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.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Recommendation 3: On the road with Mavis and Marge

Front cover 
Niamh Sharkey  is an Irish author illustrator, and her award winning picturebook, On the road with Mavis and Marge,  has been recommended by Ana Rasteiro, a primary English teacher who works with me here in Portugal. 
I am familiar with one or two of Niamh Sharkey's picturebooks - I've got  I'm a happy Hugglewug, and The Gigantic Turnip.  The latter has been recommended by another colleague in Spain, so I'll write about it another day!  Her illustrations are fun and colourful, but change quite a bit between picturebooks, the three titles I've mentioned here are all different.   On the road ... mixes occasional collage with an illustrative style you might associate with cool sets of coffee mugs - I think the illustrations were originally painted with oil, at least in an interview Sharkey says that's her favourite medium. She's also an admirer of Tove Jansson's The Moomins 
Thelma & Louise 1991
But let's get back to On the road ... Mavis is a cow and Marge is a chicken, and together they go where no animal has gone before!  They have great adventures, but eventually decide that home is the place to be.  On the front cover Marge the chicken reminds me of Louise, in the film Thelma and Louise  with Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis - those sun glasses and her polka dot head scarf are almost the same! 
As usual I've got the paperback edition, and there are no endpapers as such, though the inside of the front and back cover is red with little white dots, just like Marge's headscarf on the front cover.  
Copyright and title page
On the copyright and title pages the mass of writing drew my attention to the font, called Kingthings Trypwriter. As we go through the picturebook its quirky hand typed letters mix nicely with some hand-written font.  You'll notice that the lower case f, i, and n have little shadows. Fun illustrations on the copyright page too... And once again we see Mavis and Marge, no ordinary cow and chicken for they have handbags and books under their arms. 
Opening 1
The first opening introduces our characters:  Mavis is shown in the verso illustration, looking eagerly out at the world, Marge is busy reading a book.  The words on the recto tell us that Mavis is "different to other cows" and that Marge is "smarter than your average chicken", if you go back to the verso illustration, you'll see the other cows and the average chicken in the back ground!  Great image of Mavis and Marge on the collage mountain top. 
Opening 2

The second spread uses multiple cartoon-like frames, giving us a sequence of events to see and read about.  "They knew there was a world out there waiting to be explored" say the words, and the picture shows us that Marge has discovered this in her book.  So they take the bike from the barn and off they go! The next spread is a wonderful double page illustration, of the two friends on their adventure.  Marge is giving directions!
Opening 3
Can you guess what happens? In comic strip fashion we are taken through the sequence of events that leads them to their encounter with Clarence, a friendly rabbit, "out for a spin in his car."
Opening 4
Off they go with Clarence, and we see another double spread of the three of them tootling along happily. Then another spread with separate shots of the different places they visit, going "uphill ... downhill... through puddles ... over bridges ... through the forest ... all the way to the ocean."  My favourite is this little cameo, using a map of somewhere in Ireland (yep, I checked the name, it's from County Antrim, N. Ireland) 
Close up from opening 6
And so they arrive at the ocean and crash, they hit a bollard, but "What luck!  They landed in Benny's boat!"   "Welcome aboard!" say's Benny!  And off they go … in a tiny yellow boat.  Mavis is green, but Marge has great sea legs! Where are they going can you see? 
Opening 8
The South Pole of course! Home of penguins and in particular Albert, who's an adventurous penguin about to fly to the moon!  "Ready? Stead?  Blast off!" Mavis and Marge, Clarence, Benny and Albert arrive on the moon, where they bounce around with green faced aliens, and all's well, until ... 
Opening 12
They look to into space and see planet Earth, blue and green in all its glory.  "I want to go …" "HOME!" say Mavis and Marge. "Hmmmm?" says the alien, what is this thing called home? And so they all went home, from the moon  back to earth and Mavis and Marge say "Goodbye" to their new friends and cycle back to the farm. 
Opening 14
And what a welcome they get!  Mavis and Marge both agree that "Home!" "It is the best place to be!"  If you look at Opening 1 again you'll see that the farm is called "Home Farm"! But that's not the end, turn the page and you'll see they have a visitor!  He's come to find out what "Home" is!
Back verso
Ana discovered this picturebook at a book fair in Lisbon.  She was playing with transport words with a group of pre-school children and it was the theme that caught her attention, as well as the fun illustrations and the fantasy storyline.  She didn't do anything special with the picturebook, she just read it to the children several times.  But that is special, and very often overlooked!  Children need to be read to for the sake of being read to, forget the linguistic focus or pre- during- and after- storytelling activities! Just enjoy the sharing of a picturebook together. She described the children's responses as they saw the different types of transport and they were able to call out the names in English.  They loved the bizarre occurrences and the trip to the moon, and of course they all empathized with Mavis and Marge when they realised that home was the best place to be. And as I've mentioned in previous posts, the children recognized the speech bubbles as visual representations of the spoken word and wanted them to be read.  And they all enjoyed saying "Hello" with the alien at the end!  

Thanks to Ana for recommending such a fun book, loved it! And don't think it's just for pre-school, primary aged children learning English as a foreign language, up till about 8 years old, would enjoy this picturebook I think, and if you go to this link, you can download some fun activities: cut out and colour Mavis and Marge, write a postcard, complete an alien, colour a space rocket. 


Aaron said...

Hi, I really enjoy your blog which I discovered a couple of months ago. I am a Junior Primary school teacher and am always looking for new books to add to our library. I bought, after reading your review, Mavis and Marge, and the kids love reading it. Thanks for this comprehensive and informative work you do, and keep it up! I will certainly keep returning to read your latest reviews.

Sandie Mourão said...

Dear Aaron,

Thank you for your lovely positive comments and for sharing your children's enjoyment. It's good to know that my blog entices people to buy books. WONDERFUL. Do let me know if you buy any other titles and what yr children thought of them.