's horse pulling a drawknife, two men using a pit saw. The traveler rides on, passing Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tittlemouse, and Jemima Puddleduck conversing with the fox, and more children at play—four traditional games depicted on one scene.

The traveler passes an apple harvest and cider press, while fairies dance in the woods and Jack climbs his beanstalk. On the next page Jack is fleeing with the hen that lays golden eggs from the giant, not far from

    Tom, Tom the piper's son,
    Stole a pig and away he run!
    The pig was eat, and Tom was beat,
    And Tom went roaring down the street.

The Cheshire Cat Alice meets in Wonderland grins from his perch in a tree while sheep are sheared and the wool is spun by a woman sitting at her spinning wheel (throughout history, spinning has been so closely associated with the female sex that the distaff was an ancient symbol for woman, and hence the derivation of the term "spinster").

In conjunction with the mundane, practical realities of life, Anno interjects the exceptional and fantastical, humankind's literary and folkloric creations, presenting people and culture in all of their richness and variety. Winnie the Pooh and Eeyore play with Christopher Robin next to a hay harvest. Children dance around a Maypole while a peddler comes to town with a laden cart and a cobbler works outside his shop. There is a livestock fair in a small town, predecessor of America's county fair, and, in the city, London Bridge is falling down while, as always, children are at play. Few elements of Great Britain's folklore are neglected; the legendary Loch Ness monster rears its head, the traditional hero Robin Hood demonstrates the long bow, and Scotsmen toss the caber at some Highland Games.

Anno's Britain presents not only a merging of artistic interpretation with folklife or ethnographic research, but a merging of folklore and literature, and of reality and fantasy. Each page is a small journey for the viewer, through dimensions of time and space and contexts of fantasy and reality. Each page is a puzzle and a game, of discovery and identification, as well as a visual pleasure. Perhaps part of the success of Anno's creations lies in his evident affection for his subject; as he says in his "Afterword,"

… I traveled from village to village. The people I met take great pride in their villages, and will protect them against change, particularly against their growing into large cities. They love their countryside and love living there, caring for their surroundings. I discovered that the villages of Britain are the most beautiful in the world.

Anno first visited the United States in 1977 and then in 1981, and produced Anno's U.S.A. in 1983. The journey here begins on the west coast and moves east, producing a curious sensation for Americans, who are so accustomed to considering the United States and its history from the landing of the Pilgrims on the east coast through a progressively westward Manifest Destiny. Twice, early in his journey, the traveler meets Plains Indians riding west. Whether deliberate or not, Anno has accurately implied the white settlers' pushing of Native Americans farther and farther west throughout the nineteenth century.

In some respects it does seem that the publisher's "Afterword" to Anno's U.S.A. is correct in suggesting that "the immense scale of America's geography came as a shock [to Anno], as it often does to newcomers to its shores." In one scene, a Navajo adobe pueblo lies near a Midwestern white frame and a clapboard I house of a sort common in England and in many parts of the U.S., a symmetrical two-story building which is two rooms wide and one room deep, here intended to be Tom Sawyer's home. But Anno's work is not intended to be a strict ethnography; it is an artist's impression and interpretation, and perhaps Anno is expressing here the enormous mass, with its sparse settlements, of much of America. And, again, while obviously fond of the history and geography which he depicts, Anno does not over-romanticize and thus falsify it. His overall impressions, as well as most details, are accurate.

In the New World, wood as a building material replaces the mud, stone, half-timber, and brick construction of Europe. Most of the folk architecture depicted in Anno's U.S.A. is markedly historically accurate, considering how much the popular imagination is infused with the idea of the log cabin as the predominate example of American folk architecture—especially that bit of fakelore oft displayed in living historical farm museums and as trendy, "country" restoration of original log homes, the unsided hewn log house: such structures were almost always immediately covered with wood siding to protect the exposed wood and chinking from the elements. Instead of inauthentic unsided log houses, Anno depicts many houses and barns of wood frame/clapboarding/shingle construction, and of accurate folk architecture types: single- and double-pen houses with external gable chimneys, I houses, double-crib and transverse-crib barns, all with the common lean-to or rear ell additions. There are some Pennsylvania German stone buildings, including a bank barn with hex signs. Perhaps Anno's role as a stranger to the American land and culture has lent an important objectivity to his observations, a quality which most anthropologists (though not folklorists) deem necessary for proper ethnological fieldwork.

Anno's scenes are not just meaningless morasses of detail, however, but integrated portraits of the living entity of a farmstead or small town or city neighborhood. The eighteenth and nineteenth century brick architecture of a Philadelphia scene is replete with craftsmen's replica shop signs hanging outside, street vendors, children playing in the water from a fire hydrant, other children playing a circle game, a Fourth of July parade, Ben Franklin flying a kite, Betsy Ross sewing the flag, and much more. New York City is presented with its twentieth century skyscrapers, although in one corner of the scene we see the Indians trading Manhattan to the colonists for a small chest of goods. Anno again evinces his affection for human festivity with a huge parade, moving past the skyscrapers on horse-drawn floats: there is a large model of Anno's traveler included, along with some of the Wild Things of children's illustrator Maurice Sendak, Paul Bunyan with his giant ox, and many other characters from children's stories.

More examples of America's popular culture, as well as history, literature, and folklore, appear throughout Anno's U.S.A., from representations of sports like baseball, football, and basketball (including their folkloric, "street ball" counterparts), and dancers from the 1950's musical West Side Story, to cartoonist Charles Schultz's Peanuts characters Charlie Brown, Lucy, and Snoopy, hidden in a corner of a nineteenth century, Midwestern railroad terminal scene. In his accurate representation of place, Anno also captures the spirit of a town or a country. The Mississippi River town is infused with life, from the dock to the baseball field to the jazz band to the market. Likewise the Pennsylvania German farm, which incongruously includes a scene from Robert McCloskey's favorite children's book Make Way for Ducklings (a scene begun one page ahead in Colonial Williamsburg, the eighteenth century outdoor museum in Virginia), and the beginning of a blanket toss, which is concluded on the next page, somewhere in Appalachia, adjacent to a tobacco harvest, potato picking, corn shucking, a rural school lesson, and a logging scene. On the next page, a southern highland community buzzes with life: blacksmith, farrier, wheelwright, cobbler, basket weavers, spinners and quilters, hunters returning with dog and deer, people pitching and hauling hay, harvesting potatoes, and children at play.

