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.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Emily Gravett's wolf

The last of this series of posts on Emily Gravett shares her first book, Wolves, for which she won the Kate Greenaway Medal  in 2005.  Here are a couple of the reviews and if you want to see more here's the link:
"Emily Gravett is all for creating active readers with her debut picturebook Wolves. Light as a whisker, she offers playful lessons in black humour, irony, and in relationships between words and images, reality and fiction." (Jane Doonan, Times Educational Supplement)
"The charm of this book also lies in Emily’s delightful melange of skilful drawing with a big soft pencil, textured gouache, collage and generous use of white space." (Brighton Evening Argus)

Wolves is non-fiction made fiction.  We learn about wolves, in fact this is what we learn:
"GREY WOLVES live in packs of between two and ten animals.  They can survive almost anywhere from the Arctic Circle to the outskirts of towns and villages. They have sharp claws, bushy tails and dense fur, which harbours fleas and ticks. An adult wolf has 42 teeth. Its jaws are twice as powerful as those of a large dog.  Wolves eat mainly meat. They hunt large prey such as deer, bison and moose.  They also enjoy smaller mammals, like beavers, voles and rabbits."

But that's not what the story is about. The visual story uses this simple description very cleverly, focusing on the journey a little rabbit makes to the library, to borrow a book about wolves.  The visual quickly takes over and leaves the fairly banal description of the life of a wolf to one side, for the wolf in the book, becomes a real life wolf and the rabbit becomes his real life dinner! 
Does anyone remember books with fabric covers? The book rabbit takes out of the library is such a book, covered in red cloth with the title stamped boldly in black.  The first page of our picturebook is this cloth covered, front cover; the endpapers, belong to this red book, buff brown with a pattern of angular lines.  After reading the story and returning to these endpapers they no longer represent arbitrary marks, but remind us of claws and scratches... but that's for after. 
So we've opened our book, on the next page, the copyright and title pages, we are shown a front door mat scattered with the early morning post.  The copyright information appears on a postcard. There's a wolf stamp and the post mark is the Macmillan logo.  Delightful!  The title page is a leaflet from the library.  About?  You guessed it, a book called "Wolves" by "Emily Grrrabbit"  "NEW IN AT YOUR LIBRARY!" There are more puns if we look closely: "West Bucks public burrowing library", and, "Burrow WOLVES and other rip-roaring tails at your local library NOW!"  All these are visually presented as though stamps and stickers and are as much part of the illustration as anything else.  
"Rabbit went to the library. He chose a book about ... " and we are shown what he takes out, not told!  The rabbit innocently holding the red, cloth covered book with WOLVES in bold black letters.  If you look at the verso page, there's a discarded book about rabbits on the shelf.  I wonder who was looking at that?
Rabbit takes Wolves home, again we are shown not told.  A double spread with the library sketched in the back ground and the rabbit hugging the book.  Can you see the wolf sculptures on the building? The dimensions are ingenious, for the rabbit is headless, and the book fills the whole of the recto page.  It's like we are beginning all over again: this is the cover.  
And we ARE beginning again, for when we turn over we see the endpapers, those not-so-arbitrary marks on a buff brown background, with a neat little library card, which you can actually remove.  Here's a closeup: the card has a coffee stain on it and rabbit puns on the stamps and codes.  If you turn the card over there's a little sketch of two rabbits in love, their ears entwined in a heart shape. 
Rabbit reads the book as he walks home.  We simultaneously see rabbit looking into the book, and the actual book pages, which are behind him.   We are told that "GREY WOLVES live in packs of between two and ten animals", the illustration shows the wolves angrily emerging from a box, as though they've been left on a supermarket shelf, like a six-pack.  "They can survive almost anywhere from the Arctic Circle ..." and we are shown two growling wolves peering from behind  a snowman!  "... to the outskirts of towns and villages".  
The book pages are now almost as big as the double spread and the wolf is no longer in the book, instead standing behind the book, wearing clothes.  It's a menacing picture.  Rabbit is oblivious to all but the book he holds in his hands.  
Then it begins to get serious.  For we are shown close up shots of bits of wolf, first his feet and the words say, "They have sharp claws... ", rabbit patters on past the long sharp claws; "..bushy tails... " rabbit walks up the tail; "... and dense fur, which harbours fleas and ticks." Rabbit is deep in fur, with fleas jumping around him, but he's still reading his book.  
Now rabbit is on the wolf's nose.  The wolf has his tongue out,  his teeth are visible and he's got a napkin tied around his neck.  We are told "An adult wolf has 42 teeth. Its jaws are twice as powerful as those of a large dog."  
" Wolves eat mainly meat. They hunt large prey such as deer, bison and moose.  They also enjoy smaller mammals, like beavers, voles and ..." Our little rabbit is shown silhouetted between the wolf's eyes. He's panic stricken; the book is falling from his hands.   
Turn the page, quick... GULP, the red cloth cover is all scratched and tattered and a bit of ripped paper tells us " ... rabbits." Arghhh.  That's terrible. Poor rabbit. 
Turn the page and we have an announcement with a cream background calming after the ripped red cloth book cover,  "The author would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book.  It is a work of fiction. And so, for more sensitive readers here is an alternative ending."  That's good to know! And just as we were given two beginnings, we have two endings.  Rabbit and wolf are eating a jam sandwich together, the illustration is made of ripped bits of drawing, as though Gravett has collected the pieces after the terrible rabbit eating event and made it all better.  And of course they live happily ever after!
But don't stop turning the pages; for we are back in rabbit's house, the front door mat is covered in mail.  This page is a treasure trove of rabbit puns.  A Chinese restaurant called "The Burrowed Wok", offering "Free lawn crackers" and "Morning dew"; a letter from "Jack O'Hare", from "Angora Organics" a gardening catalogue.  There's also a letter from the library, which we can actually open and read.  Oh my goodness, the book is overdue.  Does that mean he didn't get home after all?  Oh dear. 

