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.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Petr Horácek and pre-school books: part 3 (the Christmas goose)

Don't worry I shan't be cooking Suzy for Christmas!  (My son always asks for a beef stew, cooked for hours in port and Guinness ... much nicer!)  But our Suzy Goose does make a good Christmas story and an apt posting for the last of my December musings. And so here is Suzy Goose and the Christmas star 
Petr Horácek's Suzy is the same cut out goose with visible pencil lines around the edge, but his backgrounds are much looser in this picturebook.  You can see from the front page here that his Christmas tree is very jaggedy, as though he's used a spatular to paint.  But it does give us a lovely outdoor feel and the snow looks wonderland-like, thick and loose. 
The front endpapers are indeed whole pages of snow, with symmetrical snowflakes drawn here and there.  In fact, there is so much snow that when you turn to the dedication and title pages, it's just as profuse.  We see Suzy under the title, marching in her headlong manner into the book's following pages. 
Suzy and her friends are gathered around a tree.  The illustrations show us several geese and charming illustrations of a cow, a pig and a donkey, standing outside a warm looking stable.  Indeed.  The Christmas tree is lovely, but they all agree that something is missing.  "It needs a star on top," honked Suzy.  "Just like the one in the sky.  I'll get it.
A lovely blotchy night sky and her geese friends are quite different, drawn in wax and painted over in the night sky blue.  They look ghostly.   And off goes Suzy, she dived from the top of the hill, slid down super fast and "Whoooosh flew high in the sky."  She is really a comet goose!  But isn't it a great illustration?  Children notice the words "Whoooosh" as it's part of the illustration and will point it out. 
We all know it's impossible to get a star by whooshing.  And of course Suzy didn't get "... quite high enough. Splat!"  But she had another plan. She climbed onto a fence.  Here is the lovely four framed spread, showing the sequence of actions ..."But not quite high enough. Splat!" The kids will notice "Splat" too! 
She also tries climbing a pile of logs, again there are four frames showing the sequence of actions, "But not quite high enough. Splat!" So now she thinks she'll just walk towards it.  She really is a convincing 'Silly Goose!'  We can see snow and the star, almost obliterated in the top corner of the double spread.   And then when we turn over... yikes, no star, and poor Suzy Goose is snow bound, and just a bit sad.
"I can't reach the star and I'm very far from my friends.
 And here she is  all alone. "She was lost."  
The children will have accompanied Suzy in feeling positive and full of good ideas to feeling down right glum.  Petr Horácek successfully brings us to a climax here.  Brrr it does look cold, what's going to happen to silly Suzy? 
That's when she hears a noise, "Ding, Honk, Ding, Honk".  We know the 'Honk' belongs to her  goosey friends, but the 'Ding'?  Well I didn't show you the page, but the friendly cow has a nice bell around her neck! But it is a good puzzle for the children, as they are at first stumped by this sound, which isn't animal like at all. Also beware... animal sounds change in different languages.    So 'honk' is odd too if you haven't already played with animal sounds. 
And we see Suzy retrace her steps, walking, climbing the pile of logs, going over the fence and finally up the hill she so gracefully whoooosed down!  A lovely way to remember the sequence. And of course every one is very happy to see Suzy.  But it was her goosey friends who help her find the star in the end, for they were craning their necks upwards, and sure enough, the star was sitting right on top of the Christmas tree. 
"And it looked magical!"
"'Happy Christmas,' honked Suzy Goose with all her friends.

They are all in the shed now, warm and safe and ready for Christmas. And when we turn to close the book and we turn to the back endpapers, that wonderland-snow scene, and there's a star blinking at us in the top right hand corner. Lovely!
A simple story but what wonderful snowy creations Horácek has given us, using his lovely painterly brush, allowing bits of blue to show through his snowy pages imitating that special reflection of the world that snow has.  No need to do anything but tell this story and tell it many times over.  Children love the silliness of Suzy and her sound effects, and they can feel that cold snow too.  A super pre-school Christmas book! 

All that's left is for me to say is, "Thank you for reading my blog over the last seven months, festive greetings to you and happy 2011!"

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Petr Horácek and pre-school books: part 2 (the goose)

... and here she is, Petr Horácek's goose.  Suzy goose has appeared in three   of his picturebooks, Silly Suzy Goose, Look out Suzy Goose! and Suzy Goose and the Christmas star.  In this post, I'll be talking about the first of these to be published, Silly Suzy Goose.  But before I go into the pictures I'd like to mention the title, my thoughts are prompted by the Portuguese translation , 'Ganso Gastão'.  In English our protagonist is a girl goose, has to be, her name is Suzy and goose is female, gander is male.  In Portuguese our Suzy becomes 'Gastão', a boy's name, it rhymes better with 'ganso' (goose). But we lose the reference to an expression inherent in the title, "silly goose" which has another meaning in English.  A silly goose is a silly person, and this is important to understanding our story, for Suzy is indeed silly - silly because she's not satisfied with being a goose, she wants to be like other animals, she wants to be different.  
We are told this on the back cover, accompanying an illustration of Suzy hanging upside down like a bat we can read, "Ever wanted to be different? Suzy Goose has - she squawks like a toucan, swims like a seal and jumps like a kangaroo.  But when she tries to Rroarrr like a lion, she gets more than she's bargained for."  
As in all good picturebooks, Petr Hoácek uses the peritext nicely. The endpapers are a wonderfully deep painted orange, using tones of orange and yellow, reflecting the orange we see in Suzy's beak and feet.  
The title page shows Suzy and a flamingo.  Both on one leg, one looking graceful the other a tad silly!   There are no flamingos in the story, so this is no repetition of an image from another part of the book, as is sometimes the case.  Instead it is giving us one more (although we only really think about it once we've read the book) animal that Suzy is trying to imitate, preparing us for what to find on the following pages.   