Thus does Anno the artist take liberties not allowed the ethnographer, and as a result he presents an intriguing combination of historic reality and artistic fantasy. As Lewis suggested about Peter Spier's work, the good artist-geographer does not necessarily tell the literal truth, but rather a truthful vision of the world as he sees it. Anno's illustrations have that truthful quality. He is a meticulous observer of human life, past and present. Since that is a skill which most scholars seek to achieve, it is not surprising that his illustrations have a scholarly quality, a commitment to accuracy and excellence. As Lewis suggests with respect to Spier, teachers seeking accurate depictions of past cultural landscapes could do worse than direct their students' attention to the paintings in Anno's journey books.

While Mitsumasa Anno is not an ethnographer or cultural geographer or historian or folklife specialist, and therefore not bound to absolute accuracy in each detail of research, so much of what he presents is accurate and infused with life, that each scene, while somewhat idealized and unrealistically tidy, seems to the viewer to be very real. Anno has achieved an impressive merging of artist and scholar which is refreshing to the academician—and, I am certain, equally appreciated by children, those harshest of critics. I look forward eagerly to seeing the results of Anno's future journeys to other parts of the world.


Anno, Mitsumasa. Anno's Journey. New York: Philomel, 1978.

――――――. Anno's Britain. New York: Philomel, 1982.

――――――. Anno's U.S.A. New York: Philomel, 1983.

Brunskill, R. W. Illustrated Handbook of Vernacular Architecture. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

――――――. Houses. London: Collins. 1982.

Evans, Estyn E. Irish Folkways. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957.

Fenton, Alexander. Scottish Country Life. Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers, 1976.

Harris, Richard. Discovering Timber-Framed Buildings. Aylesbury, England: Shire Publications, 1978.

Lewis, Pierce. "Book, Tube, and Picture: Being an Appreciation of Peter Spier's Illustrated Books for Children." Pioneer America 10, 2 (1975).

Mercer, Eric. English Vernacular Houses: A Study of Traditional Farmhouses and Cottages. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1975.

Montell, William Lynwood, and Michael Lynn Morse. Kentucky Folk Architecture. Lexington: U of Kentucky Press, 1976.

Nearing, Helen and Scott. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World. New York: Schocken, 1954.

Shurtless, Harold R. The Log Cabin Myth: A Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Press, 1939.

Sutton-Smith, Brian. History of Children's Play. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.

Thompson, Stith. Motif-Index of Folk Literature. Bloomington: Indiana U Press, 1975.

Zena Sutherland (essay date 2002)

SOURCE: Sutherland, Zena. "Anno, Mitsumasa." In The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators, edited by Anita Silvey, pp. 24-5. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.

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Susan L. Rogers (review date August 1988)

SOURCE: Rogers, Susan L. Review of Upside-Downers: More Pictures to Stretch the Imagination, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 34, no. 11 (August 1988): 78.

Gr. 1-5—There is no need to replace the 1971 edition of this title [Upside-Downers: Pictures to Stretch the Imagination ] (Weatherhill) with this revision. The illustrations are virtually identical in content, size, and color. The text is edited slightly to remove non-essential words; the storyline remains unchanged. An oddly poetic, occasionally rhyming, free verse text explains and amplifies the problem of downside-up and upside-down in the reversible land of cards. A troop of medieval style jester/jokers narrate the tale of centuries-old conflict in a land where two cities and populaces coexist in reversal—the age-old question being who is rightside-up and who is upside-down? The question is brought to the four kings (or are there eight?); finally one wise monarch declares that the world is round and up can also be down. Anno uses his trademark style of artistic optical illusions along with simpler reversals to illustrate the story. The addition of text adds to the options for viewing, since each two-page spread has text in both directions. Unlike Ann Jonas' Round Trip (Greenwillow, 1983), where the second story is hidden until the book is turned over, the parallel worlds are obvious to readers and to each other throughout, their existence being the focus of the story. With pictures to pore over and a text that is almost a game, this is a fascinating book for individual or group use.


Stephen Roxburgh (essay date fall 1982)

SOURCE: Roxburgh, Stephen. "Anno's Counting Book: A Semiological Analysis." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 7, no. 3 (fall 1982): 48-52.

[In the following essay, Roxburgh provides a semiological look at Anno's Counting Book, commenting that the volume "constitute[s] a complete system of signification."]

Before looking analytically at Anno's Counting Book, I'd like to discuss briefly the appropriateness of applying structuralist, and specifically, semiological analysis, to a picture book. The critical theory I will be using is that outlined by Roland Barthes in his early essay "Myth Today," which was his first extended discussion of the science of signs, and his later refinement and extension of that discussion in Elements of Semiology. In the introduction to that volume, Barthes reverses the Saussurean postulation that linguistics forms only a part of the general science of signs. Barthes insists that semiology is a part of linguistics. He argues that "to perceive what a substance signifies is inevitably to fall back on the individuation of language: there is no meaning which is not designated, and the world of signifieds is none other than that of language…. Semiology is required, sooner or later, to find language in its path." This notion, central to Barthes' way of thinking, suggests the appropriateness of applying his analytical principles to a wordless picture book, a counting book based on the ten Arabic numerals. Simply stated, linguistic analysis won't work; semiological analysis will, but, as Barthes argues, only through the mediation of language.

Allow me to pursue the simplistic notion that a book, Anno's Counting Book, can constitute a complete system of signification, what Barthes calls a corpus, "a finite collection of materials," which can be examined from one point of view at a given time and be shown to be complete and homogeneous, that is, to fulfill the conditions Barthes presupposes for semiological analysis. To begin I must identify certain fundamental concepts with which you are no doubt familiar but which are variously defined. You should know how I will be using them. First is the linguistic principle, formulated by Saussure, that a signifier and signified exist in an arbitrary relationship. The union of signifier and signified constitutes the sign (a term which is problematical but will suffice for my purposes). A sign, itself consisting of signifier and signified, can be a signifier on a second level, or second order of meaning. A group of signifiers can also combine with one signified to form a complex sign. Both of these, second order and group signification, frequently take their meaning from cultural contexts and are what Barthes calls myth. Second is the crucial distinction between language (langue) and speech (parole). Barthes describes language as "a collective contract which one must accept in its entirety if one wishes to communicate … [it] is autonomous, like a game with its own rules, for it can be handled only after a period of learning." The number system is as pure an example of language as any and if you consider the didactic aspect of a counting book you will appreciate the relevance of this concept to an analysis of the genre. "Speech"—as described by Saussure—is "the individual act of selection and actualization." This concept especially, "the individual act of selection and actualization," is crucial to my discussion of Anno's Counting Book. Other aspects of Barthes' theory will be discussed as they become relevant.

