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.

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.


Connie said...

I was curious so I looked up the title of the French edition. It's Susie, la petite oie qui en a assez d'être une oie or Susie, the little goose who was fed up being a goose.
There is a fun video of this book on Petr Horacek site.

Sandie Mourão said...

Hi Connie,
Thanks for that curiosity! The translating of anything implies changes for sure! The French translation is enormous, but it does give us an idea of what to find in the story, more so than the English title I think! But I like the play with both the expression and the sss sounds created in the three words Silly Suzy and gooSe.
The Portuguese translation has played with the sounds too and opted for making no reference to anything that is to come when opening the book. The French opted for a very descriptive title.
Translation is a fascinating thing, and I know little about it I'm afraid. But it certainly made me think when I realised how different the title was!

a.©.s said...

I love the texture of that water!
I remember reading a similar-ish story book when i was little called 'Slappy' about a duck who wanted to be a person. Well it's almost similar, but it was my favourite.

Your translation is useful!

Sandie Mourão said...

Thanks for popping by. Yes Horácek manages some wonderful textures with his water colour / wax combination on some of the other spreads.
Your childhood book would have been: The story of Slappy Duck
It's funny what memories we have of childhood stories, and reasons for them being favourites range from a number of influences. Mine was Hilda Boswell's Treasury of Poetry. The dust jacket illustration was a deep flaming red with magical creatures illustrated on it against a background of fire and water. I can still see her illustration of a kitten catching leaves on a wall.