Brno Studies in English
Volume 46, No. 2, 2020
This paper employs the model to analyse visual narratives in children’s picturebooks proposed
picturebook Daddy’s Roommate. The aim of the study is to look at the position of the read-
ers in the story and to observe the way the characters are represented and the relationships
between them. The role of the mother will also be deconstructed, due to her importance in the
story. I will analyse the main characteristics of the interpersonal and compositional metafunc-
tions by exploring the way in which the visual and textual component create meaning. The
methodology is mainly qualitative-descriptive.
The analysis reveals that the abundance of middle-shots and close-ups suggest involve-
ment between the characters represented in the book and the reader. Moreover, the predomi-
that the child has with Daddy and his roommate and to see how positive it is. The composition-
al meanings show that both Daddy and his roommate appear in prominent positions to show
that they are important in the child’s life. In most cases, the written theme coincides with the
visual one as a way to reinforce the complementary meaning of both modes of communication
in the story.
Children’s picturebooks; multimodality; visual/verbal modes; critical discourse analysis; gender
This paper is a contribution to the study of the relationship between images and
words in the genre of picturebooks. In particular, we will concentrate on the pic-
turebook Daddy’s Roommate written by Willhoite in 1989. This choice is justiﬁed
because this is one of the ﬁrst picturebooks in which a gay relationship is narrated.
The father of the boy who narrates the story was married and had a heterosexual
relationship. The child narrates the activities that his father does with Frank, his
new rooomate, and the things that he does with them. Consequently, this pic-
turebook will allow deepening in gender issues, following Sunderland (2012: 6):
The representation of gender in ﬁction is not about gender in the sense
of what actual men, women, boys and girls tend to be like1 (in terms of
their socially-shaped abilities, attitudes, language use, social practices, or
whatever). Rather, this is gender, in the sense of the ideas2 about men,
women, boys and girls, as well as about gender relations, and masculinity
and femininity more widely.
Picturebooks incorporate cultural meanings and contribute to children’s devel-
opment of ideology and of understanding cultural norms, social patterns and
values (Arizpe, Farrell and McAdam 2013; Evans 2015; Soler Quiler 2015). The
main purpose of picturebooks is to help children socialize, i.e., there is a relation-
ship or mediation between the world transmitted in ﬁction and real life, following
Painter (2018: 420): “Printed picturebooks stories have always been a signiﬁcant
resource both for the socialization of young children and for introducing them to
the principles and pleasures of literacy and literature”.
Analysing children’s picturebooks is important because they have a central
role in school curricula. They contribute to children’s socialization and to their
development of ideology and of understanding the world. In this sense, analysing
a picturebook where there is a relationship between two men will contribute to
broaden gender schemas in children and to be open to different types of love.
The main objectives of this article are: 1) to deconstruct the compositional
and interpersonal meanings expressed in the picturebook selected in order to
observe the main linguistic and visual strategies used to portray the relationship
between two men and between them and the child; 2) to analyse the role of the
child’s mother in the story from a compositional and interpersonal representa-
tional perspective. The fact that the child’s father was married before starting
a gay relationship and the presence of the mother in different parts of the story
are important for the creation of meaning, especially because it is the mother
who tells the child that his father is gay and she explains what this means.
In the last decades, different research studies have concentrated on the way
visuals and written text contribute to the creation of meaning in multimodal
texts such as advertisements, textbooks, picturebooks, comics and scientiﬁc texts
(Kress and van Leeuwen 2006; Molina and Alonso 2016; O’Halloran 2004, 2008;
Unsworth 2006, 2014; Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013, among others).
There is no agreement among the disciplinary community in the terminology
used to refer to texts that use more than one mode or semiotic channel of com-
munication. In this sense, as O’Halloran et al. (2011: 120) specify: “MDA3 itself is
referred to as ‘multimodality’, ‘multimodal analysis’, ‘multimodal semiotics’ and
Multimodality is widely used in the systemic community; therefore, in this
article we will use this term, which has developed in the last decades (Kress and
van Leeuwen 2002, 2006; Kress 1998, 2010, van Leeuwen 2005a and 2005b, 2011,
among others) in order to understand the way in which the different semiotic
modes are used. In general, mode has been understood as a “socially shaped and
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
culturally given resource for meaning making” (Kress, 2009: 54), which means
that context and culture determine the different modes used in a communicative
situation. In this sense, there are some recent studies that have developed the
deﬁnition of mode, such as those of Elleström (2010) and Bateman (2011).
Children’s picturebooks are multimodal. The relationship between the image
and the visual to create meaning in these books has been studied by different
scholars such as Lewis (2001), Painter (2007, 2008), Seraﬁni (2010), Unsworth
and Ortigas (2008), Moya-Guijarro (2014, 2017, 2019a, 2019b) and Pinar and
Moya (2016). The multimodal nature of these texts needs a visual grammar that
describes how the different elements combine in order to express meaning, fol-
lowing Unsworth (2006: 63–64):
There are two types of connection between images and text. The ﬁrst of
these is known as projection and most commonly involves the quoting or
reporting of speech or thoughts. The second type of connection involves
the conjunctive relations of time, place and cause.
Kress and van Leewen’s model of visual grammar (2006) propose three metafunc-
tions in the grammar of visual design: the representational, the interpersonal and
the compositional. These are based on the three metafunctions proposed by Hal-
liday and Matthiessen (2014): the ideational metafunction concentrates on how
the world around and inside us is represented; the interpersonal metafunction
focuses on how social interactions and social relationships are established; and
the textual metafunction concentrates on how the elements of the text express
meaning in a coherent way.
