Picturebooks in ELT

Passionate about picturebooks

Welcome to my blog about picturebooks in ELT.

“A picturebook is text, illustrations, total design; an item of manufacture and a commercial product; a social, cultural, historic document; and foremost, an experience for a child. As an art form it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning page.” (Barbara Bader 1976:1)

My intention is to discuss picturebooks, in particular the pictures in them! Why? Because, in ELT we tend to select picturebooks because they contain words our students might know. I plan to write something a couple of times a month, sharing what I discover in my readings; describe new titles I come across; discuss particular illustrators and their styles and generally promote the picture in picturebooks.

From January 2008 to December 2011 I benefitted from a PhD research grant from FCT, in Portugal.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Ten picturebooks for pre-primary language learners

The reason for my recent flurry of activity is because DELTA Publishing are doing a feature on ten picturebooks for pre-primary children - all ten now appear  on my blog! They have also created a flier outlining ten reasons for using stories with very young learners.  

To learn more about the promotion, and maybe even win all ten picturebooks, follow this link. 

Below you can see the ten books being featured in the DELTA promotion. Click on the picturebook covers to reach the posts.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

'Pardon?' said the giraffe

Front cover
Pardon?' said the giraffe, is written and illustrated by Colin West, one of several that always make my students giggle! Not surprisingly, some of them are part of a collection called The Giggle Club, 'made to put a giggle into reading'.  Colin West actually says'These books are full of pictures to help you read'.  I have all nine of his picturebooks, and they work because there is always a giggle element which doesn't lean on the words.  You need to understand the words and the pictures together to get the joke - both words and images work together to create meaning. True to great picturebooks considered ideal for helping children learn to read, these books contain repeated refrains, cumulative language, strong sound patterning, rhythm and rhyme, and a fairly rich lexical input, and of course illustrations which carry the narrative, sometimes alongside the words, sometimes not. 
The book is slightly shorter than a normal picturebook, with just 24 pages instead of 32. The front cover introduces us to three of the characters: a frog, giraffe and lion, and if you look on the back cover, there's a lion too. The frog is perched on the lion and elephant's head, something he does in the visual narrative later on. 
As this is a book to get readers hooked, 'Pardon?' said the giraffe, has all those bits a picturebook should have. A neat set of endpapers, same at front and back, but still meaningful in the visual narrative. 
Front endpapers
A decorative motif, but can you see the frog in the midst of all the flowers? 
Title page
The title page has a neat little cameo illustration of an innocent looking giraffe.
Opening 1
And so our story begins with frog hopping on the ground wondering 'What's it like up there?'. Up there is so far away that we can only see the lower part of the giraffe's body, she's so tall she doesn't fit on the page. Children often comment on this. The giraffe can't hear. Is she deaf, or just teasing the frog? But each time she is asked the same question we read 'Pardon?' said the giraffe. 
Miraculously, a lion appears and the frog jumps on his head and asks again 'What's it like up there?' Then along comes a hippo ...
Opening 3
Neither lion or hippo look much impressed by frog using them as a ladder. What animal do you think he'll jump onto next to get nearer the giraffe? Her neck is getting longer! Yep, you guessed it, an elephant. And what luck this brought frog, just a bit clsoer to giraffe and he was able to hop on her nose. Each time of course, frog asks, 'What's it like up there?' and giraffe replies, 'Pardon?' Children love this, they happily chorus "'Pardon' said the giraffe". 
Opening 5
For the first time the animals don't look concerned or worried, look they are smiling at frog who is perching awkwardly on giraffe's nose. Can you guess what's going to happen next?  Well how you you feel if a frog jumped onto our nose?  Ticklish by any chance? Yep!  That's how girafe feels and of course she sneezes.
Opening 7
"Oops!" Down falls frog. Giraffe is equally curious, as you would be if you were tall ... "What's it like down there?" asked the giraffe. 
Opening 8
"Pardon?" said the frog. Everyone but the frog seems to think it's entertaining! Children love it too and eagerly rub their heads and pretend to be a confused frog. Like I said lots of repetition with a lovely twist, which is simple enough for small children to understand and appreciate. Magical Mr West.