Suzy is just like all the other geese, here she is amongst the flock. We know which one Suzy is as she's got a little more space and her large orange feet are visible.  Notice how deadpan the geese are, no textures, just plain white bodies and bright orange beaks and feet.   If you look back at the title page, you'll see that the flamingo is beautifully textured, and you'll notice throughout that there is a contrast between the geese and the other animals.  Suzy's body is a cut out figure, we can even see the outline to cut around.  She's made of white paper, no texture, nothing.  Her legs and feet are textured, painted and scratched with orange and red paint. All the other animals in the book are illustrated using this the painterly, scratchy technique, as are the backgrounds.  The contrast emphasizes the difference between Suzy and the other animals, possibly reinforcing the impossible in Suzy's attempts to be like them. 
Suzy tries flapping her wings like a bat (upside down!), squawking like a toucan, sliding like a penguin, stretching up high like a giraffe (the giraffe is so tall we need to turn the page to portrait so he fits in!) She tries to splish splash like an elephant, jump like a kangaroo, run like an osterich, and swim under the sea like a seal.  Suzy is seen riding on the animals' backs, in their pouches, or trying hard to do what they do. My favourite is this last spread. 
The illustration invites us to jump into the dark, green water, which turns slighly lighter, as though a light is shining from above, where Suzy is trying hard to swim with her head under water.  A lovely page.  

But we know from the back cover that Suzy also tries to imitate a lion, and when she does ... Goodness Suzy gets a fright!   
So she yells and stretches, swims, jumps, splashes, slides, and flaps, doing everything the other animals do,  all the way back to her flock, where she feels safe - safety in numbers and anonymity!   Can you see how Peter Horácek has used the wax crayon technique to create a watery splashy image in this illustration? 

"Perhaps it is better to be just like everyone else, thought Suzy Goose..." And we think that maybe she has learned a lesson, but when we turn the page we see her pretending to be a lion, but in the safety of her flock!  "Rroarrhonk!"  A lovely spread looking very like the first one, where we are introduced to Suzy, who is much like the other geese... but we see she is different -  she's Suzy! 
This really is a visually stimulating picturebook, it's bright colours and animated illustrations will motivate children to feel as Suzy feels - frustrated, excited, frightened and finally consoled.    And though I've not emphasized the words, there is much repetition, which supports and accompanies the beautiful illustrations.   It's perfect for pre-school, with follow up activities that could include thinking about different animals and which animals we'd like to imitate: Ummm ...  if I was a snake I could slither along the ground ... I'd be Sandie Snake!

Part 3 is Suzy Goose and the Christmas star ... coming shortly!
By the way, if you are interested in expressions like 'silly goose' related to goose / geese (and there are many!) check out this link.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Petr Horácek and pre-school books: part 1

Screen shot from Petr Horácek's website 
I'm going to talk about  Petr Horácek in all my December posts.  I've been using his books with my pre-school children since 2003.  He has a very characteristic style, using bright colours and bold shapes, which are perfect for the under 5's.  His vibrant backgrounds painted with visible brush work or spoldgy splashes of water-colour incorporate a technique we often see in early years classrooms, which is water colour paint over wax crayon.  His first books, mostly board books, do this very simply, but effectively.
In What is black and white? you can see his blackbird is outlined in blue wax crayon, a great contrast to the bright yellow background, but also evoking the blue hints one gets when something is really shiny and black (I have a black Labrador, who shines blue in the sun!) 
Here's his black cat, with the outline and features in wax crayon.  I love her nose and bottom in light pink!  
And what is white, can you guess? The children are good at guessing and usually get snow and milk, but not goose, a bird which appears regularly in his work. 
In Strawberries are red he uses different shades  of the same colour to create the outlines of the piles of fruit.  
Here are his blueberries, a dark blue against a light blue background. They really do look good enough to eat don't they?   In Portugal blueberries aren't found in the wild, so we think about other fruit which can be blue.  They have some very blue coloured plums and even very dark grapes have a blue tinge. 
In both these books you can see that the pages are different widths; they're cut into shapes, and get gradually narrower, culminating in the creation of a superimposed double spread. 
In What is black and white?, the black and white pages come together to create the zebra's stripes, and  in Strawberries are red all the fruits come together to make a bowl of fruit salad.  Children love this surprise, and they want the story again and again, so that they can see that magical ending, and only on retells do they actually notice the pages are getting narrower! 
In their simplicity these books actually provide children with lots to look and think about.  The creation of different hues of colour, the wax crayon and water colour technique and the montage effect. In one of my classes children made a black and white book of their own.  And many a class have had fun making fruit salad after seeing Strawberries are red, and they love talking about the fruit they put in it, describing the colours and saying if the fruit is sweet or sour. 
There's a whole collection of board books so check out Petr's website and have a look. 
And also take  a peek at his gallery.  His work as an artist is interesting.  
Part 2, my next post, is about his recurring goose.