Exploring the relationship between the written text and the visuals in this kind
of texts is important for the deconstruction of meaning, in the process of observ-
ing how picturebooks narrate actions and represent the world (Kümmerling-
Meibauer 2014). The role of the visual is essential to deconstruct he ideas, values
and concepts transmitted (Hamer, Nodelman and Reimer 2017; Kümmerling-
Meibauer, Meibauer, Nachtigäller and Rohlﬁng 2015).
The features of the interpersonal and compositional metafunctions that are going
to be analysed in the next section are brieﬂy introducedin the next paragraphs.
Considering interpersonal meanings, Kress and van Leeuwen (2006) distin-
guish three types of systems associated with the interpersonal function: those of
(i) image act and gaze, (ii) social distance and intimacy, and (iii) involvement and
power. Painter, Martin and Unsworth (2013) refer to social distance, attitude, con-
tact and modality. Regarding image and gaze, characters’ images are ‘demands’
when characters gaze at the viewer. Images as ‘offer’ present characters without
that gaze. Social distance concentrates on the representation of characters as
‘close up’, ‘mid shot’ and ‘long shot’.
Regarding involvement and power, viewing characters from particular angles
contributes to position the viewer: the horizontal angle implies greater or lesser
involvement, i.e., when characters face viewers ‘front on’, they are involved with
the audience, whereas their depiction as an oblique angle contributes to detach-
ing them from readers. The vertical angle is associated with the realisation of
power: if viewers look up they are given power whereas what is looked down
appears weak and vulnerable (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006: 140 ff).
Painter, Martin and Unsworth (2013: 17) propose a system of orientation, par-
allel to that of involvement to take into consideration the bodily orientation of
the characters to each other: characters can face each other, be placed side by
side or angled away.
Considering compositional meanings, Kress and van Leeuwen (2006: 177) dis-
cuss that there are three main types of composition in multimodal texts:
(a) ‘Information value’: the place in which elements are located, for example,
from left to right, from the top to the bottom or from the centre to the
margins, can add a determined value.
(b) ‘Salience’: the different elements of a composition which are designed to
catch the readers’ attention, for example, appearing in the ﬁrst or in the
second place, the size of an element, the colour contrast or sharpness. Sali-
ence contributes to giving importance to certain units of information, called
‘focus group’ in visual texts (Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 91).
(c) ‘Framing’: the presence or absence of frames that connect or disconnect
elements of meaning by whether they go or do not go together in the mak-
ing of meanings. Painter, Martin and Unsworth (2013: 103–109) explain that
when the only boundary is the page edge, images are ‘unbound’. However,
when images are set within a page margin that contributes to separate read-
ers from the story, they are ‘bound’.
The analysis will pay attention to the connection between the image and the
written text. Due to the limitations of space we will concentrate on two of the
three metafunctions, i.e., the representational will not be analysed: 1) the in-
terpersonal because of its importance in the process of deconstructing social
relations between the different characters in the picturebook and between the
characters and the readers, and 2) the compositional because we want to explore
how the text is coherent and related to context.
3.1 Interpersonal choices
The interpersonal metafunction concentrates on the way images connect with
the audience. We will concentrate on this metafunction in order to explore the
reader-character relationships and the relationships between the different charac-
ters in the story. In order to do so, we will pay attention to the systems of image
act and gaze, social distance and intimacy, horizontal angle and involvement and
vertical angle (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006). The aim of this analysis is to ﬁnd
out if the implied relationship between readers and characters is intimate or de-
tached3. The analysis of the twenty-nine illustrations shown in Table 1 points out
the main visual techniques used by Willhoite to create engagement.
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
Image act and gaze Social distance and
Horizontal angle and
Vertical angle and
Interactive features in Daddy’s Roommate
Middle-shots and close-ups suggest involvement between the characters repre-
sented in the book and the reader. The predominance of offers points out that
the reader is invited to observe the relationship and the actions that the child has
with Daddy and his roommate and to see how positive it is. Moreover, readers can
contemplate characters in the privacy of their daily lives by the use of eye level
and frontal angles. This justiﬁes there normally being an element such as a table,
a sofa or a newspaper that separates the characters’ private life from readers. So-
cial distance is a very important dimension in exploring the interactive meanings
of visuals. In this sense, the author:
[…] must choose to make them look at the viewer or not, so they must also,
and at the same time, choose to depict them as close to or far away from
the viewer- and this applies to the depiction of objects also. And, like the
choice between the ‘offer’ and the ‘demand’, the choice of distance can
suggest different relations between represented participants and viewers
(Kress and van Leeuwen, 2006: 124)
The general tendency is to represent characters in ‘mid-shot’ by placing an ob-
ject between the reader and the character represented, which contributes to cre-
ating a social distance between the story and the readers’ context: a newspaper
(p. 3), a table (p. 4, p. 9), an eiderdown (p. 5, 9), other people and two camels
(p. 11), a towel and some ﬂowers (p. 12), a shopping cart (p. 13), a television
(p. 16), among others. However, on page 5, when the two men appear repre-
sented with no clothes on their torsos, Daddy appears ‘close up’ to the audi-
ence while they are shaving, i.e., both men are clearly portrayed sharing intima-
cy. Distance is associated with how close we are in our relationships, following
van Leeuwen (2008: 138): “We “keep our distance” from strangers (if given the
chance); we are “close to” our nearest and dearest; we “work closely” with some-
one; and so on.
Of the ﬁve examples of close-ups, three represent the child close to the audi-
ence, establishing closeness and creating intimacy. It is signiﬁcant that the child
narrating the story is represented close to the reader on the very ﬁrst page of the
book, looking at the audience sharing the following message: “My Mommy and
Daddy got a divorce last year”. There is a symbolic space reinforced by a bubble
where his dad is seen leaving home, pointing out that the relationship between
his mother and his father ended in the past.
The second time the child appears close to the readers is on page 7, where he
is playing with Frank. However, this time there is no contact with the audience
because we see his back, which contributes to highlight Frank: although he is in
a long shot, he is facing the readers. This visual is interesting because it shows
that the child has a very good relationship with Frank, his father’s roommate.
