Comparison and Contrast

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses

Gobel, P. (1978). The girl who loved wild horses. New York: Simon & Schuster.

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses is a story about a young girl who has a special relationship with horses. She understands and communicates with them in a way that is different from that of her family and the rest of her tribe. During a storm she is carried by the horses to the mountains where she finds her true home among them.


Line, Shape, Texture, Color:

Paul Goble uses thin black lines to draw his shapes and figures, complemented and accented by white lines, which, he says, are part of his ledger art-inspired style and an “attempt to brighten the art rather like bead and quillwork.” They do brighten, as a striking contrast to the rich color palette, but they also connect, serving to compliment and connect the ample white space that Goble employs on each page.

By outlining in dark or black ink, he creates meticulous shapes. The only things, therefore, unformed on the page are the expanses of white background, which serve to emphasize our focus on the colored image. Interestingly, the contrast of these meticulously crafted images with the white space both control and encourage the imagination. He creates the complete image he wants you to get, while also leaving space for you to fill in the blank, so to speak. It has the overall effect of being quite striking.

He uses lots of curved lines for the animals and earth, retaining the very straight lines for the manmade items such as tipis and blankets. The lines are smooth and defined. The coloring is also smooth and meticulous. The only real texture is found on the coats of animals, and in broader swaths of color, like the sky.

The palette incorporates a full range of colors, with lots of earth tones – brown and green and yellow. There are pinks for flowers, and the people and people-made objects are accented with reds and blues. Chromatically, the colors are bright and vibrant. This is further emphasized by the use of so much white space.


Goble creates movement and unity through composition. The drawings are usually arranged on a diagonal or horizontal plain, which suggests forward motion. He also creates lines with the borders or clusters of forms – the line of the hills, the line of the pebbles on the ground, the line of the dark underbelly of storm clouds, the line of a cluster of plants – to point the way forward to the next page. This suggestion of movement is key to the narrative of the story and also to the general feeling of organic motion that exists in the natural world. There are also pages in which he creates non-forward motion. For example, on the first page, the text says, “The people were always moving from place to place following the herds of the buffalo.” The illustration consists of a herd of buffalo and some figures on horses, fighting or chasing the buffalo. Rather than moving forward on the page, the buffalo are running to the left (“backward”), and the horses are scattered around the page. One horse and rider are upside down. There is a great feeling of movement, but it is not linear. On another spread, we see a crowd of people, arranged as a line along the bottom of the page. Beyond them is a group of horses, also arranged in a line. Beyond the horses is a line of tipis, whose triangular shapes are mirrored by a backdrop of mesa-topped hills. The composition creates a triangular layer of forms, both natural and manmade, that are grounded in a solid base of human and animal. The solidity and solidarity suggested by this composition is a theme that Paul Goble explores in all of his books: humans, animals, and nature are all interconnected, coexisting parts of Creation.

Also emphasizing this interconnectedness is the fact that, though Goble employs ample white space, the elements of the pictures are always connected. The branches, leaves, rocks, animals, humans, and tipis are always connected in a zigzag web of lines. Nature – plants, water, sky, etc. – generally dominates each illustration, but all things exist together on the page.


Medium and Style:

The illustrations are drawn in pen-and-ink and then painted in watercolor.

Stylistically, Goble draws greatly from traditional American Indian art. His style originally came from his love of and desire to imitate ledger art. Though his style has matured into something that is his own, it still greatly echoes these traditional narrative painting styles. He also does ample research to ensure that the designs and patterns he uses for blankets, clothing, and tipis are historically accurate.

ledger art


As an additional echo of traditional Indian art, Goble uses geometric lines and shapes that accent the more representational images in his illustrations. In contrast to the natural elements of people, animals, and nature, the geometric lines add a supernatural or sacred quality to the illustrations.

Round is a Tortilla

Thong, R.G., & Parra, J. (2013). Round is a tortilla. San Francisco: Chronicle Books. 

Round is a Tortilla is a concept book about shapes that focuses on Latino objects and cultural traditions.