First Spread: "0"

Just as Barthes divided the garment system into three parts, it is helpful to divide Anno's counting book into three interrelated parts: the numeral on the right side of the page, the scale on the left side of the page, and the scene that comprises the spread. We have within this one system, the book, three analogous systems, none of which allows for linguistic analysis, none of which here means anything. One might argue that the scene is a significant unit, a signifier of the concept of snow and sky and river, but it could as well signify the concept of white and blue. Finally, we simply don't know enough.

Second Spread: "1"

In semiological terms, as we turn the first page, from "0" to "1", all hell breaks loose, but there is order in the chaos. The numeral on the right hand side of the page has changed, but is clearly of a kind with the numeral that preceded it. Similarly, the scale on the left has changed, a color has been added and apparent volume, that is, dimension. It is the scene that has erupted with meaning, or at least with signifiers, the signifieds of which must be inferred. (If I seem to be beating you over the head with certain terms, forgive me. It is useful to do so, but I will stop soon.) I am tempted at this point to bring other critical theories than structuralism to bear—specifically psycholinguistics and reading theory, because at this point in the book the "reader" starts using cues and analogical thinking to make sense of the signs on the page. But that's a tangent. In the numeral and the scale we have something like pure languages—languages devoid of speech. The juxtaposition of those with the developing scene points out Barthes' distinction between language, the collective contract, and speech, the individual act. Indeed, the juxtaposition emphasizes the dialectic between language and speech which engenders meaning. Let me be specific.

In terms of the relationship among the three parts, notice how the numeral one is incorporated into the scene on the snowman's flag and, less obviously, how the dimensions of the cube are incorporated in the perspective of the scene. The scene itself has taken on meaning. Anno has confirmed the "reading" of the first scene as snow, sky and river by presenting a group of signifiers that relate to and depend on those concepts: a snowman, a skier, tracks, etc. The significance of the three parts is not yet clear, but they are clearly related.

Third Spread: "2"

The numbers and scale that flank the scene constitute the language of the system: the numbers must be learned, they are part of a code. The scale is the dominant signifying element here, introducing the concept of two units, a concept that is signified by the numeral 2, a concept that renders the scene meaningful: the reader sees that there are two children, two evergreens, two buildings, two trucks, and so on. Related to this concept is that of time, in its quotidian aspect—it's 2 o'clock (PM we assume) by the clock on the church tower. There is also the suggestion of the passage of time. The snow has disappeared. Without knowing anything at all about months, about the convention that there are twelve months starting with January, that the second month is February, the reader is forced to infer that some significant period of time has passed. A sophisticated reader will place the scene in history—the trucks are significant in that context.

Also in this scene, a cultural context is established. I'd bet the church is Congregationalist—having grown up attending one—but I won't insist on it. You take my point. Will you agree that some notion of progress with all its moral implications is suggested in the proliferation of buildings, one of which is a church? If you don't agree now, you will soon.

Fourth Spread: "3"

Notice the change of season. Wherever the scene takes place, things are more advanced in March, the third month, than they are in New York—the snow is gone, the deciduous trees are budding, flowers are blooming, children are wearing shorts. Here Anno makes a game of his scene—and remember Barthes' definition of language as a game with its own rules—a game of finding the groups, or sets, that correspond to the quantity represented by the cubes and signified by the numerals. Locating the three adults in this scene takes a moment. The reciprocal relation between the scene and the flanking scale and numeral is established. The meaning of the numeral, the purest of the signifiers, is clear from its relation to the scale and the scene. In fact, even this early in the book, the relation is repeated so often—there are fourteen groups of three in the scene—that perhaps you can begin to see how this system I have proposed can be saturated. That is, according to Barthes, when the relationships found in a system are repeated, when we come across comparisons that we've already noted, and, finally, when no new material can be found, the system is saturated.

Fifth Spread: "4"

The game continues—notice the geese. Spring arrives—the trees have blossomed. Progress continues—and here are particularly significant signs—a mine opening, a track, tilled fields. All of these together suggest the development of a community. A rural, agrarian society emerges. The relation among the three parts of the system is less significant: the four children, four adults, four buildings and so on do more than invest the numeral 4 with meaning. In Anno's scene we are seeing and understanding signs that derive their meaning from social and cultural contexts. The woman feeding the pigs, the men and woman pushing carts, even the children fishing, signify productive group activity.

Sixth Spread: "5"

On this level, the marriage taking place here confirms the social implications of the scene, and expands them. It suggests a center for the society, a stable relationship, a moral core. This may not apply today, but in the time and place of the idealized scene it does.

Barthes makes it clear that speech and language are mutually dependent, one cannot exist without the other. On the level of the language in Anno's scene, note that what was a mine entrance has become a railroad tunnel. Also, consider the significance of Anno's introducing a flatbed car with legs on it into a train of boxcars which forces the reader to remember the fundamental relationship of the groups, units signifying quantity—

Seventh Spread: "6"

a relationship that is not obscured in the train he depicts here even though he has radically varied the elements of the group. You can almost argue that he has broken the contract, modified the rules of the game, but the meaning is still clear.

Eighth Spread: "7"

The numeral and scale are altogether less important now than they were at the beginning of the book. The concepts they share with the scene are less significant, mean less, than the scene does. In terms of the dialectic between language and speech, between the collective contract and the individual act, the reader of Anno's Counting Book is paying more attention to the latter. Barthes uses the term ideolect to designate "the language, inasmuch as it is spoken by the single individual," a concept that is related to style, and is exemplified here in the dominance of Anno's scene—his speech, over the language of the numerals and scale.

Ninth Spread: "8"

Progress continues, time passes, the community develops. Notice, before I go on, the new building in the center of town, with the shingle and the number eight. Also notice the time of day on the church tower clock: can it be eight at night?