Representing both characters playing together on top of the written text “Frank
likes me too!” contributes to foreground that Frank and the child get on well.
This is the ﬁrst of the following ﬁve pages where both appear together. This ﬁrst
page is the only one where the child is not facing the audience; he is just offering
the audience the different actions he can do with Frank. After these ﬁve pages,
there is a sequence of pages where we ﬁnd Daddy, Frank and the child doing dif-
ferent things together, which suggests that they are integrated and therefore this
is a new family model.
Then, on the second page, it is Daddy’s roommate who is located close to the
audience, reinforcing that he is important in the story and that it is he who has
changed Daddy’s life. This page is signiﬁcant because it is the ﬁrst one in which
we ﬁnd Daddy, the child and Frank. Taking into consideration the system of prox-
imity, there is a clear distance between the three characters, especially between
the two men, because the child is in the middle. However, from the next page on,
the characters appear closer to each other, and therefore they “[…] are consist-
ently shown in an intimate or close personal relationship […]” (Painter, Martin
and Unsworth 2013: 16).
Although the child is close to the audience on page 7, that fact that his back is
to the audience does not contribute to creating a close relationship. It s not until
page 14 that we ﬁnd the child again close to the audience. This visual appears
in a climatic moment of the story, right after the one where the child’s mother
has told him that Daddy and Frank are gay. It is after this visual that it is clearly
stated that “Being gay is just one more kind of love” and different expressions of
affection between Frank and Daddy, Daddy and the child and the three of them
can be observed until the end of the story.
Apart from the three examples we have already referred to where the child is
close to the readers, there are two signiﬁcant examples where Daddy and Frank
are close up. These contribute to foreground the relationship they have and share
with the audience: The ﬁrst one is on page 5 when both men are in the bathroom
shaving. Representing them next to each other, using the bathroom at the same
time and showing their chests makes clear that there is an intimate relationship
between the men.
The second example of a close-up is on page 15: Frank is hugging Daddy while
they look at each other. This way of representation makes clear that they love
each other and that they express their feelings. These close-ups create a sense of
intimacy with the audience because only the head and upper part of the body of
characters is represented.
This way of using the system of proximity to present both characters so close
to each other and to reinforce their intimacy is reinforced by the written text
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
where the fact of being gay is identiﬁed with one kind of love: “Being gay is just
one more kind of love”. Moreover, the text contributes to excuse gay love, to pre-
sent it as something that it is not unusual and counters a presupposed negative
stereotype, which highlights an ideology where being gay is normal and accepted.
Regarding the spatial representation of characters, the book starts with a hori-
zontal angle (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006; 133ff; van Leeuwen 2008: 139)
because we see the depicted characters frontally, which is reinforced by the fact
that the child looks directly at the audience. As Painter, Martin and Unsworth
(2013: 17) put it:
That is to say, when characters (and settings) are presented facing us ‘front
on’, we have a maximum sense of involvement with them as part of our
own world, whereas if they are depicted at an oblique angle, we are posi-
tioned to be more detached from them.
After this ﬁrst page, we ﬁnd three visuals with oblique angles that help us see
the characters from the side. The fact that none of the depicted characters look
at the audience and that the visuals are seen from an oblique horizontal angle
invite readers to see the actions with detachment. Readers are invited to observe
the three characters (Daddy, Frank and the child) at home. In the ﬁrst case, they
are wearing normal clothes because Daddy and the child come from outside and
Frank is waiting for them at home (this is the moment where the child meets
Frank). In the second case, they are wearing pyjamas, which suggest that there
is a close relationship between them. In the following visuals, where Daddy and
Frank are represented eating together, sleeping together, shaving together, ﬁght-
ing together and making up, it is again the horizontal angle because readers are
involved by observing frontally all the actions that the characters are doing.
Then, after several pages where just Daddy and Frank are represented, there
is a change in the story on page 7; now there are several pages where only Frank
and the child appear. This change in the narration of the story is clearly indicated
not only because this is one of the two cases in which we ﬁnd a character with his
back to the audience (the child) but also because this is a clear example of viewer
detachment (through obliqueness). This angle and presenting the child with his
back to the audience contribute to highlight that at this point in the story, the
visuals will narrate the different actions that both characters share. In the pages
after this, again the horizontal angle is chosen by the illustrator so that the audi-
ence can be involved in the different actions that Frank and the child do together.
Then, there is again a change in the story: the child is represented leaving
his mother’s house to meet Daddy and Frank, who have come to pick him up in
a car. There is an oblique angle that helps readers to be more detached from the
action. Moreover, representing the characters in mid-shot helps readers observe
this special moment in the story where the child leaves the house where he nor-
mally lives with his mother and goes to stay with his father and his new room-
mate. Next, we ﬁnd different pages visually narrating the things that the child
does with his father and Frank: go to ball games, visit the zoo, go to the beach,
work in the yard, go shopping, sing at the piano. In all these pages, we ﬁnd the
horizontal angle so that readers can be involved in the activities they do, with the
exception of the visual where the characters visit the zoo; the oblique angle here
and their representation in a small size while the animals are salient by their size
and by being foregrounded, establishes a clear distance from the audience.
On page 14 there is a change in the story, and the child is represented with his
mother in the kitchen. As it happened on page 7, the child is located again on
the right of the page with his back to the audience. This is another example of
viewer detachment (through obliqueness). As in the previous example, the use of
the angle indicates a change in the story. This visual is very important because it
coincides with the moment that the mother makes explicit the gay relationship
that the father has with Frank: “Mommy says Daddy and Frank are gay”.
Next, the child is represented alone in the middle of the visual. The fact that it
is a demand image, that he has an open posture by appearing with his arms open
and the frontal angle contribute to foreground him at the same time as he is pre-
sented close to the audience. The child’s gaze “creates a form of direct address.
