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, September 04, 2011

Old MacDonald with a twist

Front cover
Traditional stories portrayed in picturebooks have been recommended by several colleagues, so I thought I'd do a month of posts on the theme of Traditional stories or songs in picturebooks and include at least two recommendations. 
To start I'm going to feature one of my all time favourites, introduced to me by Opal Dunn, years ago!  
Old MacDonald had a farm, is one of those songs that everybody, who is 'doing' farm animals, sings in ELT classes!  But I was never really a great fan: the repeated refrain "With a bow wow here and a bow wow there. Here and bow, there a bow everywhere a bow wow..." etc was just too much for many of the early years' language learners I was working with and "EIEIO" was always rendered in a Portuguese pronunciation, as the song exists in translation in Portugal.  But when I began using this picturebook, Old MacDonald, by Jessica Souhami, all that changed! Hearing the words clearly and slowly, in association with the pictures and fun font placement, enabled the children I was working with to imitate the English sounding "EIEIO" and to pick up that tricky refrain.   But most of all it was such a fun experience as there's a wonderful, unexpected twist at the end, not to mention all the different ways the animals like to travel! It's brilliant!
If you take a look at the front cover, shown above, you can predict which animals will appear, can't you? Or can you?  I like Old MacDonald's eye brows, I have a uncle who is a farmer and they are just like that!  As a reading adult you will also notice that it's a "Lift the flaps!" book.  
Title page
No exciting peritext, except if you look at the title page, which looks like the words are being trumpeted out of the page  gutter.  Notice how the designer has been included there: that's unusual on the title page, isn't it?
Opening 1
Here's the first spread, with the words of the song and a long-legged farmer striding across the page.  It's interesting that he is moving right to left, normally movement is depicted from left to right.  He's pulling something, but we can't quite make out what it is.  Can you guess? Let's open the flap, can you see it?  It's covering half the recto page. 
Opening 1 + flap
It's "... a duck, EIEIO" Let's turn the page again... 
Opening 2
And the song continues! 
There's lots of interesting things to notice about these spreads.  The illustrations are big and bold, collages of cut out shapes with simple line drawings.  The font does some exciting things visually.  In opening 2 the words flow out of duck's beak, rather like the title did on the title page. Then the font changes for the EIEIO and children notice this immediately.  They are drawn to the visual letter shapes and like to point at each one as we say them together as the book progresses.  
So, we've seen two spreads, or rather two and a half! They come in pairs like this through out.   First spread shows the farmer and an animal in some sort of transportation, but we can only see a bit of the animal until we turn the flap; and the second spread depicts the creature visibly making its animal noises. 
The pig arrives in a pram, here he is oinking ...
Opening 4
The children notice that the font represents a piggy tail immediately!  
The sheep arrives in the back of a truck and the cow is travelling in a plane.
Opening 7 + flap
And children get such a kick of seeing the next opening with all the words in the cow's belly:
Opening 8
Many of them question how it was possible for the cow to fit into the plane.  Clever children!
So what else do we have on farms?  Horses, chickens, I wonder what's next, and it's in a rocket, WOW!
Opening 9 + flap
Of course it's a rocket, Martian's don't travel in any old truck!  What a fun surprise!  But what sound do Martians make? 
Opening 10
"Beep!" Of course! 
And the song comes to it's finale ... "Oh ..."  Quick turn the page: 
Opening 11
"EIEI ... " what's under the flap? 
Opening 11 + flap
Nice!  The farmer and his animals!  Duck in a bath, pig in bed, sheep doing her knitting and the farmer and the cow having tea, with milk (of course!)  And the silly Martian is up the chimney! What a groovy version of Old MacDonald ... and it just has to be read "Again!" 

I just want to make a point about the different ways of showing the words in this picturebook. It's considered a "print-salient" picturebook, because the print attracts the children's attention.  It doesn't mean that they will ignore the illustrations, far from it, they still focus on those almost exclusively especially if they aren't officially reading yet.  But in a picturebook like this children do look at the words far more because they are part of the visual design of the picturebook.  Some children will be affected by this design more than others, and will begin to associate the written word and its sound.  Don't ignore this if you see or hear it happening, encourage children to make connections, and if possible leave the picturebook in the classroom, so children can browse through the pages, studying what interests them. 

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