Tenth Spread: "9"

Again, notice the shingle—number nine. And the time—it's usually pretty dark at 9 PM in September. Anno is playing fast and loose with the rules of the game. He can, because he has expanded the game—his scene, as a system, allows for variations from the language of the numeral and scale because it has replaced those systems as the dominant signifying element, a displacement that the next scene demonstrates.

Eleventh Spread: "10"

The numeral repeats itself, the scale is completed. The counting book as a corpus of homogeneous elements—that is, materials constituted by one and the same substance, in this case numerals—should be complete, as the saturation of numerals indicated by the repetition of one and zero suggests and the completion of the scale confirms. But the scene dictates the meaning of the book, and neither the day, or the year, or, for that matter, the fence is complete.

Twelfth Spread: "11"

Surely it is not 11 o'clock at night in November. But who cares that the hours have been manipulated? The town is complete, even to its suburb. The enclosing fence is almost finished, and the irregular circle it forms is one of the most meaningful signs in the book.

Thirteenth Spread: "12"

The numerals could go on forever, having repeated once. The scale could double or triple. But the book is finished, the system completed. It is midnight; the day is over. It is December; the year is over. The snow has returned, we are back to where we were in the beginning. The community is gathering together. The limits of the system are defined and the structure of meaning is known; the corpus is complete.

What I hope you have seen in this romp through Anno's Counting Book is the replacement of one structural principle by another. The concept of a counting book suggests—and Anno's cover illustration confirms—that the book will deal with the numerals zero through nine. In terms of the collective contract that established ten signifiers for the system, it can be considered a corpus. But the number twelve has taken on enormous significance in our lives, significance that has virtually nothing to do with its numeral signifiers, significance derived largely from cultural myths. That significance, engendered by Mitsumasa Anno's "individual act" of speech, becomes the structural principle of the book. And the transformed system depends on social and cultural contexts. These contexts are, finally, the domain of semiology.


Margaret R. Higonnet (essay date summer 1990)

SOURCE: Higonnet, Margaret R. "The Playground of the Peritext." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 15, no. 2 (summer 1990): 47-9.

[In the following essay, Higonnet analyzes the narrative power of background imagery in several children's picture books, particularly the French edition of Anno's Medieval World, titled Comment la terre est devenue ronde.]

In children's literature, the brevity of the average text throws into the foreground what French critics have called the "peritext." (By peritext, they understand "peripheral" features such as the cover, titlepage, table of contents, chapter titles, epigraphs, postface, and above all illustrations. Genette, for example, in Palimpsestes, lists "titre, sous-titre, intertitres; préfaces, postfaces, avertissements, avant-pages etc; notes marginales, infrapaginales, terminales; épigraphes, illustrations; pière d'insérer, bande, jaquette" (9). Obviously, in picture-books the verbal narrative constitutes but a portion of the whole, and what surrounds it becomes a more conspicuous part of the book.

The relative weight of non-verbal material in nineteenth-century children's books reflected the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, which held that even endpapers might play a role in unifying the design of a book. If organicist theory guided many artists, so did theories of education through pleasure. An interest in play gave relief to comic articulations between picture and caption, or between title and contents. Features that in adult literature are usually taken by critics to be peripheral to the text, in children's literature are deliberately used to enhance the reader's consciousness of the material existence of the text as an object, a "toy" as well as a text. And the frequent evocation in children's literature of an oral dialogue (even more common in Victorian fiction than it is today) draws attention to the text as an ever-renewable dramatic occasion. Thus children's literature offers a particularly rich domain for the exploration of the functions and effects of peritexts.

We routinely assume that the (printed) verbal text is the "body" of the book. Outside this "body" of the narrative lie elements that physically precede it, those that lie in the margin, those that cut into the text or interrupt it, and those that fall at the end. The physical order most often corresponds to the sequence in which we actually encounter them. A reading of the front cover, frontispiece, and table of contents, for example, usually precedes one's reading of the text—though French books throw the table of contents to the back. Prefaces, footnotes, and appendices are more problematic; some of us, like secret prestidigitators, delight in interrupting the text by recourse to these extra-texts and have a special penchant for books in whose bindings there are strings to help us flip back and forth.

The children's book puts the hierarchy and order of encounter with these peritextual elements into question, for a child familiar with books as objects of play will often look at the last page, or check out the illustrations going from back to front, before entering into the narrative. Such subversive techniques short-circuit suspense and the tyranny of narrative concatenation; yet they are, paradoxically, valuable ways of building a normative sense of narrative form.

The typical book for very young children continuously opens itself up through the functioning of devices extrinsic to the work and to narrative. The material existence of children's books has an importance that is virtually absent in serious literature for adults. We can offer various explanations for this difference. Historically, Newbery already assimilated books to "toys," by marketing some (for boys) with a top and others (for girls) with a pincushion. Eighteenth-century educational theorists stressed the coordination between muscular and mental development (the old concept of mens sana in corpore sano given a new twist). One could botanize while enjoying a walk or learn the alphabet by baking shaped cookies.

Harlequinades, moveable books, and pop-ups, often accompanying a story full of surprises, dramatize the reader's role in unfolding every narrative. Even more explicitly, so does the fold-out book. The process by which every reader, in turning the page, extends and perpetuates the narrative, takes physical shape in the fold-out. Although some of these, like the art-books by Warja Lavator published by the Galerie Maeght, are completely wordless, many double the verbal sequence with a visual one. An example is Warja Lavator's Blanche Neige, une imagerie d'après le conte. This story, which is told through the geometric figures of a yellow ball with a black center (the stepmother) and a black and white circle containing a red center (Snow White), presupposes familiarity with the story—indeed with the Disney version, in which the dwarves (seven red lozenges) pray around the bier on which Snow White lies. Thus there may be no text, but there is a definite intertext.

