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, February 22, 2011

I need a hug

I rediscovered a favourite whilst I was preparing for a talk about emotional intelligence and picturebooks, so I thought I share it with you all.  It's Hug by Jez Alborough.  
Alborough has a wonderful website, with lots of information about his picturebooks, so do click and follow links.  In the picturebook section he actually describes where his inspiration came from, how the story developed and how he made decisions about what to draw and what to write.  The behind the scenes information about Hug is fascinating, and can be read here. And this wonderful description of what it means to be an author and an illustrator, couldn't put it better myself. 
Taken from Jez Alborough's website http://www.jezalborough.com/
What's so very clever about Hug is how Alborough has used so few words, rather like Emily Gravett's Orange Pear Apple Bear, and given each one a different meaning depending on what he shows in the illustration.   So, there's 'Hug', which means 'Hey, that's a hug happening over there!', another which means, 'I want my mummy', another which means, 'Thank you!' ...  oooh and plenty more as well. Reading this picturebook out loud is loads of fun, as you get to dramatise all the different meanings behind one little, three-letter word. 
Our front cover presents us with Bobo the chimp.  Arms wide open, inviting us into the book for  a hug.  There are no endpapers in my paperback edition, but the book opens on a single cameo image of little Bobo, walking happily by himself.   
The copyright and title page are a whole scene, the setting, a Savannah-like wood.  Bobo is happily, chimp chomping along.  He comes across a Mummy and baby elephant, that's where Hug means 'Hey, that's a hug happening over there!'
He comes across several pairs of animals hugging ...
... and his posture clearly shows us how he's feeling.  The next page has no words, but we feel his sadness and we also feel the other animals' sympathy as we look at the illustrations.   Bobo is helped by Mummy elephant and together they begin their quest: a search for a mummy to hug.
They pass a lioness hugging her three spotty cubs, Bobo moans, 'Hug'; two giraffes, their long necks entwined in a hug and eyes closed with pleasure and Bobo moans, 'Hug'; then a baby hippo hugging a hippo parent, both lying in a muddy pool.  Bobo's face is wretched ... 'Hug' he wails, clearly meaning,  'I want my mummy.'
He sits down and cries.  The other animals are all around and you can feel their empathy oozing from the page.  Poor Bobo.  But all is not lost, we turn the page and larger than life, here comes Mummy chimp. She's calling 'BOBO' in a big bold font.  And Mummy and Bobo are reunited.
And they ... HUG.  The other animals unite in breathing a sigh of relief, 'HUG', they all say.  'Thank goodness!', 'Oh, isn't that nice!', 'Yeah, go for it Bobo!' 
Bobo hugs Mummy elephant's trunk - that's 'Thank you!' of course. Then he turns to the other animals and calls for a mass group hug. What a clever chimp he is. 
Lions and gorillas, elephants and snakes, the whole jungle caboodle in one massive jungle hug.  They are delirious with happiness!  And one final page turn sees a cameo of Bobo and Mummy walking towards us, holding hands, happy to be reunited. 
Ahhh... and doesn't that make you want to go and hug the next person you see?  I'll give my husband an extra big hug when he comes in and I'll hug my cats and dogs too.  I'll hug our next door neighbours, and their neighbours, the whole village, and the next one too. I'll hug the world.  Goodness, it's catchy!
In fact that's just what Jez Alborough is after!  If you click on 'Jez says' you'll see that he's very happy for us all to send hundreds of hugs around the world.  Bless! 

You can be sure that after reading this picturebook in class, everyone gets a hug ... well they do in mine! 

This is an excellent example of how picturebooks can help children understand what emotions look like; contribute to developing their ability to understand themselves and others, and to respond appropriately. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm in love with ... me!

