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, March 30, 2011

Lost and found: a story of friendship

Lost and found is Oliver Jeffers' second book, published in 2005.  It was inspired after a funny event which took place in Belfast, his home town: a group of school children went on a trip to Belfast Zoo, and a child managed to smuggle a baby penguin out of the zoo, into the school bus and all the way home, without anybody noticing.  When it was eventually discovered in the bathroom of his home, the parents kept it overnight in the bath tub, until the zoo came to collect it the next day. It was the talk of the town for days! Lost and Found emerged from this story as an award winning picturebook.  Quite different, but the influence is recognisable.
In 2009, Studio AKA produced a film inspired by Jeffers' picturebook. The film has gone on to win 60 awards, that's right, 60, and its still winning awards, quite amazing - they are listed on the Studio AKA site, if you want to be WOWED! The 2009 BAFTA Award is probably the most prestigious. 
It is a wonderful, really wonderful film, and is very different to the picturebook, yet still contains  the essence of Oliver Jeffers' story and characters. Philip Hunt, who directed the film, admitted to creating a longer story line, as the 32-page picturebook would have given no more than a five-minute film.  What makes it so special is that Oliver Jeffers worked with the studio to create the new storyline and the new look to the story, as well as providing some of the visuals. 
Screen shot from one of the film scenes.
You'll notice the signs are all in his well-known, hand-written, slightly lopsided fonts! If you manage to see the film, the accompanying "How the film was made" is fascinating, as it takes you through the extended storyline and shows how they created the 3D sets and scenery, including the fabulous life-like sea scenes. 
I did have a link to a youtube trailer of the film here - but it's been removed from youtube.  Great pity ... it was a good trailer. 
Jacket flap photo
Oliver Jeffers has been making picturebooks for a decade and his style is recognizable a mile off. Those stubby little figures, with large heads and stick legs belong to no other illustrator.  But, if you visit his website, you'll be surprised when you see his art work, which is very life-like, he is extremely tallented.   I met Oliver in February 2009 at a British Council Seminar, Words and beyond, in Kuala Lumpur.  He talked about  his  work and what impressed me was that his fine art, (paintings and installations / objects), feeds his picturebook artwork and vice-versa - he is a complete artist. Oliver also talked about his interest in how pictures and words work together, the essence of picturebooks. His first picturebook, How to catch a star was created when he was still at art school in Ulster.  He was extremely lucky to get a publishing deal within days of sending off the maquete to Harper Collins USA: every young picturebook illustrator's dream.   As you can see from his photo here, he loves hats, and he wore about six different ones in the four-day seminar we both attended!
I digress!  The picturebook Lost and Found is one of Carol Read's  favourite six picturebooks.  It's a cutie, illustrated in Jeffers' watercolour style,  with pastel tones. Unlike most picturebooks, Jeffers does not use double spreads as whole illustrations, but instead the left and right pages provide the reader with separate sequential steps to the narrative.  Sometimes the ilustrations appear as vignettes, other times as framed illustrations, (sometimes more than one frame per page), and other pages will be covered right to the edges with his watercolour washes: skies and the sea are often portrayed like this. He uses scale very well too, you'll see an example later in this post. 
The front and back covers, when opened out, create a whole scene, the boy and the penguin floating in the cold antartic waters.  This is a culminating image as it is from the end of the story: the friends have been separated and reunited.
The title page is a balmy seaside esplanade, the boy and the penguin walking side by side as though deep in conversation.  The sun setting into a salmon pink sky.  It's a beautiful though odd illustration for a title page, I'd associate it with the ending of the story not the beginning.  
And so we begin our story: "Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door." It's a sunny illustration, yellow is a positive, happy colour, it's the beginning of a relationship. (My photo doesn't do the colours justice, they are much brighter in the book).
The penguin followed him everywhere, and because the penguin looked sad, the boy presumed it was lost.  So he went to the "Lost and Found Office" and he asked the birds in the park, "But no one was missing a penguin."
Once the boy had discovered that penguins came from the South Pole he decided he had to take the penguin back. So off to the harbour: the right hand page here is fabulous, a huge boat and a tiny boy and penguin. "His voice was too small to be head over the ship's horne." Lovely illustration. 
And so, together with the Penguin, the boy made a boat and they sailed to the South Pole.  Here is where Jeffers' wonderful double spreads come into their own - a great sea scene showing the boy and the penguin in a bad weather "... when the waves were as big as mountains." They remind me of The great wave off Kanagawa, by the Japanese artist Hokusai. 
The boy and the penguin survive the sea adventure and get to the South Pole, where there's a neon sign written in Jeffers' characteristic writing:  "Welcome to the South Pole".  The boy is happy he's arrived, the penguin is sad. There's a great illustration of the boy and the penguin looking at each other, unable to say goodbye, though the words tell us, "The boy said goodbye ... ". The boy leaves the penguin, alone on the edge of an iceberg. "... and floats away.  But as he looks back, the penguin looks sadder than ever."  That's when he began to wonder.  
The illustrations show us the sequence of his thoughts and the sudden realization that, "The penguin wasn't lost. It was just lonely." And so he returns to the iceberg but there's no penguin in sight.  
We know he's not there, because we have been shown the penguin floating back to sea on his umbrella. Can you see him on the other side of the floating berg?  The boy is unaware of this, and so he returns to his boat and rows home. It's a very sad scene,  children audibly take a breath, some adults probably do too.  But as in all good stories, the boy catches up with the penguin  and they hug.  
This is one of the best picturebook hugs ever, just look at how their forms become one, both anchored to the ground together by a single blue shadow.   It's a truly beautiful embrace.  
And so they row back home together, "... talking of wonderful things all the way."
This is my favourite of illustrations.  A warm blue sea, cradling  a single boat with two friends in it.   Jim Broadbent narrates the film, and his final words, said in that Jim Broadbent granddad-like tone he has, are: "This all began with someone lost and someone found, and who's to say which was which?  There was a boy and there was penguin, strangers from the opposite sides of the ocean. And like the beginning of any friendship, theirs is a remarkable story indeed." 
Whenever, I see this last page, and the shot from the film, it I think of the book cover for Life of Pi, and wonder.  (All those intertextual connections we make as individuals.) 

Lost and Found: I like both the book and the film, but they are so very different.  I'd decline from using the film with a group of younger students, just tell the picturebook, it's such an experience - those illustrations accompanied by Jeffer's almost rhythmic prose. It's perfect for just sharing.  The film and the picturebook might get a group of teenagers talking, discussing how the two media can bring such a message across, and how the extras in the film are used to extend the narrative.    
I've just watched the film again, and the theme tune is playing nonchalantly in the background - deep sigh,  it IS such a wonderful film.  Isn't Oliver Jeffers lucky to have been involved in creating two versions of a story that began with a small child and a smuggled baby penguin from Belfast Zoo?

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