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.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Blending in

Halibut Jackson is a book I came across by chance and I’m much taken by the illustrations, done by David Lucas, who is both author and illustrator of this lovely book.  It was his first picturebook and won instant acclaim. 

Close up of illustration
There’s something unfinished about the illustrations, though to be honest I can’t work out why, as each page is packed full of pattern and design - it’s like walking into an Aladin’s cave, all bright and sparkly with loads to look at.  It also reminds me of a page of tattoos, again not sure why, maybe it’s the inky outlines? Look at this close up of one of David Lucas’ sketches, found on the back verso page of my paperback edition.  It’s got a lovely scratchy feeling to it, I suppose from the quality of paper he uses.  It absorbs the ink - I love it. 
The front cover presents our protagonist, though we’d not see him if it wasn’t for those scratchy lines, his yellow suit blends in with that jewel-like sun.  A nice contrast to the patterned foreground, covered in wild flowers.  Goodness, even the birds wear decorated hats! 
Open the book and you are greeted by a flowery set of endpapers ...
Front endpapers
... flowers from another world, leading our eyes towards a yellow archway, and there’s Halibut Jackson again, can you see him?  He’s the colour of the sky.
Copyright, dedication and title pages
On the title page, he's blending in with the bricks in the wall.  I love the decorated frame, like cut gold.  We already know quite a bit about Mr Jackson don't we?  He likes blending in and seems to have a lot of different suits.  I wonder if he makes them himself? Let’s see shall we?
Opening 1
Can you see Halibut Jackson?  He’s leaning against the wall in his red brick suit, and what a lot of movement all around. It’s such a dramatic illustration, all that red, and Mr Jackson is in the middle of it all.  Great composition. And from the words we learn that …

“Halibut Jackson was shy.
Halibut Jackson didn’t like to be noticed.
Halibut Jackson liked to blend into the background.”
We'd picked up on that hadn't we?  Poor chap, can't be easy.  He has a suit for all the different places he visits. Before we turn the page I'd like to talk about the way many of the double spreads in this picturebook work visually.  In almost all the illustrations there is a frame, which contains some of the objects, but not all.  From the left verso objects either rush out of or rush into the frame.  In Opening 1 there are objects rushing out. It’s an interesting technique and gives the illustrations a surreal feel to them - there’s an impossibility to Halibut’s world, we are neither in it nor out of it. 
Back to the story, but look out for those frames! Turn the page and we can see some of his different suits.  He has  a suit for the park, a flowery suit. Can you see him?  
Opening 2
Keep turning.  He has a suit for the supermarket which blends with the red apples; a suit for the library, that blends with the books.  Each spread is full of things to look at and each spread contains that in and out framed composition.
“But mostly Hallibut Jackson stayed indoors.”
Opening 5
This is a wonderfully decorated spread, the perspective is all out and the yellow carpet acts as the frame, outlining the room, keeping Halibut safe, and the highly decorated furniture on the verso page is tumbling over the line.   Can you see his photo on the table?  He really is shy!
Then one day Halibut Jackson received an invitation to a "Grand Birthday Party" at the Palace.  How wonderful. But Halibut Jackson is shy and he “Certainly didn’t go to parties.  What a shame.”
As in all good stories it came to him in a dream - He’d make a suit, not just any suit, "a suit of silver and gold, covered in jewels."  People won't notice him for sure, for palaces have lots of gold and silver and jewels! 
Opening 9
But how wrong he was, it was a Palace Garden Party.  Yikes!  Poor Halibut. And of course everyone noticed him.  
Opening 10
He looked so very fine. So fine that they all wanted suits of their own!
And so Halibut made a suit for the Queen and the King, for everyone in fact. He opened a shop, a clothes shop of course, and filled it with suits of all kinds.  Can you see some of them?  And even though he was still very shy, it didn’t matter. He had lots of friends and was always very busy.
Opening 12
And when we turn to the endpapers, we see those extravagant flowers again, and the same yellow arch, but Halibut Jackson isn’t blending in, he looks quite different to his surroundings in a smart blue and white striped suit.  It’s Ok to be noticed after all.
Back endpapers
What a wonderful picturebook.  The illustrations are terribly detailed, so it wouldn't work too well in a large class, but if you leave the book in the class library children will be able to browse and scrutinize, and come to all sorts of understandings about what they see. 

Halibut Jackson's suit is always the same shape, so a nice activity would be to create an outline for the suit and have children draw Halibut blending in pictures, with Halibut in different scenes wearing his special suit.   What would he wear at school? At a football match? To the beach? To a wedding? At the school canteen? 

A Halibut Jackson hat competition would be fun too.  He's got some pretty amazing ones in his shop.  

And of course there's the message about being shy. It's OK to be shy and Halibut shows us how we can overcome our shyness. 


Phil Wade said...

Love your site Sandie. There are lots of books here I have to buy for my daughter.


Sandie Mourão said...

Thank you Phil!
And if you train teachers think about using some of the picturebooks in your classes.
I see you are an ICT man and like creating materials:
One title I'd suggest you look at for classroom use is: "It's a book" - I wrote about it in October 2010. It's an excellent example of how picture and word come together to create meaning and works well with teachers. Give it a go!