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, May 31, 2011

Recommendation 1: Colin and the wrong shadow

Happy birthday to you! 
Happy birthday to you! 
Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday, dear blog!
Happy birthday to you!

For the next year I shall be featuring a picturebook recommendation from friends and colleagues once a month. This month's recommendation comes from fellow picturebook lover, Anneta Sadowska-Martyka, who lives and works in Poland.  Not only has she recommended a picturebook, but she's sent me some photos of children's work after sharing the story. 

Colin and the wrong shadow is by picturebook creator Leigh Hodgkinson, a wonderfully creative author illustrator, who is also a film maker.  She worked as the art director on the Charlie and Lola films, originally picturebooks by Lauren Child, before writing and illustrating her own picturebooks.  Colin and the wrong shadow is her second picturebook.  Leigh Hodgkinson is said to have been selected for the Charlie and Lola films, because she already used collage in her work. Working on Charlie and Lola must have had some form of influence, but her work is quite unique.
The pages in this picturebook are busy, packed with things to look at, things to follow and muse about.  The different fonts, some hand written, interact with the richly patterned shapes and images that have been carefully selected and placed on the pages.  It's an exciting book and Colin is a cool hero, a Siamese cat, whose life-like fur is a collage from a photo of a pet cat Hodgkinson had as a teenager. 
Let's start with the peritext, the front cover first.  We are introduced to Colin, who is looking up at the title of the book.  If you look at all the creatures and objects represented there you'll see each has their own shadow, except poor Colin whose shadow is all wrong!  
The back cover has a delicious looking cheese in the centre, with a bite taken out of it. It's a convenient background for the blurb. "Colin wakes up from his catnap to find he has the wrong shadow - someone must have switched - swapped.  He snoops and sniffs about for clues and shows a small friend that you don't have to be big to be brave."  The sign in the cheese says "Very yummy indeed" alongside the ISBN and bar code! His small friend, a lacey pink mouse, is peeking up from behind a cracker.  
I have the paperback edition, and there are no endpapers, instead there's a neat half title page, with a form for the reader to complete according to what kind of shadow they have.   Then the copyright and title pages, each with a mixture of handwritten and typed fonts, mix with crackers and cheese, buttons and sequins, ripped notebooks and naive-like drawings of flowers and mini-beasts.  And of course there are subtle shadows made by a shining yellow sun.  A taste of what's to come. Take a look at that dedication too, it's very special. 
Colin has been dreaming. There are three Cheerios connecting him to his dream, a delicious one where he was "... swimming in a gigantic bowl of creamy milk." But he wakes up feeling funny, "... not funny ha ha but funny peculiar.
"... for some reason he appears to have the wrong shadow!"  But he tries not to let this spoil a pleasant afternoon.  
In this comic book-like spread, we can see he has a tough time.  He is sniggered at, squeaked at and ignored.  Poor Colin. Look at the different textures Hodgkinson has used to create this spread: Flossy Fluffball, in the middle frame, really is fluffy even! It's a busy spread.  
Hodgkinson moves between double spreads, (using both left and right pages to create a whole image),  to separate facing page frames throughout the book. This verso frame is a wonderful sequence of poor Colin thinking he's turning into a mouse.  Pieces of cloth make for the different beackgrounds in this illustration. He's beginning to wonder whether he really is a mouse, especially as "... he does like the odd nibble of cheese ..."  The yellow base is actually a piece of cheese. But "... No, Colin is definitely 100% CAT", and we see him peer at a shiny watering-can to check! Poor Colin is miserable, it might be Ok if he had an elephant's shadow, but he doesn't.  Then he notices his shadow and follows it through more richly decorated pages, with wiggly sewn stitches weaving their way across the page and suddenly Colin realises... 
... the lacy pink mouse! Vernon has his shadow.   Vernon explains how it all happened and how wonderful it was having such an important "Superstar" shadow.  The illustration shows us that Vernon is a winner, now his shadow is big and powerful!
Colin wants his shadow back and Vernon makes a run for it, into his mouse hole, which by the way he had recently decorated.  
But "Uh-oh! Colin's shadow is too BIG to fit through the door."  I like the way Hodgkinson has used the two pages to represent the inside and outside of Vernon's home, which is lusciously warm in those oranges and yellows.  He's pulling with all his might, but that shadow won't fit.  Look at Vernon's furniture:  a cracker chair next to a cheese table. 
Vernon gives up.  He sits in his mouse hole door and laments: "YOU see it's JUST not EASY being a tiny pink mouse all of the time. And having Colin's marvelous shadow meant everybody took Vernon seriously for a change."   Colin knew just what it felt like to be "... sniggered at, squeaked at and ignored ...", so he suggests they forget worrying about their shadows and "... concentrate on more important things -  like having fun together.
And so they sort out the shadows.  
Hodgkinson's illustrations here are fabulous, you can feel the shadow being pulled and stretched and that ping is just perfectly pingy. 
And they have some fun together ... Vernon is happy as he has his light mouse shadow and Colin to play with and he really feels like a superstar now. They play, have a cup of tea in mouse-sized teacups, then it's time for another nap and some cheerio dreams.  Each animal comfy with his own shadow. 
Turn the page to see what the dream is... (notice the Cheerios connecting up the two images!)
We've come full circle, and we're back in that bowl of creamy milk, but this time Colin has his friend with him ... "Slurp" and their two shadows are watching the action from the rim of the bowl.  It's so much better being friends with someone and having fun than worrying about being big and tough, don't you think?  

Anneta began this picturebook by talking about shadows, when shadows appeared, long shadows, short shadows etc. She was delighted that they remembered the The Gruffalo's child during this activity.   To follow up this beautifully illustrated picturebook she asked her students to invent some silly shadows for things, based on the form on the half title page, and they had fun making sentences using their silly ideas.  Then they wrote a short story using a storyboard template and illustrated it.  Here's an quick photo of the story of a fox whose wrong shadow was a carrot!
What's missing is how old Anneta's children are ... she forgot to mention that, but they are no older than ten as this is the limit of the age group she works with.  A BIG thank you to Anneta for introducing me to Leigh Hodgkinson, I'm a fan!  And a BIG thank you for sharing. 

A final comment: if you go to Leigh Hodgkinson's website at Wonky Button  and and click on  Crafty bits, there are some great downloads, which provide excellent follow up activities to her books.  The cut out of Colin and Vernon can be used to make long and short shadows for example. 

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