It acknowledges the viewers explicitly, addressing them with a visual ‘you’” (Kress
and van Leeuwen 2006: 117) (Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 19). In fact,
he shares with the audience that he did not know what being gay meant and the
mother exaplained it to him. The written answer to what the child wants to know
appears in the next visual: “Being gay is just one more kind of love”. The frontal
angle used to represent Daddy and Frank makes explicit the gay relationship
between the men, and their happiness.
Finally, the author uses the oblique angle in the last three visuals to establish
a distance between readers and the expression of love between the father and
the child in front of the mother at her house, Daddy and Frank watching TV in
their house and the child going to the cinema with Daddy and his roommate. The
reader is invited to observe the positive relationship between all the characters in
the book. The mid-shots and the offers reinforce the distance with the audience,
who are invited to observe but not to be involved.
Regarding vertical angle and power, there is a predominance of eye-level angles
(72,41%) over low angles (27,59%). This implies that readers are at the same level
as the characters and are identiﬁed with them. Moreover, no high angles have
been identiﬁed, which supports the equal connection between characters and
When considering social interaction, the key idea is if the depicted people look
at the audience or not (van Leeuwen 2008: 141). The general tendency observed
in the picturebook is to represent characters as not looking at the audience.
Consequently, the actions they do are ‘offered’ to the audience. As Unsworth
(2010: 285), following Kress and van Leeuwen (2006), point out: “[…] an ‘offer’
does not have the gaze of any represented participant directed to the viewer and
hence provides a portrayal for the viewer’s contemplation”. In this sense, on most
pages, there is no explicit dialogue between the characters and the audience.
However, the two demand images appear in two signiﬁcant moments of the
story: the ﬁrst one is on the ﬁrst page of the book. Representing the child on the
right of the page looking at the audience while he shares that his Mommy and
Daddy got a divorce last year invites the audience to be involved. The second one
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
is the close-up on page 14: the child is looking at the audience and establishing
direct address, as a clear example of demand image: “[…] the participant’s gaze
(and the gesture, if present) demands something from the viewer, demands that
the viewer enter into some kind of imaginary relation with him or her” (Kress
and van Leeuwen 2006: 118). In this case, the demand is clearly reinforced by
his body posture, because he appears right in the centre of the page with his
arms open. The facial and body posture contribute to make this image dialogic,
because viewers are addressed with a visual ‘you’ (Kress and van Leeuwen 2006:
3.2 Compositional meanings
The picturebook starts making reference to the fact that the protagonist’s father
was heterosexual, because right at the beginning of the book we can read: “My
Mommy and Daddy got a divorce last year”. This written text is next to the child,
who is foregrounded. In the background, included in a bubble, just behind the
child indicating that this is something that happened in the past, the father is
represented leaving home, putting his suitcases in the car and the child and the
mother seeing him go. There is no doubt that he is narrating the story of his
family one year ago. It is also clear that he looks like his father, and both have the
same type and colour of hair.
The image in the bubble is clearly divided in two parts: the mother and the
child are framed by the window and the curtains on the right background of the
page layout; and we ﬁnd the father looking at them saying good-bye. It is signiﬁ-
cant that although the mother and the child appear on the right, the most impor-
tant part of the information, their bodies are cut by the window frame and their
size is small. By contrast, although the father is on the left, the place of known
information, the fact that he is represented bigger than the mother and the child
and that his whole body appears in the visual foregrounds him and makes clear
that the story that follows is about him.
After that, on page 3, the written text situates us in the present with the
marked textual theme “now”: Now there’s somebody new at Daddy’s house. The
person that is referred to as new in the written discourse also is foregrounded
in the visual framed by the sofa, whereas the child appears in the midground
framed by the carpet and the father is situated in the background, framed by the
door. Then, on the next page, it is the father who is foregrounded because the
fact that there is a new person in his house is already known. Frank, the father’s
roommate, is located in the midground, and it is the child who is situated in the
background, joined by vectors to his father and to Frank. He is represented lying
on the carpet, reading in the same posture as his father. After these introductory
pages, the two men are presented doing different things together: working, eat-
ing, sleeping, shaving and sometimes even ﬁghting.
The fact that Frank has a moustache is a sign of masculinity. Moreover, it is
Frank who drives the car on page 10, an activity done by most men when they are
with a woman in a car. In addition, presenting Frank putting cream on the child’s
father’s back while they are on the beach (p. 12) or hugging him (pages 15 and 16)
suggest that he is the more masculine of the two, because those are actions that
heterosexual men do with their partners. However, both appear doing housework
on page 4, which suggests that there is an equal division of housework.
Daddy is foregrounded on some pages: 4, 5, 9, and 12. Nevertheless, it is Frank
who appears on the right, where the most important part of the information is,
on page 6, when the two men appear ﬁghting (Frank is angry, standing up show-
ing Daddy a shirt with a burn mark from the iron). But then, on the next page it
is also Frank who is on the right when they are making up after the argument. It
seems that it is Frank who started the argument and it is he who seems to start
the process of making up, because he is holding Daddy’s shoulder.
After this, we ﬁnd different pages outside home where Frank is also given
importance in the child’s life; both appear together without Daddy in different
visuals: they appear playing together, Frank tells him jokes and riddles and he
helps him catch bugs for show-and-tell. Then, the action takes place at home
again, and Frank is sitting in an armchair next to the child, reading to him. They
also appear together to point out that Frank makes great peanut butter-and-jelly
sandwiches. On the next page Daddy, the child and Frank appear together after
the child has had a nightmare; Daddy is hugging the child, and Frank is talking
and chasing the nightmare away.