Isn't it amazing that this is Emily Gravett's first book?  She's a genius! To take a simple description of wolves and turn it into something as visually exciting as this. WOW! 
And of course if you really want to you could use the wolf descriptions as a spring board for describing other animals, but don't let that spoil the magic that children find in these pages.  

Emily Gravett has produced two books a year since her debut in 2005, that's not bad going!  They aren't all easily readable in our ELT classes, but most are.  I'll probably come back to some of the titles in later blog posts, so watch out for them. 

Her latest, Wolf won't bite is in the post as I write this,  can't wait to see it. This is the synopsis:

"Take your seat in the front row and watch in wonder as three cheeky little circus pigs make a wild wolf jump through hoops (literally), endure feats of astounding derring-do, and even withstand perilous games of dress-up. Safe in the thought that Wolf Won't Bite! they even put their heads between his jaws ...but can you push a wolf too far? Sure to strike a chord with anyone who has both a pet and a young child, this is a very funny and playful story with a snappy ending!"

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    Emily Gravett's bear

    And on we go with my very favourite of Emily Gravett's  books, Orange Pear Apple Bear.  This little book is a gem. It's difficult to talk about the illustrations alone, for the pictures and words are truely united. Emily Gravett uses just five words, 'orange' 'pear' 'apple' 'bear' 'there', and with them she creates a beautifully illustrated, delightfully visual, word play.  Superb.
    In a skillful "done-in-a-sec" look, she uses watercolour and crayon, against a clear, white background. Her illustartions ooze volumn, leaving you wanting to eat the fruit and hug the bear.   In fact the whole thing is delicious!  The whole thing, from cover, through the front matter, the endpapers,  the copywrite page and the title page, all carefully thought out to bring a whole visual experience. So how does she manage a whole book with just five words? By combining the visual and the verbal to imply a subtle humour in the simple placement of two words. 
    The cover presents our four objects, a clever bear, balancing three pieces of fruit on his head.  He has a querky sort of look, his eyes dots of cheeky black, his eyebrows raised.  
    The front endpapers, show us a neat row of the three pieces of fruit again, and if you take a peek at the back endpapers you'll see that time has passed and the same pieces fruit are shown nibbled, munched or as  piles of peel.  This row of fruit follows us as we turn to the copyright and title pages.  Publishing info is in a neat pear shape, the Macmillan Children's Book logo makes a great flag-like leaf.  And the title page brings our bear back, peeking from the fold, the three fruit now balancing on his paw.  He is good!
    And so we start, (as if we hadn't already!).  Object and label, visual mirrors the words, as though presenting each performer before the play begins.  But even with just four words and four illustrations, we are already rhyming.  "Orange" "Pear" (pause as you turn the page) "Apple" "Bear".  
    And the bear is doing a sort of "Ta, ta!"  pose! His arms stretched out, "Here I am" kind of thing.  Yeah! 
    "Apple, pear" (pause as you glance across the spread) "Orange bear".  
    Simple change of word order, lack of punctuation and orange has become an adjective, and our modest bear looks like he's trying to hide his privates!  Then it happens again.  "Orange pear" "Apple bear", and our bear's round bottom is apple-like, round and juicy, pinky green.  What a surprise!  
    Can you guess what happens next? Of course you can, like all good stories it's predictable.  A coy bear is sitting with his back to us, and he's a lovely pear shape, a green pear shape.  "Apple, orange, pear bear."  
    Then a change of rhythm, "Orange, pear, apple, bear".  Punctuation appears, big time, and some children will notice this, and over re-reads they may even associate the way you read this page, and the next, with the appearance of these commas.   
    "Apple, bear, orange, pear".  The words are falling diagonally from top to bottom on the recto page, visually reflecting the fruit the bear has thrown.  Then "Orange, bear" and the orange is gone.  
    The way we read this phrase could imply a query, maybe even suprise.  And each fruit now gets eaten - the bear's large mouth, open wide, catching the fruit; biting the fruit. "Pear, bear" "Apple, bear" ... And he's gone! "There!"  
    The endpapers show us the remains of our story ... cores and peel.   
    Now wasn't that amazing?  So simple, so clever.  Great illustrations, rhyme, rhythm and repetition, fun with punctuation, and a silly end. What more could you wish for from a picturebook?

