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.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Yellow Bird, Black Spider - a primer in individuality

Yellow Bird, Black Spider is by Dosh & Mike Archer and published by Bloomsbury Children's Books.  I came across it in an airport bookshop while on a long journey to somewhere far.  It made me giggle out loud. The Sunday Times wrote: "Not just a very funny book, but it is actually a primer in individuality."  
It's got that visual rhythm that good picturebooks have, a surprise ending and is provocative enough to get discussion going.  The front and back covers are a whole illustration.  Not exactly like any of the pages inside but almost - they're a taster of what's to come. The illustrations are quirky, a mixture of flat colours, horizontal or angled horizons and carefully placed cut and paste montages.  I like them a lot, clear and easy to see at the back of a room. 
The endpapers, both front and back are the same but for one detail, (I leave the detail for you to discover).  They show us eight of the objects which appear in the story, repeated in no particular order on the left and right sides.  They are lots of fun to return to as they act as a visual support to help children remember and retell  the story.  The leopard skin cushion will have their brains whirring!
The copyright page shows us the stripey socks from later in the story.  So, past an illustration of the two protangonists in a boat and off we go...
"Yellow Bird, blue boat" ... and we know that the bird is going sailing as we've seen her on the previous page.  
And here she is with the spider and they have a short conversation, "'Why don't you fly across the sea?' asked Black Spider. 'I like to sail, actually,' said Yellow Bird."  This is the visual-verbal format that we follow for several pages: the bird + object; page turn; the bird interacting with the object and the spider asking a question; the bird flipantly justifying her individuality. 
We see a close up of the bird and a hotel, the words tell us: "Yellow Bird, white hotel".  Turn the page and we are shown the bird lounging on cushions a very real looking strawberry milkshake being offered by a waiter, and the question is, "'Why don't you make a lovely, cosy nest?' asked Black Spider. 'I like hotels, actually,' said Yellow Bird."
"Yellow Bird, red guitar". And can you guess the spider's question?  Of course you can, for we know that birds fly, build nests and go tweet, tweet!. 
"'Why don't you sing tweet, tweet, tweet, in a beautiful way?' asked Black Spider. 'I like strumming, actually,' said Yellow Bird."  ... and she contunues:  She likes dancing on the beach, having baths, vanilla ice-cream and wearing stripy socks.  We are shown Yellow Bird in an overflowing bath with a  Mr Softy ice-cream and those stripy socks we saw earlier.
Socks hanging up to dry, (after all she got them wet while having a bath) and Spider is perplexed, "'Birds don't usually wear stripy socks,' said Black Spider." It's just too much for the Yellow Bird... and we return to the original visual-verbal rhythm, "Yellow Bird, Black Spider"; The Yellow Bird is looking at the spider and the spider is surprised, nervous even. Page turn; "'Why don't you eat some yummy, squelchy worms?' asked Black Spider.  'Actually', said Yellow Bird,"
"... I like to eat spiders."  We are shown a nonchalant Yellow Bird munching on the Black Spider, his legs are still wiggling for sure.  That did shut him up though, didn't it?  All those silly questions! 
If you go back and look at the spider in each illustration his eyes are terribly expressive, showing surprise, annoyance and fright.    And Yellow Bird looks right annoyed too! 
Those endpapers again... and what's missing?  Can you see?  
Our Yellow Bird wears stripy socks, which is unusual true, but she does all sorts of unbird-like stuff, what an unconventional thing she is! Does it matter?  She's still a Yellow Bird, much like other Yellow Birds, who may fly across oceans, make nests and go tweet, tweet - but they all eat annoying Black Spiders!  

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