At that point in the picturebook, the child is represented leaving home with his
mother on the left, the boy on the right running somewhere followed by his dog,
clearly indicating that he is leaving home for the weekend and going to spend it
with Daddy and his roommate. On the next pages, the child iss between Daddy
and Frank doing different things:
We go to ball games.
Visit the zoo.
Go to the beach.
Work in the yard.
And in the evenings, we sing at the piano.
It is signiﬁcant that on all the pages describing the actions just mentioned, it is
Frank who is on the right, the place of the most important part of the informa-
tion, and therefore he is highlighted. In fact, there is a general tendency to Frank
being on the right, which contributes to foregrounding him not only in Daddy’s
life but also in the story.
The picturebook ends with the two men sitting on the sofa watching TV and eat-
ing popcorn while Frank has his arm round Daddy. The very last page represents
the two men with the child in the middle queuing outside the cinema. The child is
holding Frank’s arm and Daddy has his arms around the child’s shoulders. Again,
the fact that Frank is the one on the right suggests that he is the one who has more
power and more importance. The three characters are followed by a heterosexual
couple in the cinema queue; the woman appears ﬁrst followed by a man who is
touching her shoulders. Consequently, on this page we can observe one of the new
family models represented by Daddy, the child and Frank and a traditional couple.
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
The analysis of theme-rheme relations is relevant to see the characters who
appear on the prominent position in the written text and to analyse if the writ-
ten theme coincides with the visual one. It is observed that most of the themes
are unmarked because they coincide with the subject in declarative clauses: ‘My
Mommy and Daddy’, ‘Daddy and his roommate’ (this is found at the beginning
and at the end of the story), ‘they’, ‘Frank’, ‘he’, ‘we’, ‘Mommy’, ‘I’, ‘she’, ‘being
gay’ and ‘love’. The fact that apart from the characters or the pronouns used to
refer to them, ‘being gay’ and ‘love’ have thematic position contributing to rein-
forcing the connection between both concepts.
There are some examples of marked themes that contribute to highlight
moments in the story; for example, on page 3, the marked theme points out
the introduction of Daddy’s roommate: “Now there’s somebody new at Daddy’s
house”. After the enumeration of the different actions that Daddy and Frank
do together pointing out that they share their life, there is a marked theme on
page 6 to show that the couple has arguments at times: “And sometimes even
ﬁght together. But they always make up”. The next marked themes highlight
that the child does things with his father’s roommate: “Just like Daddy, he tells
me jokes and riddles” (p. 7); “And chases nightmares away” (p. 9); “And in the
evenings, we sing at the piano” (p. 13). Finally, the last marked theme is after
the mother tells the child that Daddy and his roommate are gay “At ﬁrst I didn’t
know that that meant. So she explained it” (p. 14). Table 2 summarizes the main
types of themes.
Themes Absolute values Values in percentages
Total number 26
Types of themes
The most general pattern is the continuous or constant theme (Danes, 1974)
because the same theme is shared by a series of clauses. In all these cases there is
an ellipsis of the subject, Daddy and his roommate in some examples, Frank and
we (referring to the child, Daddy and his roommate).
It is only at the end of the book that we observe an example of a zig-zag pat-
tern, which coincides with the climatic moment of the story where the concept of
gay is foregrounded: On page 15, the rheme “gay” in “Mommy says Daddy and
Frank are gay” becomes a theme as a way of pointing out the child’s acceptance
of his father being gay: “Being gay is just one more kind of love”. The same thing
happens with the word love: “And love is the best kind of happiness”. After this,
we observe a partial repetition of the rheme (happy) as a way to reinforce that
characters are happy with the gay relationship: Daddy and his roommate are very
happy together. And I’m happy too! (p. 17). The use of the additive conjunction
and as a textual theme shows that the happiness of the father is connected with
that of the child.
In most cases, the written theme coincides with the visual one as a way to rein-
force the complementary meaning of both modes of communication in the story;
for example, when Daddy and his roommate or they and the child are doing
things together. However, this is not the case the ﬁrst time Frank is mentioned
in the written theme, because he appears in the visual at the back of the page,
on the left, and he is smaller than the child. However, the fact that he is facing
the audience while the child has his back to the audience adds attention to him.
After the pages where Frank is doing activities with the child, he continues being
the written theme (there is an ellipsis of he as the subject) but in the visual, it is
the father who is represented hugging the child after he has had a nightmare.
The written theme Mommy on page 14 coincides with her representation in the
centre of the visual in the climatic moment of the story where she explains to the
child that his father is gay. The visual themes of Daddy and his roommate and
Daddy and the child showing affection reinforce the written themes ‘being gay’
and ‘love’, which is the ﬁnal message of the story.
Part of the picturebook situates the action at home and part of it outside. No
matter where the action takes place, characters are framed by windows (pages 2,
4, 5, 9, 13, 15), doors (page 3), trees (page 7), houses (pages 10, 12) or the kitchen
(page 14). This contributes to situate characters in context and to foreground
them in the visual.
This picturebook follows “the more frequent choice for a complementary ver-
tical layout in a picturebook is for the verbiage to come below the picture […]”
(Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 96). This is the pattern found on all pages.
The visual is framed in all cases and the written text is after it, occupying just one
line; the visual is the ideal and the page is the real. Consequently, this layout high-
lights that the image is given importance. This frame is only modiﬁed on the very
ﬁrst page, where the boy telling the story appears foregrounded and the image of
his father leaving home after the divorce from his mother is located in a bubble.
This suggests that the boy is situating the reader to what happened in the past
before narrating what is happening now. This is the only page where the verb
tense is past simple. The rest of the pages use simple present. In addition, the
textual theme ‘now’ on the second page clearly indicates that there is a change in
the father’s life at the present moment.