Panorama de la côte in the Père Castor series exploits this doubleness as well as its continuity in quite pleasing ways. A spineless fold-out, the book can open in two directions—one, a colorful undulating landscape that appears to proceed without break from a Provençal port like Toulon past Marseille to the dolmens of Brittany, the other a black, white, and grey illustrated set of explanations about the formation of the coast, organization of a harbor, salt-water fish, seaside sports, and many of the coastal activities already illustrated on the verso. The two outer sections (that when folded become the covers) fit the two sequences, one an abstract design of boats and coast in black, white, and grey (the title in red), the other a multicolored loop of coast scene around a bright blue sea (the title in black and white). And the interplay that underlies and motivates all these scenes is explained on the first page: "When the sea and the earth meet, they fight over the space. Sometimes the sea nibbles at the earth, sometimes the earth pushes into the sea" (1). This text fits into the space left by the curve of a coastline, but further text in fine print creeps into the illustration, following and explaining the lines of peninsula, bay, or cape: "if the sea eats away the isthmus, you have an island, a reef, a shoal." Thus the mutualism of sea and land is echoed by the mutualisms of word and image, of sweeping representation and more detailed analysis.

Books that make narrative use of their own physical structures permit the reader to "animate" the text, in a modest echo of the imaginative animation every reader engages in. Modern mass production has multiplied examples of "shaped" books, which invite us by their physical resemblance to some object, often a metaphor for its theme. Technically one of the simplest types of "shaped book" for active play may have a hole or a cutout that plays some role in the narrative. Thus Eric Carle's most successful story shows a caterpillar's growth over seven days and seven pages, as it encounters different kinds of food. First (on a page one fifth as wide as the normal book page) you find an apple with a hole in the middle; when you turn the strip you see the caterpillar coming out the other side of the apple. The next strip (two fifths of the page) shows two pears with holes in their middle, and so on up to the fifth day. The sixth day the caterpillar has an identity crisis and eats a double-page spread of desserts and sausages, human food; and on the seventh, it finds its equilibrium by eating a leaf, which prepares it to retreat into a cocoon and metamorphose into its true self. When the child puts a little finger through the hole, we "see" the caterpillar coming through the fruit. But the holes stop when we reach the cocoon stage and the insect turns into a beautiful butterfly. To step back from the book for a second, we may think of the hole and of the child's finger as extrinsic to the story of the caterpillar, which indeed is completely formulated as a verbal sequence. Because the story could be told without either finger or hole, the hole may be described as "peritextual." (The hole reappears in positive and negative forms in the peritextual endpapers and title page.)

But the hole is also an intrinsic narrative device. With hole and finger, the listening child duplicates the story as it is told, translating from words to pantomime; indeed, the child triplicates the story, which is already represented a second time through the colored illustrations. At the same time, the child uses the hole that is in the book to complete the pantomime, so that the book serves not only as an abstract set of verbal signs but as a physical instrument. And because the hole which is part of the narrative is also a physical part of the book, the child is taught to grasp the physical character of books as a symbol for their potential as tools of imaginative play. Finally, then, we may consider the hole to be a kind of metacommentary, for it bespeaks the openness of every text to intervention and reinterpretation by the reader.

Already evident in these physical features of children's literature is the deliberate seduction through play of the reader. From "baby" books and "bath" books to "toy" books, an inventive commercial industry supports the introduction of children to books as objects to be handled, opened, explored, and eventually interpreted. The active appeal to all the senses of the small child through brilliantly colored illustrations, texture and shape, even built-in zippers and snaps, instructs us in an interactive relationship to books from an early age. Concrete devices such as cut-outs or scratch-and-sniff patches replicate features of the narrative, or even function as substitute "events" in the story sequence, events that can only "happen" when the reader's finger does its work. In such moments the margin-doodler, despair of librarians, may be born. Active involvement with a book is a capacity that readers lose, rather than one that they learn.

In order to explore the many types of peritext that surround the literary onion, it will help to examine a complex book created for somewhat older children. Mitsumasa Anno's Comment la terre est devenue ronde [Anno's Medieval World] summarizes the Ptolemaic world-view and its demise. The heart of the narrative tells of the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, as they might have perplexed contemporaries who only gradually were able to shake off tradition and their faith in apparent visual evidence. This core story is what one might call the body, or the text.

Since this is a picture book, there is a twin to the text: ut poesis pictura. The story of men's gradual conversion to a Copernican view of the universe is printed (symbolically) at the top of the page, in the sky; below, the landscape gradually shifts from completely flat, to slightly curved, to a steep hill, which becomes at the exact middle a radically curved horizon over which boats pass and sink (24-25). Thus the visual sequence of the changing landscape parallels the historical message of the verbal narrative. By the end of the book the semi-circle has become a globe, floating like a balloon in its neo-Gothic frame, with miniature people still visible on it, an earth above the earth. One implication of this duplication is that we "below" must learn to think of ourselves as floating along with the other planets "above."

There are other peritexts to consider. Anno's twin narrative is heavily, literally framed by a repeating neo-Gothic arabesque that arches above each two-page spread and runs beneath it, starting on the title page. The arabesque frame offers continuity, marking a central body of the book for our attention. By its proscenium shape, the frame also indicates our distance as spectators from the world depicted in the narrative, and thus underscores the importance of vision and of the site of the viewer to this history.

On either side of the narrative (3, 44), two angels float in the middle of buff-colored pages. The first sits on a picture of the earth, swinging a picture of the sun from a cord, while the second sits on a picture of the sun, swinging one of the earth. These two angels themselves frame the narrative and sum it up through the second angel's reversal of the two framed pictures. As if these references to framed images were not enough, the title page shows a miniature picture, set within its own curlicue frame, of two printers at work at their press, with heraldic images of sun and moon floating just above their heads. Those two heavenly bodies hold pride of place on the front and back covers, set within a four-square frame of men, women, and children in medieval dress who are in turn framed by a late medieval or early Renaissance vegetal column. The costumes of the framing figures set the period of the narrative, as does the stylized arabesque. Comically, the peasants and aristocrats, jugglers and priests who stand on a thin gold rectangle around the title remind us of the difficulties people had in visualizing a round earth. Again, Anno works an inversion: on the front, the title (with the sun) like the earth is at the feet of the people, whereas on the back cover, the moon floats above their heads, since they stand on the outer, arabesque frame.

The two angels and the front and back covers raise a significant question about hierarchic interpretation of the peritext in children's literature. Each pair creates an autonomous visual narrative parallel to that of the text in the middle. Because of their stylization, they may seem to be subordinate to the central story, with its somewhat more realistic landscapes and historical figures caught in moments of action. Because of their brevity they may seem to require familiarity with the story before their meaning will be apparent. And yet because they are symbolic, compressed narratives, they have witty suggestive power of their own. Notions of priority, superiority, and centrality become richly problematic in their material incarnations here. Is the cover "prior" because it is seen first, or is the text prior?

