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.

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! 

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