Other books by Colin West include:

'Not me' said the monkey
Have you seen the crocodile?
One day in the jungle

A pile of washing

I blogged about one of my favourite Jez Alborough books ages ago, Hug. This post is about another of his picturebooks, Washing line. It's a small book, nothing mega, except of course it's full of Alborough's humour and perfect for sharing while children are learning about clothes. 
Front cover
Here's the front cover showing a huge pair of spotty underpants hanging on a line, and a little white mouse scampering by. Not only does this present one of the characters in the story (the mouse) but also an important item of clothing in the storyline. Who could these underpants belong to? 
Copyright and title pages
There are no endpapers, but the copyright and title pages make up for this!  The copyright is written on a white sheet hanging on the line, and there's that white mouse again, this time undressed. The title page shows a basket of washing, ready to hang out, I suppose. These are all good things to return to having shown the picturebook to small children. 
Opening 1
The pages in this book aren't all the same size.  Can you make out the page break in the middle of the grass there? The elephant has found some very long socks on the washing line and is asking, "Whose are those socks hanging on the washing line?" Do you know? What animal has long legs? Turn the flap and you see a kinky flamingo in warm stripy socks! "They're mine", said the flamingo.
Opening 2
On each spread a bit of the next item of clothing can be seen, it rarely goes unnoticed by the children, certainly not during rereads. They love calling out what will come next. This time, both the elephant and the flamingo want to know "Whose is that jumper hanging on the washing line?"
Opening 3
"It's mine" grunted an orang-utan!  Of course with arms that long! You probably can't see the tiny yellow dress, but it's there in the top right hand corner. 
Opening 6
We discover this belongs to the mouse - can you see her on the pole? There's a hint on the front cover of course, where we saw her scampering over the boxer shorts, and children will comment on this during retells. That strange orange and blue striped thing is a scarf, '"Whose is that jumper hanging on the washing line?" asked the elephant, the flamingo, the urang-utan and the mouse'. Children call out "a snake", but they're wrong!
Opening 8
It's a giraffe's scarf of course! As we've turned each page the animals enquiring about the hanging clothes get greater in number, and we have to remember the order in which they appeared - this is a very subtle maths related activity and one of the many reasons that these kinds of picturebooks are so useful for small children - remember we are never 'just' teaching English!
Opening 9
But look! What an enormous pair of boxers. "Whose are those underpants hanging on the washing line?" asked the flamingo, the orang-utan, the mouse and the giraffe (have you noticed the elephant has gone?)
Opening 10
Turn the flap and oooo! It's the elephant!  "They're mine of course!"  He does have a big bottom! 
But then all the animals wonder what to do next, afterall they are wearing their dry clothes. But elephant has an idea. We can see a bit of his idea to the right of the illustration ... can you guess?
Opening 13
Arghhh!  "LET'S GET THEM WET AGAIN!" Cool idea Mr elephant, and the children chortle with delight! But that's not the end of the story for if we turn the page again, we see all the clothes hanging on the line, dripping of course! 
Opening 14
Can you remember who wears what? The children can and it's a great way to help them remember and make connections. There's a bright sun shining on the clothes so they'll dry nice and quick and this is something to talk about with the children too. 
What a simply lovely picturebook. So easy, nice and repetitive and with a wonderful twist at the end. Great for a clothes related topic, but also very useful for helping children sequence and match, suitable early maths concepts. And if you don't follow the sharing of this story by setting up a washing line in your classroom, shame on you!