An inky squiggle by Lucy Cousins from I'm the Best!
And so to continue with the being-in-love theme, but in a quirky sort of way... I'd like to talk about I'm the Best, by Lucy Cousins.  I hope you are following!
Cousins is best known for her Maisy books, which she began creating twenty years ago. If you aren't familiar with her work, here's an interesting interview with her on the Book Trust website. 
I'm the Best is slightly different in style to the Maisy books we are all so familiar with.  When I got my copy a couple of weeks ago, I chuckled to myself as I turned the pages, quite amazed at this style I'd not seen her do before.  The Maisy books, and another of my favourites, Hooray for Fish (which I'll talk about one day), are usually illustrated against colourful backgrounds, with thick painted outlines, and bright primary colours.  But I'm the Best uses white to a maximum, leaving the backgrounds empty of colour washes.  And she uses ink instead of paint.  The inks give a sort of blotchy, wild effect, sort of off handish, making the final product look as though it's a collection of rough sketches, and almost child-like too: her outlines are done with a blasé-style black crayon.  On some of the pages she's let the paper soak up the inks and the result is a chance one.  They are lovely illustrations and children enjoy them too. 
I'm the Best is about dog, who thinks he's the best.  He has four friends who he loves, but that doesn't stop him telling them he can do things better than they can.   It turns out that they teach him a lesson, in a kind way, and he realises that it's important for everyone to have that 'I'm the best' feeling!   
The front cover introduces our main character, Dog, waving his arms and looking downright delighted with life! Endpapers are bright orange paper and provide a nice introduction to the blotchy inks that follow.  The copyright page is dotted with inky blobs, all extending waterlogged tendrils into the paper.  Makes me want to get some inks and have a go (and that is a possible post-picturebook activity). The title page also has our dog protagonist. The font is hand-written by Lucy Cousins - this is one of her trademarks - so it's uneven and irregular and adds to the spontaneous effect she cleverly creates. 
And so Dog is presented amongst flowers introducing himself as "... the best." 
Next spread shows us his friends, "Ladybird, Mole, Goose and Donkey", standing in a line, going from small to big. Dog loves his friends, "... they're brilliant", but he's the best!    It's a well balanced spread: the two sets of animals are facing each other, but the words separate them.  That's important.  
The following spreads show Dog being the best: running faster than Mole, "I won. I'm the best." Digging holes better than Goose, "I won. I'm the best." Being bigger than Ladybird, "I won. I'm the best." Swimming better than Donkey, "I won. I'm the best." What a exuberant expanse of water Cousins' has created. You can almost feel Donkey's splashes!
"I'm the best at everything", say's Dog.    Look at those 'I'm the best' squiggles: delightful! 
Poor Donkey, Goose, Mole and Ladybird.   They do look sad...
... they are sad, until they realise that in fact, Dog has got it wrong. Mole "can dig holes much longer and much deeper"; Goose  "can swim much faster"; Donkey is "much bigger", and of course Ladybird "can fly much better" than Dog.  So in fact his friends are much better than he is. Poor dog, his face gets more wretched, as we see his friends prove their worth.  In this last double spread, can you see the grey sky over Dog's head, in comparison to Ladybird's bright blue one? 
Dog realises he's "... rubbish at everything"; that he's a "... SHOW OFF". And so he apologizes to his friends. Well done Dog!  They hug and reassure him, "Don't worry.  You are the best at being our best friend. And you are the best at having beautiful fluffy ears.  And we love you", (the last line is slightly bigger for emphasis), and the five friends are hugging each other. 
A happy ending... with a twist - if we turn over, Dog is back to his old ways ... "Oh phew! Obviously having beautiful fluffy ears is the most important thing. So I AM the best."
Don't you ever learn Dog? 

A picturebook with a message which can be used with pre-school and primary.  It supports the development of emotional intelligence, providing children with visual evidence of feelings and emotions, helping them understand their own as well as others.  Quite brilliant!

And if you get the chance, do experiment with inks, kids will love the experience!

Thursday, February 03, 2011

A book about old age

February is the month of relationships, Valentines Day and all that, so I thought I'd look at a picturebook I received just before Christmas. It's about an old lady who becomes a widow after 56 years of marriage. I read about it in an issue of Carousel.  The description intrigued me, and so I ordered it from the Book Depository.  The paperback isn't out yet, so it cost nearly €11,00, but it was well worth it!
The author/illustrator, Cesili Josephus Jitta, is Dutch, and Lola and the rent-a-cat was first published by a Belgian publisher in 2007, it came out in the UK in August 2010.  It's good to know that the publisher, Francis Lincoln, is bringing translated books onto the English market.  
Here's how they describe the book: "After the death of her husband John, Lola finds the days long and empty. One day she goes online and discovers www.rentacat.com. How will she choose which cat to rent, and could this be the start of a beautiful new friendship? Ceseli Josephus Jitta's delightful illustrations will amuse young and old alike, while the ultimately uplifting story of how a very old lady finds life is worth living after bereavement can be used to gently introduce very young children to the subject of old age and death. Translated from the Dutch, Lola and the Rent-a-Cat has been nominated for several prizes and translated into four languages."
As with all hardback books, it's solid, weighty and large.  Jitta's style is clean and simple.  I can't find any information about her technique, but it looks like she creates collages from her prints and other things like newspapers and ledger paper. She uses an interesting colour palette, bright colours: greens, yellows and oranges with purples and blues and reds.  Lovely.  
The cover introduces us to the two protagonists, Lola and the rent-a-cat.  They are supporting each other, the cat leaning in from the left, Lola from the right.  For cat lovers this is a very cat-like pose, leaning in for affection.  Puuurfect!  Lola is a grey haired, wrinkly lady with her cleavage showing.  In the background there's a foliage pattern and if we look closely we can see that the whole image is printed on ledger paper.   I didn't notice when I first received the book, and since noticing it's intrigued me, why ledger paper? It appears through out the book. 

