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 25, 2011

Recommendation nº 4: We're going on a bear hunt

Front cover
We're going on a bear hunt is a classic, one my own children grew up with, as it was first published in paperback in the early 90's.  It's also a picturebook  I use over and over in my pre-school English classes. It's been recommended by Caroline Swettenham, an English teacher from the British Council in Italy.  A great recommendation! 
We're going on a bear hunt is a traditional campfire chant, and has been adapted and rewritten by the magical Michael Rosen; The illustrations are by Helen Oxenbury, wonderful illustrations alternating between spreads of watercolour  and black and white sketches.  Helen Oxenbury doesn't have a web site, but there's a nice little film on www.guardian.co.uk, which gives you a taste of her work, and shows you what she looks and sounds like.  She's a wonderful watercolourist and looking closely at her illustrations again for this post has been a delight. I'm learning how to use watercolour and so I appreciate her skill, I've got a long way to go! I love her water and grass ...
So, the picturebook.  The front cover shows us four of the six protagonists, a father figure and three children.  There's an older girl (or possibly the mother?) and a black and white boarder collie on the back cover.  The covers create a whole image and it's the same as the title page illustration.  The characters are joyfully leading us into the picturebook, skipping and smiling, off we go. 
Front endpapers
My paperback edition, now nearly 20 years old, is battered and the corners are worn but it has the endpapers, and they are really very special.  The front and back ones are different, depicting a passing of time.  The front endpapers show a sandy beach, with rocks and seagulls and the sea and sky meeting in a hazy horizon.  This illustration has always puzzled me, as the sea itself does not feature in the story, except very briefly across the muddy flats that the family have to cross as they look for their bear.  Intriguing! 
Copyright and title page
Here are those front and back cover characters, they are skipping along, eager to find their bear.   The illustrations that follow come in pairs, first a black and white illustration, then a colour one. The first presents the physical problem, the second shows how it is overcome. 
Opening 1
The first black and white spread, begins the alternating sequence. These sketches are completely delicious, so enjoy them as you read the rhythmic words: take in those careful outlines, contours and smudges. I love the way the dog is almost lost in the grass.  The rhyming text is repeated through out the book and goes like this: 
"We're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared.
Uh-uh! Grass!
Long wavy grass.
We can't go over it.
We can't go under it. 
Oh no!
We've got to go through it! "

Opening 2
And turn the page to bright colour and a sumptuously grassy hill. What fun they are having! The text is two onomatopoeic words representing the grass as we move through it.  "Swishy swashy!"  
The next geographical hurdle is a river, possibly an estuary if we are near the sea. The characters are studying the water, we see their backs only, but it's clear they are contemplating what to do.  Same rhyming text ...
Opening 3
Opening 4
And "Splash splosh!" as they go through the water. 
So you've seen the grass and the water I like so much!  Pretty brilliant don't you think?
The family keep going through mud, "Squelch squerch!"; through a forest, "Stumble trip!"; through a snowstorm, "Hoooo woooo!" and then they find a cave.  
Opening 11
The dog looks a bit worried and the baby definitely doesn't want to go in. But they do ...
Opening 12
Brilliantly visual emotions shown here: this family is frightened.  The font on the text on recto gets bigger, and kids love to chorus loudly, "WHAT'S THAT?"  Gulp ... 
Opening 13
The words are on the verso, and we read them first, but we've already seen the illustration, we know it's a bear and the suspense as we describe his nose, his ears and his eyes, makes the discovery even more exciting and we can all chorus together ... "IT'S A BEAR!!!!"  
And then the previous pages are re-traced, in rapid succession, the bear is seen following the family as they race home, super quickly. 
Opening 14
And we have to say it all very quickly too, out of breath and panting as we get to the swishy swashy grass, but the bear's still there. Oh no! The family get into the house, through the front door, which they forget to close, so they have to go back and close it, just as the bear is coming up the path.  Oh my!  "Back upstairs. Into the bedroom. Into bed. Under the covers."
Opening 16
"We're not going on a bear hunt again." A big pink eiderdown covers them all, even the dog.  The baby seems quite happy, holding his bear, perhaps he wasn't so frightened after all.  
Don't forget to turn the page and show the back endpapers ...
Back endpapers
It's the beach we saw earlier, the sun is going down, but the dark snow storm clouds are still visible.  The bear is walking away from us, back to his cave - back into the story.  Ask the children how they think he feels.  

Caroline highlights the children's joy in joining in with the repetition as she tells the story and their "smiles, laughter and surprise.  And of course 'Again!'" Oh yes!  "Again!" All children chorus this as you close the book.  I haven't come across a pre-school group who haven't wanted this wonderful picturebook again, and again, and again! Caroline says she encourages the children to act out the story, which is an excellent way of supporting their memory of the sequence followed in the narrative.  

A collection of activities can be found here, including this link to Michael Rosen telling the story on Youtube. Well worth watching.  He's such a great performer, and it'll give you ideas for how to use the story for a storytelling session! 

A big thanks to Caroline for recommending this classic.  BRILLIANT! 


MisterJeremy said...

I like what you've done with this review. It's very detailed and it's obvious that you love the book. Thank you also for pointing to my collection of activities that teachers or parents can do with this chant.

Sandie Mourão said...

Hi Jeremy and welcome!
Thank YOU for sharing all those ideas on SQUIDOO and for all those lovely ideas on your blog http://www.makelearningfun.info/