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.

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.  

1 comment:

deborahfreedman said...

This book truly is brilliant!