The material specificity of the book is an aspect that Anno also plays with. Stains, tears, and wrinkles are visible in the parchment that gives the sky its golden, hazy color. At the back, indeed, there is a joke that oscillates between the medieval and the modern: a blue circular stamp, like the seal or mark of a long-dead collector, bears the image of a blindfolded angel holding a sign: ANNO MCMLXXIX—the date of the Japanese publication, and of course the name of the author.

Signatures, anagrams, etc. are typical of peritextual play and, as readers of Anno know, typical of his work. His name appears on the cover, the spine, and the title page of the book. But it is also hidden elsewhere. Several pages into the narrative, the narrator explains that in this period scarcely anyone knew what a book was or knew how to write; the illustration shows an old man writing with a stick in the dirt (perhaps to remember an important date) the barely visible letters ANNO (13). And the last we see of the globe, it is soaring above a church across whose front runs the inscription "ANNO 1979" (42).

His subject is so important to Anno, that he does not rest after completing his narratives, verbal and visual: he appends a chronology with notes and a commentary printed in close type on two pages with diagrams. The chronology (printed last) starts in 432 BC with the completion of the Parthenon and finishes in 1969 with man's first step on the moon; it includes not only astronomical discoveries (or errors) alluded to in the text, but Gutenberg's invention of movable type, which made possible the diffusion of knowledge, and the voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and Magellan, which altered men's perceptions of the earth.

What about the penultimate "commentary"? (The commentary is in fact longer than the printed "text" of the story.) Here, Anno explains that his book could have been called: "How people who lived in a Ptolemaic era perceived their universe." His goal in composing the book was to show without condescension how humanity passed from one mode of perception and thought to another, from one epoch to another. The commentary then recounts in more formal, technical language, the various systems developed to account for astronomical data about the earth and the solar system. But the commentary is not just a more "objective," historical account of an epochal change that the story has already recounted. At the same time that Anno offers an impassioned defence of freedom of thought and speech, he raises the question whether our own scientific knowledge prevents our grasping the lived experiences of an age of superstition, the fears, the shock, and the astonishment that must have been felt, even by the discoverers of the modern age. That question, in turn, bears on the symbolic fragility of the parchment that carries the story, for time erodes our very capacity to understand those evanescent phenomena, the states of mind of the past.

This slim book, then, tells its story at least six times, in six locations: through the two covers, the two angels, the framed inner narrative (a double one, both visual and verbal), the commentary, and the chronology. Which is the central "text"? Does the commentary serve the "story" or the reverse? When what is at stake is a way of looking at the universe, are the verbal narratives more important or the visual narratives and emblems?

I have focused here on the peritext, the extruded or companion elements that comment on and are commented on by the text. To some extent, I think this playground of the peritext reflects the peculiarities of the reader of children's books. Conventional texts for adults posit a unitary reader who stands in an organic relation to the "seamless web" of narrative. Only avant-garde and surrealist experiments with techniques of rupture, echoed in post-structuralist fictions, challenge such an illusion. Texts for children, by contrast, typically posit a double reader (child and adult)—and even this is a simplification of the actual situation. The initiatory function of children's literature seems to call forth constant interruptions of narrative continuity: pauses for direct address, questions and answers, "testing" signs that Roman Jakobson calls the phatic model. Furthermore, children's books are reread; it is not uncommon for a small child to ask that a new story be reread five to ten times the first day. This multiplication of the readerly encounter alters the logic of reading itself; it permits the peritext to come to the fore.

Contemporary interest in the dynamic between text and "peritext," as a means of organizing literary experience and stimulating the active reader, has particularly significant applications to children's literature. The interplay of various textual elements tends at once towards two extremes: towards the materialization of the reading process as physical play, and towards the abstraction of narrative into a metanarrative projection. Motivating ludic experiments with the peritext is a faith that the child who makes and remakes the story will become a better reader and maker of stories.

Works Cited

Anno, Mitsumasa, Comment la terre est devenue ronde. Paris: Kuso Kobo, 1979.

Carl, Eric, La Petite Chenille Qui Faisait Des Trous [The Very Hungry Caterpillar]. Paris: Fernand Nathan, 1972.

Colmont, Marie, Panorama de la Cote. Paris: Flammarion, 1938.

Genette, Gerard, Palimpsestes. Paris: Seuil, 1982.

Lavator, Warja, Blanche Neige, une imagerie d'apres le conte. Paris: Maeght, 1974.


Daniel J. Lombardo (review date 1 December 1980)

SOURCE: Lombardo, Daniel J. Review of The Unique World of Mitsumasa Anno: Selected Works (1968–1977), by Mitsumasa Anno. Library Journal 105, no. 21 (1 December 1980): 2492.

Japanese graphic artist, painter, and illustrator Anno creates impossible worlds much in the tradition of Escher, Magritte, and Dali [in The Unique World of Mitsumasa Anno ]. His distortion of perspective and his mathematical puzzles are reminiscent especially of Escher, but, unlike Escher, for Anno the pictorial is never secondary. It is Anno's colorful graphic style and sense of humor that redeem his visual games from the fact that they aren't always profound. "The Outside of an Inside-out Bottle Is a Sea of Wine" shows Anno at his most clever, but others in this collection of 41 plates lack the surreal genius that could take them beyond the ordinary. There is little analysis of the illustrations; instead, the images are juxtaposed with quotations from literature, science, and philosophy. This is a rather slim, poorly bound volume for the money.


Connect (review date January-February 2006)

SOURCE: Review of Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar, by Mitsumasa Anno and Masaichiro Anno. Connect 19, no. 3 (January-February 2006): 20.

Anno's Mysterious Multiplying Jar, by Masaichiro and Mitsumasa Anno (Philomel Books, 1983), is a curious exploration of factorial notation. "There was water in the jar … [imagine it as a sea], on the sea was one island. On the island there were 2 countries. Within each country there were 3 mountains. On each mountain there were 4 kingdoms …" and so on. Examining patterns of growth and numbers allows for a better understanding of probability and possibilities for arranging things or circumstances. There is discussion at the end of the book about why this might be useful. The authors state: "(We hope to) give readers an idea of the remarkable order that underlies our universe, and a sense of the mystery, wonder, and excitement that can be experienced through mathematics."