Analysis and Comparison

Line, Shape, Texture, Color:

Unlike Paul Goble, John Parra doesn’t necessarily outline his forms and figures. On one page, in which abuela is making stew, the table, chairs, and plants are not outlined, but parts of the little girl’s dress and abuela’s shirt are outlined. He also uses lines to create or accentuate details within the elements of the picture. Abuela’s form is not outlined, but there are lines on her shirt to create structure, and lines on her skin, to suggest age. This absence of defined outline gives the illustrations a certain softness and casual quality. It accentuates the folk art quality that all of John Parra’s illustrations have. Where Goble’s paintings have meticulous definition, Parra lets the colors create definition and boundary. His illustrations are almost like blocks of colors superimposed and arranged on the page.

Because shape is the concept being explored in this book, the primary shapes used in each illustration change from page to page. However, like Goble, Parra uses lots of round shapes and curved lines for people and nature, and straighter lines for manmade things and objects. Faces are very round, trees have curved branches and roots. Again, his shapes are more like blocks of color, arranged to create a scene, unlike Paul Goble, who often creates many smaller shapes to create a larger, more complicated whole.

Also unlike Goble’s illustrations, which are relatively untextured, outside of line and animal fur, Parra creates ample texture. Not only does he paint on boards, which are already textured in and of themselves, he also sands the paintings to give the illusion of age and to add more dimension. This recalls the traditional Mexican paintings, called retablos, that Parra has cited as being inspirational to his style.


Parra’s color palette is largely pastel, with accents of bright red and orange. The colors and saturation are rich and warm, which enhance the rich, emotional warmth already depicted in each scene. Unlike Goble, who uses white space as an illustrative element, Parra fills the entire page with color, providing luminous backdrops for each scene.


Compositionally, Parra offers activity without providing linear movement. The scenes often spread across the whole page, with the humans and human activities dominating the scene. Small details pepper the corners and background. Shapes are repeated in small objects and details to further underline the concept. For example, on a page in which squares are textually offered as ventanas, a clock, and photos, squares also appear as a small guitar, the seat and back of a chair, and papeles picados hanging along the top of the wall. This repetition of shapes adds a symmetry and wholeness to the picture, while also effectively supporting and furthering the concept. And while there isn’t a sense of motion from one picture to the next, Parra does include lines – ribbons, ropes, sidewalks, the horizon – to connect one page with the next. Because the book is a concept book and not a narrative, we do not need a sense of forward movement because each page is a self-contained scene. However, this repeated suggestion of connection is a nice way to tie the pages together.


Medium and Style:

John Parra uses acrylics on boards to paint each illustration. He then sands the pictures to create texture and a sense of age.

His style echoes traditional Mexican style and culture. The bright colors, the informality, the use of wood as canvas, and the focus on daily activities, family, and food are all inspired by Latino culture and traditions.

Note the texture on the green background.

While Paul Goble and John Parra both draw from definitive and recognizable cultural traditions, one focuses on a spiritual, meticulous, narrative tradition, and one focuses on a folksy, tangible tradition that is more human- than nature-centric. Both artists use a broad palette of rich warm colors, but Goble’s are used in meticulous measure, deriving a great deal of emphasis from the white space that surrounds them, and Parra’s paintings are almost like textured building blocks of color. These differences give Parra’s paintings a folk art quality and Goble’s a fine art quality.

Also, Parra is drawing from a cultural heritage that is his own, while Goble is drawing from cultural heritages that he is fascinated by, but that are not actually his own, despite his close relationships with tribes and elders. Despite this, and maybe because of it, Goble’s illustrations and stories are steeped in research. He is portraying specific details and stories that require accuracy. Parra, however, is not writing the stories or texts that he is illustrating, and is not portraying historical narratives. Thus, his illustrations have a more casual, generalized feeling.

Regardless of their differences and similarities, both artists create beautiful, vivid illustrations that are wonderful companions to their texts. Their respectively rich and culturally evocative techniques and styles are a credit to the field of children’s book illustration.