The endpapers are the rich maroony pattern of foliage we saw on the cover.  You can recognize poppy heads and fern leaves amongst the weeds. 
The title page is simple, a cream page of ledger paper, with a cat, who we later discover is the rent-a-cat. Jitta has skillfully drawn the outline and added quick bobs of paint to create a muzzle, paws and ears.  Nice.
The first and last pages of the book are different.  The ledger paper is absent and Jitta has created washes of colour for the sky.  
The first page shows us a red evening sky, and Jitta and her husband, John, are sitting on their blue bench, together. Jitta wears the same clothes throughout, a red dress, low cleavage, and white trainers.  She's a cool old lady!   "Lola and John have been married since they were young. Together they can reach anywhere and together they stay balanced.  Together they look after each other and together they remember the shopping list."  As you can see from the illustrations, they show us exactly how this happens, scrubbing each other's back, filling each other's glass etc. 
We are shown how they get older, needing glasses and a Zimmer frame; the text hints at what might be wrong with John, "Sometimes John is sad for no reason and loses his way around the house.
Then on a deep, dark red background the words say, "One day John falls over. His heart stops beating." And the opposite page is a deep brown, John is still on his chair, his hat on his head, but he's fallen over, and Lola is standing over him.  The following pages are grey. And so "After fifty-six years she is alone again."   She's propping herself up with her walking stick, John is no longer there to balance her.  "Her days are long.  There is no one to look after any more. She reads, she watches TV and she surfs the net."
Now that is one cool old lady! And we are back to a bright green background.  "One night she visits www.rentacat.com" In Lucinda Handwriting font we read: "Experienced cats offer you company and affection in return for board and lodging for any length of time."
Against a bright yellow background we are shown all these cats. They come in numbers "26 Gus"; "97 Fred"; "108 Pete" "But number 313 is her favourite."
"313 TIM
Homely, slightly older cat
Loves attention and care
Fond of diet food
Click here to order."
Lola is excited, her heart beats faster and she completes the form. "Lola.fink@hotmail.com wants to order Tim, number 313."  Tim is with her the very next day. And what fun they have. "They are together …" shopping and eating; she even watches Tim poo, poop scoop at hand.
"… all of the time." Tim cleans himself on a stool as Lola has a bath and they sleep together, Lola on the right and Tim on the left. Together they sit on the same blue bench that Lola and John sat on, Lola drinks tea and Tim purrs. And as she sits she thinks of the past, of a cat she got as a small girl, (not unlike Tim); of going to see romantic movies with her friend; of meeting and falling in love with John.
... shown on a lovely double spread with a blue green water background, and no ledger paper, with ripped vegetable paper circles representing the ripples of water. And finally of sitting on the blue bench with John, drinking tea and loving each other. 
And the last page shows us a smiling Lola, rubbing her aged back; a keen, inquisitive Tim looking lovingly up at her, both surrounded by vegetation, a blue sky with a sleepy sun behind them.  "Off to bed, Tim.  Tomorrow is another day."

In the Carousel review, Chris Stephenson describes the story finishing "in the ascendent, with the promise of what tomorrow may bring."   It is indeed a positive ending and a thought provoking book, bringing a message we rarely think about, especially with our language students. It deals with decrepit old age, death, becoming a widow and loneliness.  Difficult topics but brilliantly brought together here by Jitta.  Isn't this a book  we could use with slightly older students?  It would provoke discussion for sure.  What do you think?