Margaret Chatham (review date December 1987)

SOURCE: Chatham, Margaret. Review of Anno's Math Games, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 34, no. 4 (December 1987): 79.

K Up—From extremely simple "what is different?" pictures, Anno quickly builds in complexity to tables, mapping, bar graphs, and visual presentations of proportions. It is not clear what the intended audience for this attractive book is. The bright, intriguing pictures and easy beginning will entice preschoolers, but even with an adult's help, few of them could make it all the way through this book. Most third graders could read the directions for themselves, but are likely to find some parts too easy, others too hard to tackle alone, and the "Few Notes for Parents, Teachers, and Other Older Readers" is disappointingly full of philosophy and chary of "right" answers. Perhaps teachers could best use Anno's Math Games to supplement math texts. The section on measuring and proportions is especially valuable. Unlike most math games and puzzles, these are not concerned with numbers at all. Instead of numbers, Anno uses pictures; instead of equations, he works toward an intuitive feeling for what sort of answers are required.


Alan Newman (review date December 1987)

SOURCE: Newman, Alan. Review of Anno's Sundial, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 34, no. 4 (December 1987): 90.

Gr. 4 Up—Anno breaks new ground by cleverly using pop-up models and sundials as experimental tools [in Anno's Sundial ]. Illustrations in subtle earth tones and unadorned text clearly explain the basic concepts of solar time, seasons, latitude and longitude, and the sundial. At the end, Anno describes how to construct a sundial that will tell time accurately. Following the sundial instructions will require some knowledge of geometry or a helpful adult. The bad news is that pop-ups often don't wear well, and Anno invites readers to mark, spread out in the grass, and trace lines on this book. Be sure to purchase extra copies—this wonderful book should be used to pieces.


Nancy Seiner (review date September 1988)

SOURCE: Seiner, Nancy. Review of Anno's Peekaboo, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 35, no. 1 (September 1988): 154.

PreS—A book for the youngest library patrons [Anno's Peekaboo ], this is a book version of the appearing and disappearing game with bold, clear pictures of people and animals. Large heads, one to a page, are stylistically drawn in pastel watercolors or colored pencil on a white background. Between these pages are shorter die-cut pages in the shape of a pair of pink hands, situated so that they cover all but the top of the head. This is enough of a clue for youngsters to anticipate joyfully the hidden person or animal with the automatic response, "Peekaboo!" Of the 13 heads, 5 are pink-skinned people, the rest are familiar animals. Wherever very young patrons are served, this simple book will be popular.


Louise L. Sherman (review date May 1989)

SOURCE: Sherman, Louise L. Review of Anno's Faces, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 35, no. 9 (May 1989): 76-7.

PreS-Gr. 2—Using a simple idea beautifully executed, Anno has created a book with which children can learn to identify both familiar and exotic fruits and vegetables and enjoy creative dramatic play [in Anno's Faces ]. Carefully and realistically rendered illustrations of 47 fruits and vegetables appear on white backgrounds. Below a thin frame surrounding the page is the name of the fruit or vegetable. Two transparent plastic strips accompany the book. One has a large smile, triangle nose, and dot eyes on one end and a smaller version on the other end; frown features are on either end of the other strip. Children looking at the book can create conversations between the fruits and vegetables by holding the strips so that the fruits and vegetables appear to have faces and supply the words themselves. The strips have safely rounded edges, and although they will undoubtedly get lost at some point, it would be a simple matter to cut out more and draw features with permanent markers. Ideal for parent-child sharing as well as individual use.


Denise A. Anton (review date June 1989)

SOURCE: Anton, Denise A. Review of Anno's Aesop: A Book of Fables by Aesop and Mr. Fox, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 35, no. 10 (June 1989): 98.

Gr. 1-6—An innovative and imaginative treatment of Aesop's fables cleverly designed as a book within a book [Anno's Aesop ]. Anno's "Foreword" sets the scene: young Freddy Fox finds something he's never seen before (a book, Aesop's Fables). His father, who may not be able to read, tells Freddy stories based on the illustrations. The "book" which Freddy found occupies the top three-quarters of each page, with Mr. Fox's commentary printed below. The 41 fables are short, simply-told, and come complete with the familiar morals. Anno's watercolor illustration for each fable makes use of pen-and-ink detailing and are executed in his characteristically expressive style. Filled with hidden images and rich with subtle nuances, these illustrations can be viewed on several levels. As a humorous and often thought-provoking counterpoint to the fables and illustrations is Mr. Fox's retellings of them. Told from a viewpoint only a fox could possess, his retellings turn the fables into math problems, mystery stories, and even advertisements. It is left to readers to decide which version is best-suited to each illustration. While younger children will enjoy the fables and pleasing illustrations, intermediate readers will appreciate Anno's wry humor and the endless challenges presented by Mr. Fox's observations. A refreshing and joyous celebration true to the spirit of Aesop.


JoAnn Rees (review date April 1991)

SOURCE: Rees, JoAnn. Review of Anno's Math Games III, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 37, no. 4 (April 1991): 126.

Gr. 3-5—[Anno's Math Games III is] another of Anno's wonderful books that makes complicated mathematical concepts understandable and interesting to children. The subjects covered include topology, Euclidean geometry, mazes, and fight- and left-handedness. All are explained simply and clearly, with longer explanations in the back. Anno's distinctive drawings in bright colors, and his trademark helpers, Kriss and Kross, illustrate each concept. This book will be most useful if it is introduced to children by an adult; however, those who like puzzles will also enjoy it on their own.

Ellen Fader (review date May-June 1991)

SOURCE: Fader, Ellen. Review of Anno's Math Games III, by Mitsumasa Anno. Horn Book Magazine 67, no. 3 (May-June 1991): 344-45.

As fresh and enticing as its predecessors, Anno's Math Games III encourages young children to play with and puzzle over abstract concepts in geometry, circuitry, and the new mathematical field of topology. In four well-organized and independent chapters, readers navigate different types of mazes and maps; analyze turns of gears; wonder how shapes change when they are coated with a "special magic liquid"; and experiment with paper, folding triangles instead of the usual squares—although adult help is a necessity in this section as the directions are disappointingly brief. As is always the case with Anno's books, children deal with weighty and complex ideas and explore new ways of thinking without even realizing how much they are learning. The author-artist has created another attractive, attention-getting package in which brightly colored figures, objects, and puzzles are framed by a generous amount of white space. A useful afterword for adults elaborates on the concepts presented in each section.


