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.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A bit lost: a psychedelic delight

I've just come back from a wonderful two week holiday, despite only managing to spend a couple of hours in a large Exeter Waterstone's, I came out triumphant and heavily laden with picturebooks.  Treat of treats to be able to pull them off the shelves, whiff them, flick through them and hug them... living in Portugal means I don't get to do this often with English books.   One of my prize purchases is the focus of this blog, A bit lost by Chris Haughton.   
Front cover
I'd seen this picturebook referenced in several places and Haughton was recently nominated one of UK's best new illustrators by Book Trust.  But some things just don't seem obvious until you have them in your hands. A bit lost is completely obvious, and I can't believe I didn't buy it from The Book Depository earlier, but hey... better late than never!
I've discovered that Chris Haughton started using colour in his work quite late, he said he just didn't seem to get it right. After looking through A bit lost, it's difficult to imagine he ever had difficulties, it's so full of rich colours - in fact it's the very colour which makes it such a great treasure.  Oranges and lime greens  and blues and purples are predominant, all brought together in a flat style that imitates simple prints.  From what I've gathered Haughton first sketches then uses the computer to finish his illustrations.  They are stunning and after looking around his website you'll really enjoy revisiting a style he has perfected and the humour that naturally oozes from his illustrations. 
Like all good picturebooks,  each bit of peritext has things to look at and associate with the story, which is about a sleepy owlet, who falls from his nest and is helped by a chatty squirrel to find his mum again.
The cover introduces us to our owlet, all alone and lost, against a background of olive green, a predominant colour in the illustrations. If you look at the back cover there's an illustration of mummy owl looking very upset, as her owlet is nowhere to be seen.  
Inside of back cover
As usual I have a paperback edition and the inside of the front and back covers show a cool foresty scene.  

Page 1
Walker Books enjoy having a page for the owner to write their name, and this is no exception: there's an entertaining page, showing our lost owlet wondering at the large notice above his head.  
Copyright and title page
And the copyright and title page is completely delicious. Olive green and orange with the specially designed font, created by Haughton, sitting boldly above a sinking sun.  The visual format on this doublespread continues on the first opening, where owl and her baby are placed on the verso page.  
Opening 1
Haughton has used darker colours for the two owls and their multi-story tree home.  They leap out at us as we turn the page.  It's a wordless spread, with a halfpage flap for the recto.  The recto flap slowly wafts up as the book lies on the table, and gives us the impression that the owl is moving...
Opening 2

The words are simple, "uh-oh!" then...

Opening 3
"Bump... Bump... BUMP!" The same colour pallet here with the addition of a deep, purply blue base.  We don't know it yet, but on returning to this page we'll see the other characters peering from the forest, a bear, frog and rabbit in verso and the chattery rabbit in recto.  Can you see them?
Up till now we've had double spreads oozing colour, set within a white frame.    For most of the remaining spreads, white plays a more predominant role and we see versos and rectos either as full colour, right to the page margin, or with brightly coloured cameo illustrations against the stark white.  There's a rhythm to these pages too, which you can see in the next set of pages:
Opening 4
Opening 5
Opening 6
This visual rhythm is repeated three times, with a repetitive verbal text aswell. Owlet describes his mummy, "She's VERY BIG. Like THIS!" or "My mummy has POINTY EARS. Like THIS!" or "My mummy has BIG EYES. Like THIS!" The illustrations show us owlet miming these physical features followed by, '"Yes! Yes! I know! I know!" said Squirrel. "Follow me ...' Squirrel rushes off, with owl close behind.  Can you see mummy owl on her perch in the orange forest, in spread 5?  She is shown in three different positions as squirrel takes owlet to see different animals in the forest. He shows Owlet a large bear (a wonderful illustration of an unassuming bear plonked right in the middle of the recto page in opening 6), a rabbit with long pointy ears and a small frog with large eyes.  '"No! No!" Said little owl.  "That's not my mummy"' is the repeated refrain upon each encounter. Until finally it is the frog who saves the day.  "Follow me. Your mummy's looking everywhere for you."
Opening 11
Great illustration of the three animals in siloute, and there's mummy not far ahead. "Is this your mummy?"  Of course it is!
Opening 12

Just the owls, no background, and mummy owl has a tear in her eye.  She must have been so worried.  
Mummy is so grateful she invites squirrel and frog for a biscuit, '"Yes, please," said Squirrel.  "Biscuits are our favourite thing."' They sit together in the multi-storied owl tree, high above the treetops. It's now evening and everything is a luscious orangey pink. 
Opening 14
Careful now...
Back verso
"Uh-oh!" and we are back to where we started!  Now isn't that a feast for your eyes?  Delightful, so simple and worthy of a very large "Again!".  I've not used it with any pre-school kids yet, but when I start storytelling in my classrooms in January (once my thesis is done and dusted) it will be one of the first picturebooks I share.  I know it will be a great success. 

I've done  a bit of research about Chris Haughton.  He's a really interesting chap from Dublin, who has done some wonderful work with a fairtrade organization called People Tree.  Do check out his website and sit through a 30-minute presentation, which starts slow, but gets really interesting as he describes how he started and where he got all his ideas from.   Finally Chris Haughton has a blog, and he has written a post about the making of A bit lostWell worth a peek!
Somehow knowing more about a picturebook creator, makes the book different.   Enjoy!

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