Considering framing, all the visuals are bound because they are “[…] set within
a page margin or border, demarcate the story world as more distinctly separated
from the reader’s world than unbould ones and may also serve to ‘contain’ or
conﬁne the character” (Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 105). In this way,
there is a clear division between the world presented in the picturebook and
the readers’ world. This is also highlighted with the fact that most of the visuals
are offer, i.e., the action done by the characters is presented tobe observed by
In focus, the fact that the image occupies the majority of the page means that
it is the most important element to catch the readers’ attention. The main focus
pattern found in this book is centrifocal centred. However, in some cases there
are examples of centrifocal polarised, where characters are placed in polarised
positions joined by different vectors (pages 2, 3, 7).
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
personal and compositional meanings
The child’s mother has a very signiﬁcant role in this picturebook because her
presence shows that there is no doubt about Daddy being the biological father
of the child who narrates the story, due to the explicit connection between him
and the child’s mother. The mother appears four times in the story, which are
important moments for the theme of the story. This is what justiﬁes that she is
treated as a separate entity and that this section offers an analysis of her presence
in the story due to her relative interpersonal and compositionalprominence in
3.3.1 Interpersonal meanings
The mother is always represented looking at her ex-husband (p. 1, 16), looking
at the child (p. 24) or looking at both her son and his dad (p. 27), i.e., she is
always represented in relation to someone else. As the majority of the visuals
in the picturebook, she is included in the category of offer. Her presence is in
middle shots, with the exception of the ﬁrst page where she is in long shot, when
portrayed in a bubble, inside the house, clearly framed by the window and the
curtains. There is social distance between the mother and the audience not only
because she is situated in the background on the ﬁrst page but also because there
is a tree, a table or a suitcase between her and the audience.
The general tendency to portray her using the frontal angle contributes to
highlight her role in certain moments of the picturebook. Consequently, she is
given a signiﬁcant role in the story although she is not the protagonist and the
plot is not about her or her previous relationship with the child’s father. In addi-
tion, there is no social interaction between the mother and the audience, because
she does not look directly at readers.
Apart from the role of the mother to make clear that Daddy is the child’s
biological father, she is important in the picturebook because she makes explicit
to the child that his father is gay: this is clearly expressed in the written text on
page 14, when the mother is cooking in the kitchen next to the child. There is no
reference to gay men in the written discourse until that moment. However, that
is suggested in the visuals because both men appear in bed (p. 6).
Sunderland and Mclashan (2012: 162–170) refer to three textual strategies to
promote, accept or understand families with same-sex parents: the ‘different’
strategy (“where having two Mums or Dads is conceptually recognized as dif-
ferent by the child” (Sunderland and Mclashan 2012: 165); the ‘backgrounding’
strategy ( “These books do not address the issue of gay sexuality directly or even
indirectly, but rather issues surrounding the family or personal life, which are
not speciﬁc to gay families” (Sunderland and Mclashan 2012: 168) and the ‘gay
strategy’. Daddy’s Roommate is a clear example of the last strategy, because the fact
that the father is gay is foregrounded from the beginning of the book. Following
Sunderland and Mclashan (2012: 163), “[…] gay sexuality is discussed explicitly,
in part through the device of explaining the word to the child in the story”. The
introductory sentence is, in fact, the textual component of the story: Daddy and
his roommate Frank live together. Then, from the beginning of the story the
father and his roommate appear doing things together:
And sometimes even ﬁght together.
But they always make up.
3.3.2 Compositional meanings
The ﬁrst time that the mother appears is at the beginning of the picturebook, on
the right next to the child, on the ﬁrst page, where the child makesmakes refer-
ence to their parents’ divorce: “My Mommy and Daddy got a divorce last year”.
Only half her body is seen through the window. The father is represented bigger
and in full body, a clear way of making him salient, which contributes to make
him responsible for the divorce. Although on the ﬁrst page of the picturebook
the child’s father is saying good-bye and the child replies to him with the same
gesture, she is just looking at him, while she is holding the curtain with her hand
so that she can really see that he is leaving. She is serious, observing her ex-
husband act of leaving.
Presenting them inside the house clearly framed by the window while the
father is outside putting his suitcases in the car points out that the mother and
the child are passive and just observing what the father does, whereas the father
is active, represented moving out, leaving home. This visual makes clear that the
father is leaving home to start a new life. However, it is not until the next visual
that it is pointed out that Daddy has a newpartner: Frank. The child states that
they live together: “Daddy and his roommate Frank live together”. The contrast
between narrating the divorce in past simple and the present simple to refer to
the person that his father lives with in the present makes clear that the child is
aware of the change in his parents’ life, which also affects his life. Representing
the action of the father leaving home inside a bubble behind the child’s head
makes clear that this is a mental, cognitive process, because the child is sharing
with readers an action that took place in the past.
The mother is on the left when she reappears on page 10. In this way, her
representation is varied: receding because she has moved into the background
setting (relative to previous depiction) (Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 65).
This is a very clear way of portraying the mother and what the child does with
her during the week as known information, because the written text below the
image just says: “When weekends come” and on the next page we can see how
the father and Frank arrive by car to pick up the child and do things with him, as
we can read: “we do all sorts of things together”. This is a clear example of the
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
double-page spread being a single layout unit, where it is very easy to observe the
given/new division of information placed on the left and on the right. By read-
ing both pages together visually and linguistically, it is observed that characters
appear in a row and they are connected; the mother and the father are standing
up while Frank is in the driver’s seat. In this way, the mother and the father are
represented in a symmetrical way, one at each side of the child, following Painter,
Martin and Unsworth (2013: 66): “[…] a symmetrical presentation of comparable
images on the page is a way of ‘covertly’ constructing them as members of the
Her facial expression contrasts with the one on the ﬁrst page: this time her
mouth is open and she seems to be smiling while she greets with her left hand,
which suggests that she has now accepted her husband’s new relationship. The
mother, the child and the father are connected in order to guide children in
the process of connecting the actions presented in both pages, supported by
the written text, which is incomplete after reading just the ﬁrst part presented
on the left page. Presenting the dog running between the mother and the child
also contributes to joining both characters and what they do together during the
week. She is facing her ex-husband, who is represented looking at her and at the
child on the next page, which suggests that she is saying hello to him instead of
good-bye to the child because he is represented running towards the father, not
looking at the mother.
