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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

That's one cheeky Gorilla!

Front cover
June has been a busy month, so my posts have been erratic, apologies to those of you who follow this blog regularly. 
As possible further titles for my blog posts in June I've been musing over some of the picturebooks that appear in ELT resource books or which have written about in articles / chapters.    I thought I'd start with a title from the latter: one of my favourite picturebooks, Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. Peggy Rathmann is an American author illustrator, well known for her picturebook, Officer Buckle and Gloria, which won the Caldecott Award in 1996 and Ruby the copycat, her first picturebook.  Good Night Gorilla was published in 1994, and nominated an ALA Award.  
Good Night Gorilla is atypical of a picturebook, as it contains 40 pages instead of 32. Many  of the pages are wordless, so it might be considered challenging for an EFL / ESL teacher.  It's one of my favourites for the two stories we are given, the one told in the words (when they exist) and the other shown in the pictures.   Let's take a look:
Back cover and front cover
The front and back covers together present both the setting and all but one of the characters: a zookeeper, who is locking up for the night, a cheeky gorilla, who is obviously key (excuse the pun!) to the story and a group of soft toy-like zoo animals. The Gorilla is looking ut at the child reader, his finger requesting silence, "Shhhh, don't tell!". That little grey chap pulling a banana is an armadillo!  None of my Portuguese pre-school children know what this is, as it's natural to the Americas, but they certainly have fun finding out about it and it's a word they rarely forget!  Notice the moon above the 'I' in NIGHT, an aspect of the font which children also pick up on and enjoy. 
Title page 
I only have paperback editions, in which there are no endpapers, but the title page shows us a night sky with the characteristic front cover font, and a moon over the 'I' again.  A banana hangs from the top edge of the page.  ("It must be the mouse", the children think when returning to the book.)  There are two distictive cameo illustrations of the gorilla on the left verso page.  They don't appear anywhere else in the book, and reinforce this gorilla's possible impishness... on rereading children will recognize the tyre from an illustration later in the book ... and where is he going I wonder?
Opening 01
This is the first spread, and we see now what a cheeky gorilla he is, reaching out and taking the zookeeper's keys.  If you look closely in the cage you'll see a toy gorilla, a book, a bike and the tyre, as well as a mouse standing on the lock, chewing at a balloon.   The zookeeper is plodding along, head down, torch shining ahead, saying goodnight.  All the verbal text appears in speech bubbles and most children recognize that they represent speech and it helps to focus their attention on the words themselves.  
Good Night Gorilla is perfect for getting children to predict.  What do you think is going to happen?   Let's turn the page and see. 
Opening 02
Oh my goodness, the gorilla's escaped, so has the balloon and the mouse, who is carrying a very heavy banana.  What's the Gorilla going to do next? 
Opening 03
He's following the zookeeper, who checks the elephant and says "Good night, Elephant". Cute looking elephant, with a nice big ball and a toy in his cage - who does the toy remind you of? That elephant is fond of peanuts too!  What do you think the gorilla is going to do?   You probably guess he's going to open the elephant's cage, and you are right.  That's just what he does!  If you go back to the previous spread you'll see that the gorilla uses a red key for his cage, which is red and he's got a pink key for the elephant's pink cage.  The elephant follows the gorilla and they open the lion's cage, the giraffe's cage, the hyena's cage and the armadillo's cage.  Each cage is a different colour with a matching key. Each aninal has something in his cage which the children will notice and comment on, as well as on each spread we see the mouse carrying the banana, and balloon floating further up into the sky.  Multiple stories being shown in the illustrations alongside a plodding verbal text comprising of "goodnight + animal"!     
And then what?  What happens to all the animals who are following the zookeeper on his rounds, led by a gorilla intent on escape? 
Opening 07
They follow the zookeeper home! Oh my goodness!  Then we have a series of wordless pages, which can prompt the children to make wild guesses.  Are they really going into his home?  No!  Turn the page, Yes!  Oh my goodness, past the hall, with pictures on the walls, pictures of the zoo animals and the zookeeper.  Pictures, which, if we peer closely, also show the zookeeper and his wife getting married, the wife holding a baby gorilla in her arms.  
They walk into the zookeeper's bedroom and settle down to sleep as the zoopkeeper settles into bed, next to his dozing wife. The wife says "Good night, dear." and turns off the light.   The following wordless spreads appear as a sequence:
Opening 10
Opening 11
Opening 12
Opening 13
Children love it!  They recognize that the speech bubbles represent each one of the animals in the bedroom, they wonder whose eyes they are, and delight in discovering they belong to a possibly irate wife. What do you think happens next?  Why, the wife takes the animals back to the zoo of course!
Opening 15
But surprise of surprises, as she walks back, saying "Good night zoo.", who's following her? The gorilla holding the keys, with his finger on his mouth looking out at the child reader pleading that they keep the secret.  And the mouse is still lugging that banana!  Can you see the moon and the balloon, now a tiny spot in the sky? 
They are next seen in the bedroom, the wife getting into bed, the gorilla and the mouse crawling into bed from the foot board.  The keys left on the floor, breaking the illustration frame.  And here is the last of the spreads ...
Opening 17
A surprising ending!  There's the gorilla asleep, "Zzzz."  The banana skin left on the bed cover. The mouse saying "Good night, Gorilla", the title of our story, and we've come full circle. 
Is this normal? we wonder, the Gorilla sleeping in the house?  If we look closely we can see a photo on the bedside table, of the zookeeper, his wife and the gorilla, posing as though a family.  The moon and the balloon can be seen through the window in the verso page.  "Again, again!" call the children, and so we begin again, and this time the children will be confirming what happens next, remembering with glee whose eyes they are, and what the wife will do.  They all chorus, "Good night, zoo", and follow with a confirmation that the Gorilla will sleep with the zookeeper and his wife all the same.   
There is so much going on in this picturebook, mini stories running parallel to the main one, and much for the children to comment on and talk about.  They will also enjoy inventing ways for "telling" the wordless pages.  It's a challenging picturebook for our ELT contexts, but well worth having a go.  

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