We all go traveling by

Front cover
And we all go traveling by, by Sheena Roberts and illustrated by Siobhan Bell is published by Barefoot Books - an independent publisher that creates "bright, colourful books for children that combine beautiful artwork with captivating storytelling. [Books] that capture the imagination, spark curiosity, inspire creativity and instill respect for cultural, social and ecological diversity." 
Picturebooks that feature transports aren't easy to come by for pre-primary children and this is why I like this title so much. It's rhythmic text is both repetitive and musical - I challenge anyone to share this story without breaking into song. IMPOSSIBLE! It also plays with the traditional English word game 'I spy with my little eye' and adds, 'You can hear with your little ear', because if you have a book about transport you wil hear all sorts of noises, from the beep-beep-beep of the yellow school bus to the tap-tap-tap of a pair of purple shoes ... afterall, our feet transport us to places too!  
It's an unusual book as the illustrations were created first as embroidered pictures - Siobhan Bell is a full-time textile artist, who has exhibitions and all sorts. This makes the picturebook just that little bit extra special, and the children really enjoy looking closely and discovering this technique. You can talk to them about this too - Information about Siobhan, is on the inside of the front flap. 
There are no endpapers, but the inside of the covers are decorated with a pattern containing some of the images we will see inside the book. 
Inside of front cover
The title page begins our story, I love it when this happens.  
Title page
There's a queue of people at a bus stop, even a cat, which the children I work with think is their puppet Hoola, so that brings them even closer to the story... What could they all be waiting for? The school bus of course!
Opening 1
And so we begin our repetitive refrain... 
I spy with my little eye, 
You hear with your little ear,
A yellow school bus goes beep-beep-beep. 
And we all go travelling by, bye, bye, 
And we all go travelling by. 
Next comes a brigh tred truck that goes rumble-rumble-rumble, and it becomes part of the rhythmical sing-song text, and part of the illustrations too. Next a long blue train, which of course goes chuff-chuff-chuff!  It is loooong! 
Opening 3
Over hills and dales we are taken in the embroidered illustrations, collecting a pink bike (ring-ring-ring) and a little greenboat (chug-a-lug-a-lug) 
Opening 5
Can you see the boat? It's so green it kind of disappears into the hills and dales (if I had been the editor I'd have questioned the choice of colour there!) ... then we pick up a big white plane (neeeeeee-oww) that's my favourite! A fast orange car (vroom-vroom-vroom) and finally "Two purple shoes go tap-tap-tap".
Opening 8
That's a busy spread ... completed by the sing-song refrain: And we all go traveling by, bye, bye. And we all go traveling by. 
But hey! We are not done yet. Where is everyone going? Any idea? The next opening let's out the secret...
Opening 10
Our eyes can see and our ears can hear "A loud silver bell goes ding-a-ling-a-ling:" Everyone is going to school, of course! 
And we all start another school day, hooray!
And we all start another school day!
The final spread is a wonderful clear collage of all the different transport, which typically small children love nominating. The book is not allowed to be closed if we haven't looked and pointed at everything there, and remembered each accompanying sound. 
Opening 11
This is a winner with 4-year-olds, who appreciate the simplicity of the repetition, the musicality, the transport sounds and the supportive illustrations (except maybe for the green boat!). The book comes with a CD which has both the song and an animated version of the story. You can also find this on YouTube:
YouTube video

And if you really want to go for transport in a big way there are even some instant resources for you to use to reinforce the transport words through visuals, which can be found here:

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Good old Brown Bear ...

Picture Puffin Edition, 1995
Henry Holt & Cº Edition, 1970
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? written by Bill Martin Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle was first published in 1967. It's a classic and a picturebook I recommend to all teachers who aren't sure about using authentic literature, especially if they are working with pre-primary and early-primary learners. It's repetitive in nature, the illustrations support learners' understanding of the words, and of course it's a concept book enabling children to either learn or contextualise colours and animals as well as begin to pick up the English adjective + noun word order. I've argued in a number of places that though this is a good reason to use picturebooks, it's not the only reason and children remain fairly passive when they are shown this picturebook - passive in the sense that they don't have to think much - pictures show and words tell the same information. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful picturebook and one I wouldn't do without! 

The front of the book presents the bear and the back of the book shows us the old bear's bottom... he walks into the book and walks out. Don't forget to show this sequence to your learners. 

Back cover, Picture Puffin Edition
The endpapers are wonderful, and I always go back to these during retells, as they help children remember the sequence of the animals by associating them with the strips of colour Carle has used.  In the Picture Puffin edition the endpapers have been signed by Eric Carle, in the Henry Holt Edition, there is a red bird instead... 

Front endpapers Picture Puffin Edition
Front endpapers Henry Holt edition

Bring this to the children's attention, whichever your version is and talk about it. The title pages differ too. The Picture Puffin Edition looks like a kind of window and replicates the ripped paper technique Carle uses on the endpapers. 