The reappearance of the mother on page 14 coincides with a climatic moment
of the story because it is the moment where the mother shares with the child
that his father and Frank are gay. The logico-semantic relation expressed by the
multimodal relation between the visual and the written text is that of projection
(Painter, Martin and Unsworth 2013: 75), because in the written language a ver-
bal process is used, and then we ﬁnd the clause that is being projected: “Mommy
says Daddy and Frank are gay”.
The written ideational theme (Mommy) coincides with the visual one because
the mother is right in the centre of the visual on page 14. She is clearly framed
by the kitchen table, the fridge, and a piece of furniture at the back. Represent-
ing the child on her right, looking at her attentively, contributes to focus the
attention on her. She is the central element of the visual not only because of
her location and the different kitchen pots pointing at her, but also because of
the clothes she is wearing: a red shirt and blue trousers. She is wearing a pink
apron on which it is written “World’s Best Mom” followed by a red ﬂower. This
emphasizes her role as mother. She appears to be cooking, the only time that the
mother is represented doing something with the child (he is also holding a bowl
and a spoon).
The reappearance of the mother in this visual associated with telling the child
that his father is gay rely on the written text, because apart from the written text
on this visual, in the next one where the child is alone, we can read: “At ﬁrst
I didn’t know what that meant. So she explained it”.
Finally, the last time that the mother appears, at the end of the book and
after the meaning of gay has been explained to the child, she is also observing,
as she did in the ﬁrst visual, i.e., she has the same passive role of observing at
the beginning and at the end of the picturebook. However, in this case there are
signiﬁcant differences: although she also is located on the right, this time we can
see her whole body, which contributes to her importance; she is sitting on a stool
with a close body posture because her arms are closed, symbolizing that she does
not accept the new situation. However, the two cups next to her elbow suggest
that they have had a drink together and that there is a good relationship between
them because the father comes to leave the child after they have spent the week-
end together. The dog is again next to her, as in the second time she appeared,
but this time it is between her and the father and the son. They are represented
hugging each other, framed by an arc inside the mother’s house. This contrasts
with the representation of the mother and the child in the ﬁrst visual, framed by
the window but on the right of the page.
As it happened the second time that the mother appeared, the visuals in the
two pages have to be read together as the written text makes clear: on the left
page we ﬁnd Frank hugging Daddy while they look at each other laughing and
the written text “Being gay is just one more type of love”. Then, in the next visual
it is Daddy and the child who appear hugging inside the mother’s house, and the
written text starts with the textual theme, followed by the word love as ideational
theme, which is also the last word that appears in the rheme of the previous writ-
ten text. This is an example of a zig-zag theme-rheme pattern that contributes
to reinforce the idea of love and happiness no matter if it is between two men
or not: “And love is the best kind of happiness”. The end of the picturebook is
characterized by the repetition of the adjective happy in the rheme and the visual
representation of the two men alone at home and of them and the child outside
the cinema as happy. In this way, it is reinforced that the child accepts the new
relationship that his father has with Frank.
Although the utilization of offers in the visuals and declarative sentences in the
written text may imply distance from the readers, the middle-shots situate the
child at that same level as the characters. In addition, the frontal viewpoint con-
tributes to children being involved in the story. The two offers in two signiﬁcant
moments in the book contribute to the creation of afﬁnity with the audience. In
this sense, the analysis shows that visuals create more afﬁnity with the readers
than words do.
The written language in this picturebook does not encourage interaction, because
all the sentences are declarative, with the exception of two exclamatives that show
the child’s emotions. The ﬁrst one appears in the middle of the story, in the ﬁrst
of a set of pages where the child is doing things with Frank, his father’s roommate:
“Frank likes me too!” on page 7 clearly expresses that the child is happy with Frank
and that he feels accepted and integrated. The exclamative “And I’m happy too!”
is on the very last page of the book and makes clear that the child is happy with
the relationship that his father has. This way of ending the story can be useful
to tell children who have gay fathers that they can be happy and that they can be
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
integrated in the new relationship that their father started with a man. Moreover,
the fact that the child is the only character who looks at the audience twice in the
book shows that creating afﬁnity with the reader is not a priority for the author
but to narrate a story emphasizing that a formerly heterosexual man now has a gay
relationship and having a child is accepted by his new partner.
The main visual characteristics of the characters, in this case Daddy and his
roommate, Frank, contribute to the way masculinity is perceived by children (Cam-
pagnaro 2015). In the picturebook analysed, gay masculinity is normalised and the
expressions of love between both men is presented as natural. The fact that the
book starts with the child who narrates the story making reference to the divorce
between his mother and father and to the new relationship that his father has
with his roommate, contributes to the normalisation of this type of relationships.
The child appears sometimes at his mother’s house, but most of the story
takes place at his father’s house or doing things with his father and Frank; this
shows that the new relationship that his father has is accepted by the child and
it intends to be an example for other children with similar types of family. This
is an example of acceptance of family types of same-sex parents. Consequently,
this type of picturebook contributes to an inclusive curriculum, so that children
do not fear being discriminated against because of the sexual orientation of their
families (Rowell 2007; Sunderland and Mclashan 2012), to show respect for differ-
ent types of family and to present relationships different from the heterosexual
ones as natural.
