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.

Monday, November 22, 2010

About being friends

Yo! Yes? is one of my most  favourite of picturebooks.  Its simplicity is deceiving, with one or two words on a page seen together with apparently hasty watercolour / charcoal illustrations - the combination of image / word is brilliant. It's a simple story - two boys meet, they talk and become friends.  But that very short summary ignores the visual impact of each page and double spread. Chris Raschka uses a large (I think) hand written font for each punctuated utterance, and it becomes as much part of the image as his vibrant depictions of the two boys, one black the other white.  

Don't miss the dedication and copyright page, which shows us how the two boys meet, walking past each other in the street. One solitary black boy waiting, arms crossed, but facing us.  Large trainers, laces undone. He's  happy, and ready to talk to anyone. The white boy is intent on walking away, anywhere as long as it's away, he's sad too, we can see his turned down mouth and his shoulders are haunched inwards. 

Chris Raschka has painted the background in light washes, starting with a greeny blue and moving through pinky red, orangey yellow and finally a glowing bright yellow, they represent the emotions on each page.  And each figure is outlined by this wash, as though in a spotlight, a spotlight for each boy - visually it both unites and separates them on the page - they are both boys, yet different. 

Moving into the book, our young black 'dude', (for he is definitely cool), stops this possible friend in mid-step, when we turn the page we see a large arresting 'Yo!' and Chris Raschka's figures ooze unspoken communication. The white boy's posture, with simple charcoaled eyes and mouth, together with the small size reply, 'Yes' and the accompanying '?'  convey the depths of uncertainty he is feeling.  

Each page and spread continue in this way, a visual dialogue between the two boys, where we read the words, the punctuation and their postures as one whole visual communicative act.  The two boys remain centered on their respective pages, their feet anchoring them to the spot, but their bodies leaning forwards or backwards; their arms out or folded in over their chests; their heads up or down.  
With each utterance and pose, we learn the problem.  The white boy has no friends.  His head drops, his shoulders droop.  
The black boy can't believe it. And so he offers his own friendship.  His chest is proudly stuck out towards the white boy, he points at the bull's eye like circle on his t-shirt.  The white boy's reaction confirms the doubt we already feel inside ... friends? 

And after some thought, with the background washes moving through pink to yellow, swaying left to right, the white boy gleefully decides that he will accept the offer of friendship. The big hand written word almost squashes him with its weight. 

And so we turn the page, and the boys are together, the white boy has crossed over to the other side of the double spread, walking to the left with his newfound friend. They are joyous, shaking hands and the white spotlight is on both of them, no longer separate, uniting the two boys. The bright yellow wash in the background emphases their happiness and the words, both beginning with 'y' unite them too... rolling off our tongue as we read them in our heads. 

But it's not the end, there's one final page, the boys are depicted on a single page. They are so happy, they are jumping up out of the top boarder, they are jumping up and over the word, 'Yow!'  They are no longer achored to the bottom of the page, but free to leap and loop.  Free to be friends, black or white. 

When you re-read this picturebook, your students will be ready with that 'Yow!', no matter how old they are.  It's an excellent introduction to cultural differences and friendships, and you can use this picturebook to  talk a little about that.  

The pictoral effect of the handwritten font is a great introduction to punctuation and voice inflection too.  Look at all the different ways we can say 'Yes': 
'Yes?', 'Yes!', 'Yes.'  
Play around with other words using the different punctuation they have discovered, and look at how punctuation is used in the book - help the children see how the punctuation matches Raschka's  drawings - there's emotion in both. 

Perhaps you could divide your class into two groups, each representing one of the boys. Chorus the rhythmic dialogue, each group saying their side of the conversation.  Then get your students to do short dramatizations, uniting voice inflection and movement.  

Older students might want ot write another story about friendship, carefully punctuated and maybe even illustrated or dramatised.  

If you want to see Chris Raschka talking about how he makes a book there's a fun film on youtube.  


Zoe @ Playing by the book said...

I didn't know about this book, but I love the look and sound of it! Thanks too for the tip about the calendar :-)

Sandie Mourão said...

Hi Zoe,

Great to see you here and thanks for popping by.
I think one of the reasons you (and many others!) aren't familiar with this title is that you are based in the UK. My UK experience with picturebooks burst from its bubble when I did some work for Scholastic USA; and I was sent titles I had never heard of - Yo! Yes! was one of those titles. There's more of a 'crossover' now, especially as we have these wonderful blogs to read and share favourites and finds. But when this book came out in 1993, we were still very isolated on our British illustrators' island. I still think that UK book shops favour British based publications, but it's much better than it used to be.

Alex said...

This is one of my absolute favorite picture books and I give to every kid I know. I am so happy to see your post on it. I found you on the Carnival of Children's Literature this month.
Great blog!

Sandie Mourão said...

Hi Alex! Thanks for calling by.
Good to know there are other Yo! Yes! fans out there :-)