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.

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!

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