In fact, this story can help children to be aware that there are different ways
to establish affective-sexual relationships. It is explicit that the child’s parents got
a divorce at the beginning of the book, which makes clear that they were married
and had a heterosexual relationship. After that fact is narrated, the author points
out that the father now has a new relationship with a man called Frank. In this
sense, children observe how different affective relationships are created in the
same story, which can have an effect on the way they create their gender schemas
(Coats 2018; Soler Quiles 2015).
The analysis has shown that there are different examples of characters express-
ing their affection and their emotions in this picturebook. There are different
cases of characters represented having physical contact between them, which
contributes to reinforcing the close relationship between them and the way they
express their feelings. In this sense, children will have different examples of the
expression of emotions and contact that will help them to understand their feel-
ings (Nikolajeva 2014). In Nikolajeva’s words (2018: 110):
Yet as picturebooks are likely to be the ﬁrst kind of books that emerging
readers encounter, they may potentially offer a powerful tool for under-
standing one’s own and other people’s emotions, in particular for pre-
literate readers with a limited ability to make connections between the
experiencing of an emotion and its verbal signiﬁer.
The relationship between Daddy and Frank is normalised, and the fact of the child
living in a family of a same-sex parents is presented as natural. Foregrounding
a gay family and the expression of love contribute to show that it is possible to
have a happy relationship between two men. The gay relationship is explicit from
the beginning of the story, because Daddy and Frank appear represented sleep-
ing together on page 5. This is reinforced by the fact of presenting clear signs of
affection between Daddy and Frank: Frank touches Daddy’s shoulder when they
are making up after having a ﬁght (p. 6); Frank appears putting cream on Daddy’s
back while they are at the beach (p. 12) and ﬁnally, at the end of the book, Frank
is hugging Daddy twice at home. It is meaningful than the page between these
two shows Daddy and the child hugging while the mother is situated on the right
looking at them. This hug is a symbolic way of the child showing acceptance of
the gay relationship that the child’s father has with Frank.
There is no doubt that the climatic moment of the book is when we ﬁnd Frank
hugging Daddy (p. 15) and below it the written text: “Being gay is just one more
kind of love”, which contributes to construct the normality of gay love. The writ-
ten message and the visual are complementary, and the children reading this
picturebook will clearly understand that there can be love between two men.
This sentence is illustrated by a visual where Frank is hugging the child’s father;
they both smile and look at each other, indicating that they are in love. The next
page contrasts with this one because it represents the mother looking at the
child and the father while they are hugging and kissing. As on page 10, the dog
is placed between the mother and the child, establishing a division between the
previous family they were together and the change that has taken place in their
life after the father left home because of being gay. The dog is also happy, his tail
up. The picturebook ends normalising the relationship that dad has with Frank:
Daddy and his roommate are very happy together.
And I’m happy too!
After page 15, a very clear characteristic between the representation of the char-
acters in the last pages of the picturebook is that the different expressions of
affection observed (hugs, kisses, or just touching each other) means that the
characters are presented close to each other.
This is a very clear example of a picturebook where a new family type is nor-
malised. In this sense, this picturebook illustrates a gender-progressive ideology
because it presents the relationship that a previously heterosexual man with a son
has now with another man. The normalisation of this type of relationship will fa-
cilitate children not only respecting gay relationships but also see them as normal
and natural family patterns where the expression of love is present.
The analysis of the written text and of the visuals shows that the expressions
of affection are easy between the son and his father and between Daddy and
Frank. In this sense, this book points out clear signs of affection between men,
which can be associated with the characteristics of new masculinities because
Brno Studies in English 2020, 46 (2)
men leave behind the classical characteristics of hegemonic masculinity in order
to do housework or express affection, which has been normally done only by
The interpersonal meanings contribute towards involving readers in the story
due to the predominance of middle-shots and close-ups. From the compositional
point of view, the fact that the father and his roommate share the prominent
position in the visuals and in the written text contributes to giving them equal
importance in the story and to normalising the gay relationship. In addition, the
child’s mother has a signiﬁcant role because she appears at important moments
in the story and because it is she who explains to the child what gay means.
There are many implications that the analysis of the picturebook has, including
pedagogical ones: children who read these books can learn to see housework as
any other activity not associated with one of the fathers. This contrasts with what
happens in some traditional heterosexual couples, where it is the woman who
takes care of housework. The fact that Daddy and his roommate appear sharing
housework and doing many things together can contribute to foreground equal-
ity. Moreover, social diversity is foregrounded from the beginning of the story
because of the open expression of the change of the child’s father’s identity from
heterosexual to gay.
This study was carried out as part of the research project FFI2017-85306-P (The
Construction of Discourse in Children’s Picturebooks, AMULIT), funded by the
Spanish Ministry of Economy, Industry and Competitiveness.
1 Italics appear in the original text.
2 Italics appear in the original text.
3 MDA refers to Multimodal Discourse Analysis.
4 Due to copyright permission, I cannot illustrate the analysis with visuals from the
book but some of them can be seen in the following link: https://www.amazon.
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María Martínez LiroLa is a Senior Lecturer of the Department of English at the University
of Alicante, Spain and Research Fellow at the University of South Africa (UNISA). Her
main areas of research are Critical Discourse Analysis, Systemic Functional Linguistics
and Applied Linguistics. She has published more than 100 papers and seven books, such
as Main Processes of Thematization and Postponement in English (Peter Lang, 2009). She has
been a visiting scholar in different universities such as: Manchester Metropolitan Univer-
sity (2019), University of Rome (2019), Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales
en la República Dominicana (FLACSO-RD) (2018), Queens College, City University of
New York (USA, 2017), Universidad del Norte (Barranquilla, Colombia, 2016), University
of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada 2014), Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia,
2005), etc. She has presented papers in international congresses all over the world.
Address: María Martínez Lirola, Department of English Studies, Ap. 99, E-03080 Univer-
sity of Alicante, Alicante, Spain. [email: firstname.lastname@example.org]
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