    Younger children will love "Orange Pear Apple Bear",  and request it again and again.  They'll pick up the rhythmic words quickly and help you tell the story over re-reads.  They'll pause when you do, run when you do, be flamboyant when you are, imitating and learning as they go. And you never know they might start drawing their own fruit and animal mixtures and bring you some delightful drawings.  

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011

    Emily Gravett's chameleon

    Image on opening page of Emily Gravett's website 
    Happy New year!
    I thought I'd start this year with a look at one of my favourite illustrators, Emily Gravett. There's an interesting article to be read in the Telegraph from 2007, which gives you an idea of how she began her life as an illustrator. 
    What I love about her illustrations is that they are so skillfull - she's a good old fashioned drawer - and most of her books are brilliantly illustrated using crayon / graphite, with watercolour washes.  She also uses ripped paper collages in some titles.  Here's a great video of her drawing "Cave Baby" for a book she illustrated with Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo)
    I bought Wolves first, her debut book and an award winning title, and then it was just a case of collecting them -  lovely, lovely illustrations alongside a great sense of visual humour.  
    I thought I'd share Blue Chameleon in my first post about her. It has a simple minimal text, and lovely sketchy illustrations.  Here you can see the covers, front and back, which introduce our hero, a sad looking, blue chameleon.  On the back cover there are three adjectives, each one crossed out, describing our chameleon and at the same time giving us a clue about what happens inside the book.  
    As with all good picturebooks the endpapers contribute to the narrative, the front endpapers show us a glum looking pale chameleon.  And the copyright / dedication page is lovely too.   The information is shown in the shape of a chameleon!
    And so the story continues with an image of chameleon, sitting in a pose similar to that on the front cover, with a thought bubble saying, "I'm lonely".  The words describe the chameleon "Blue chameleon", but blue is referring to his mood and his colour.   Each page has lots of white, which enhance the drawings and make them all the more stunning. The chameleon changes colour and shape depending on what he sees. And each time there's a speech bubble which brings something extra and humorous to each spread.  As you can see from the image below, the chameleon represents the colour, and each object is drawn and labelled neatly on each facing page.  We could say it was rather like a concept book, to reinforce colours and adjectives, but it's one with a difference for there's a story there too.  
    As we turn the pages, visually there's always a pattern, the chameleon remains on the left and the object on the right. 
    ... and so the chameleon meets a pink cockatoo and says "Hello Hello Hello"; a swirly snail, and says "Nice to meet you"; 
    ... a brown boot (a cowboy boot) and says, "Howdy" of course!; a stripy sock and says "Can I hang out with you?"; a spotty ball (purple spots, which he imitates beautifully) and says "Pssst"; a gold fish, whose scales he cleverly captures, and he just blows silent bubbles.
    Then finally he meets a green grasshopper  and he jumps across the double spread for the first time, breaking the visual routine, it's quite shocking to see him in desperation, with a stripy yellow / green belly, imitating the grasshopper and calling out, "Come back".  Poor chameleon.
    And that's it.  He gives up.  We see him lying on a rock, all grey. Holding his head and visibly sighing. Notice how the words have returned to left and right, but the chameleon is mostly on the right hand, recto page. 
    The penultimate page is all white, "White page", but if you look closely you can see a relief outline of the chameleon lying down and a hand is extended from off page, a hand similar to chameleon's, and a speech bubble "Hello?". That question mark is all important.  I've mentioned speech bubbles before, but children love them in this book and they begin reading them very quickly.  They certainly notice the question mark as it is the first bit of punctuation so far. And yikes, turn the page.   "Colourful chameleons"  greeting one another. 
    A great ending, and the back endpapers contribute.  Different from the front ones, showing the two, colourful chameleons and a butterfly.  Off they go, no longer lonely.  Hooray!
    Couldn't get much simpler really and such humour too.  Younger kids love this title and chant the colours and objects along with you after just a few readings.  They also enjoy listening to what the chameleon says, and laughing at the jokes.  "Pssst" is their favourite!