Title page, Picture Puffin Edition. 
Title page, Henry Holt Edition

And so we begin our journey through this rhythmic sequence of colourful animals, each dictating which animal comes next. The sequence starts with the iconic brown bear ... In the Henry Holt Edition, the bear is facing left not right, I've always thought that odd, walking away from the story instead of into it.

Opening 1 Picture Puffin Edition
All through this book as readers we ask each animal they see, for example, "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" and the animal responds, "I see a red bird." Upon each page turn we discover the announced animal. 

Opening 2, Picture Puffin Edition
Each animal appears bold and bright, huge on the page. The red bird is one of my favourites. Eric Carle has used different tones of red paper (which he has prepared himself I think) as well as colours derived from red. Children sometimes comment in their own language on this and we talk about the fact that purple is a mixture of red and blue and orange comes from yellow and red... 

Then comes the yellow duck, its long neck bent backwards to fit the page. Then the blue horse, its square back aligned with the top of the page. 

Opening 4, Picture Puffin Edition
No child seems to question this surreal horse, which I always find so comforting. I like the mixture of blues turning almost to green here too. Another of my favourite picturebooks by Eric Carle is The artist who painted the blue horse, and one I also share with my pre-primary learners. They always make the connection between these two horses. 

The blue horse announces he can see a green frog, then the frog announces a purpe cat.

Opening 6, Picture Puffin Edition
Purple cat in turn announces white dog. I like that the dog comes after the cat and not before and that it is the cat who brings him into the story. I wonder if this helps or hinders the children's ability to sequence the animals? 

The kinds of animals that Bill Martin Jr decided to include in this story don't fit into any one animal category. I like that too. There are pets, wild woodland animals and farm animals. Children are never expecting to see a sheep, but white dog announces a black sheep.

Opening 8, Picture Puffin Edition
As you can see from this illustration, the sheep is actually brown. Children often comment on this, and I explain that in real life black sheep actually have dark brown wool. I've noticed however that reprints of this book now have a black sheep and I often wonder whether this was because of market feedback. 

Black sheep announces a lovely big gold fish which I usually call 'orange fish' and then there's a nice surprise, for next we have a monkey, our token jungle animal!

Opening 10, Picture Puffin Edition
This monkey is not seen in full and though no child has ever commented, it's actually a turn in the visual narrative. The monkey is looking out at us and scratching his head ... what can he see?

Opening 11, Picture Puffin Edition
Why all the children of course!  I point to different faces and ask the children if they can see themselves. They always can as these faces are a multicultural set of smiling children all looking back at us readers.  

There's something commfortingly didactic about Martin Jr and Carle's book. The final spread is the result of the question, "Children, children, what do you see?" and helps young readers remember what it was they saw during this rhythmic, visual story. 

Opening 12, Picture Puffin Edition
Upon first seeing this page children often "Oohhh" in delight when they realise that they have to remember what they have seen. After several retells this becomes a page to chant out loud, each child chorusing in unison. It's a lovely way to end the book. 

I've chosen to give you the Picture Puffin Edition illustrations, because this edition is my favourite. The Henry Holt Edition has no monkey, instead there is a mother. And I have another edition which has a similar face, though slightly less scowly and she's a teacher.  If you want to read Eric Carle's blog post about this follow this link. The teacher illustration is pretty much like this one and as I have short hair and little round glasses and children always say it looks like me (even though my eyes are blue!).

Opening 10, Henry Holt Edition

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? is a classic. There are loads of online resources to support using it in a pre-primary classroom and even for slightly older children, though I personally disagree with incorporating a picturebook of this picture-word simplicity with children over 6 or 7 years old, even if the activities are for older children.  As I said earlier, for teachers who have never used a picturebook, this is a great one to start with, so easy to tell with such big, bold illustrations.  The positive response from any group of young children will encourage teachers to have a go with other picturebook titles and that's definitely a plus!

I can't finish without sharing a reading by Eric Carle of this lovely book.  Filmed in 2007, when Brown Bear was 40 years old. It's a must. I hope that Eric Carle will still be around in 2017 to read it to everyone again. 

Eric Carle was 86 years old on June 25. Happy belated birthday Mr Carle and thanks for all your wonderful picturebooks.