Kenneth Marantz (review date November 1993)

SOURCE: Marantz, Kenneth. Review of Anno's Twice-Told Tales: The Fisherman and His Wife and The Four Clever Brothers, by The Brothers Grimm, retold by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 39, no. 11 (November 1993): 98-9.

Gr. 1-4—Anno continues to invite readers to become involved in his creative process in this companion piece to Anno's Aesop (Orchard, 1989). Here, [in Anno's Twice Told Tales ] he raises a question: how do pictures mean? The upper three quarters of each page holds a traditionally designed picture-book story—actually two stories: the ubiquitous "The Fisherman and His Wife" and the less popular "The Four Clever Brothers." The artist is particularly inventive in his treatment of the ever-increasing agitation of the waves as the nebbish fisherman keeps upping the ante. The dragon in the second story is blue, green, and black and looks as if it were a balloon that escaped from a holiday parade. Pencil lines and transparent watercolors give the details of brick walls, costumes, and machinery. The retellings are straightforward but the illustrations are played for comic effect. The bottom quarter of each page holds the challenge. Here Mr. Fox (who is not depicted) tells his versions of the stories he derived from the pictures; he obviously can't read. When not using his imagination to teach his son some lesson, he picks up on isolated objects to create personal meaning. The juxtaposition of the artist's interpretation of text with the fox's verbal interpretation of the artwork is thought-provoking and cleverly done.


Anne A. Flowers (review date September-October 1995)

SOURCE: Flowers, Anne A. Review of Anno's Magic Seeds, by Mitsumasa Anno. Horn Book Magazine 71, no. 5 (September-October 1995): 585.

The ubiquitous hero Jack is surprised when he receives two magical golden seeds from a wizard, with instructions to bake and eat one and to plant the other [in Anno's Magic Seeds ]. But he does so, and the baked one satisfies his hunger for a year; the planted one grows two new seeds. Jack, not being an original thinker, repeats this cycle a number of times before adopting a more thoughtful outlook. He figures if he does without his baked seed for one year and plants both instead, he will be able to get a few seeds ahead. He is charmed with his foresight and success, and he fortuitously meets a nice young woman named Alice. Jack and Alice marry, a new baby arrives, and Jack is secure of a harvest for the future. Indeed, Jack has become prudent; he stores some of his seeds as well as eating and selling them. So when disaster comes in the form of a storm, Jack has saved enough to make a new start. The final illustration shows the little family praying for a good crop from their saved seeds, in a style reminiscent of Millet. Little arithmetical questions are posed throughout the tale, all involving simple counting. Anno has succeeded in combining both the moral issue of conservation of resources and arithmetical games in a charming story for young readers. A tour de force from a most original author-illustrator.


Publishers Weekly (review date 16 February 2004)

SOURCE: Review of Anno's Spain, by Mitsumasa Anno. Publishers Weekly 251, no. 7 (16 February 2004): 171.

Working in his characteristically meticulous pen-and-ink and watercolor style, Anno (Anno's U.S.A. ) takes readers on another diverting excursion, sharing his sweeping, affectionate view of Spain in a wordless paean to the history, culture, people, landscape and architecture of the country [in Anno's Spain ]. Past and present collide creatively in the artist's double-page, thought-provoking panoramas. The first spread, for example, shows an individual rowing a small boat from the open water toward land. A flip of the page reveals a seaside village with a galleon from a bygone era anchored offshore (perhaps the rower's vessel?), a nearby fishing boat (does the "2003" painted on the bow place the craft in the present?), youngsters playing soccer by the beach, a small procession of banner- and cross-toting fellows in medieval garb and—observant readers will notice—the rower of the boat purchasing a horse from a villager. Youngsters will eagerly track this horseback rider (dressed in blue from head to foot) and his passages through richly evoked countryside and towns, and will spot both quotidian and special events along the route. Anno works into his sprawling pictures such happenings as a wedding, a funeral, a bustling open-air marketplace, a bullfight, festivals and the running of the bulls. As an endnote points out, not all of Anno's renderings are from real life: Don Quixote can be seen tilting at windmills; a miniature Guernica is displayed outdoors in Guernica. In this skilled artist's innovative, often playful presentation, every spread tells a story—and encourages readers to interpret it for themselves. This is a voyage to savor—and to embark on again and again. Ages 4-up.

Daryl Grabarek (review date November 2004)

SOURCE: Grabarek, Daryl. Review of Anno's Spain, by Mitsumasa Anno. School Library Journal 50, no. 11 (November 2004): 158.

Gr. 2-8—[Anno's Spain is a] detailed pen and ink and watercolors illustrate this wordless travelogue. Anno's aerial tour of Spanish landscapes and townscapes is timeless: along with sightings of 20th-century architectural and artistic icons (Sagrada Familia, Guernica, etc.) there are also scenes of 15th-century ships at sea, olive harvesting, country fairs and religious processions, and the running of the bulls at Pamplona. Throughout, there are nods to Spain's literary, artistic, and cultural heritage. Close observers will catch glimpses of Don Quixote and his corpulent companion, a melting clock à la Dalí, flamenco dancers, and Barcelona's human pyramid. Tableaus (of Las Meninas, scenes from Carmen) add whimsy, while the inclusion of the Alhambra and a Roman aqueduct pay tribute to the country's history. While suitable for picture collections, this title would also be a great addition to Spanish-language classrooms.

Additional coverage of Anno's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Thomson Gale: Children's Literature Review, Vols. 2, 14; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 4, 44, 141; Literature Resource Center; Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults, Eds, 1, 2; and Something about the Author, Vols. 5, 38, 77, 157.



Langford, Verity. "The Picture Books of Anno: A Search for a Perfect World through a Fascination with Mathematics." Children's Literature in Education 25, no. 3 (September 1994): 193-202.

Offers an examination of Anno's detailed illustrations in Anno's Counting Book.

Marcus, Leonard S. Review of Anno's Peekaboo, by Mitsumasa Anno. Parenting 9, no. 7 (September 1995): 81.

Evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of Anno's Peekaboo.

About this article

Anno, Mitsumasa 1926–

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