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 18, 2011

Recommendation nº 5: The gigantic turnip

Front cover
The Gigantic Turnip, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey has been recommended by Teresa Fleta, a teacher, teacher educator and great friend, who lives in Madrid, Spain.  I'd only seen this title in Portuguese, so it was good to order it in English and give it a good look over. 
I've already featured a picturebook by Niamh Sharkey, an Irish illustrator who uses oil paints to create her big, bold illustrations.   You can see her brush strokes in some of the backgrounds and they add a lovely textured feel to her work.  
This particular picturebook is published by Barefoot Booksthey have a very special publishing moto, here's a part of it: "Interactive, playful and beautiful, our products combine the best of the present with the best of the past to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow".  
As you can see from the front cover the book comes with a CD which contains the narrated story - a nice addition, read by clear-voiced Ellen Verenieks.  
We all know the Russian folk tale, made famous by Aleksei Tolstoy, about an old couple who plant some turnip seeds and one grows to such an enormous size that they can't pull it out without help from their animals.  It's a cumulative story, getting longer and longer as more animals are called to help the old couple.  Finally they manage to pull up the turnip with the help of a mouse and everyone eats a very large amount of turnip soup or stew.  It's well known in ELT, and included in course books and reader sets
Portuguese turnips
The big orange root vegetable we can see on the front cover is actually quite unlike a turnip.  Turnips are white with a purpley top.  The turnip in the illustration looks more like a swede, of similar shape, but more orangey in colour and completely different in taste. But this is a cultural thing, for in Ireland and Scotland, swedes are called turnips! In the States they're called swedish turnips.  When I show this image to my students they can't quite match their Portuguese turnips with this yellow thing! 
But let's look at the book, the back cover has a nice collection of other vegetables for us to look at, most of which are immediately recognisable. 
Back cover
The half title page contains a small cameo of the elderly couple pulling at the turnip, an illustration which is also shown later in the story, and the copyright and title pages introduce us to some of the characters in the story, again snippets from within. They don't contribute in any way to the narrative, though children will comment on the large cow underneath the title  during repeated reads, confirming it is the cow from the story. 
Copyright and title page
The first spread introduces us to the couple, in their overgrown garden, with the verbal text appearing in the garden path, with the font changing size.  
Opening 1
The following spreads set the scene, introducing the animals in the story, and the act of planting. Here are the animals.  Note they start in the verso with the smallest of animals and finish in recto with the big brown cow. 
Opening 2
We need rain for plants to grow, so along it comes beautifully depicted in this spread showing the dark night and the plants in the garden beginning to grow.  Can you see the turnip leaves already big and strong?
Opening 4
We are told, not shown that the seasons pass, everything is harvested and that at the end of the row there is a gigantic turnip.
Opening 5
Nice use of space here, and children really get a feel for the size of the turnip.   The enlarged font works well too. And so the next day the old man got up ... there's a lovely bit where the verbal text says, "the old man sat up in bed, sniffed the cool, late summer air and said, 'It's time for us to pull up that turnip.'",   And he really did try, and here begins the cumulative, repetitive part of the story : "The old man pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked, but the turnip would not move."   And so he calls his wife, and they "... pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked, but the turnip would not move."  The woman fetched the brown cow. 
Opening 9
Can you see the pigs in the background?  On each occasion we are shown the animals who will be called to help when everyone is unable to budge the turnip.  And of course they get smaller in size and larger in number.  "The old man, the old woman, the big brown cow, two pot-bellied pigs, three black cats, four speckled hens, five white geese, and six yellow canaries, pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked. STILL the turnip would not move." 
Opening 14
They were  all exhausted! "But the woman had an idea." She found a mouse, who she caught using some cheese, and she took him outside to help. 
Opening 17
And so now it was almost night time, they've spent all day trying to pull up this turnip!  "The old man, the old woman, the big brown cow, two pot-bellied pigs, three black cats, four speckled hens, five white geese, and six yellow canaries, and the hungry little mouse pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked."  
Opening 18
"POP!", every thing went backwards ... "The canaries fell on the mouse, the geese fell on the canaries... [and so on].  All of them lay on the ground and laughed." The turnip could almost be a planet in this illustration it is so big!   Every one ate the huge turnip stew, but "the hungry little mouse ate most of all."

The mouse also has a lunar look to him in the illustration, with the night sky as a background.  

Facing the verso illustration, you can see the CD and back flap with information about the illustrator, narrator and Barefoot Books.  All nicely compact. 

It's a nice version of the traditional story, with lovely illustrations.  The verbal text is long, but much of it is repetitive, and the children will enjoy chorusing the different animals, especially "two pot-bellied pigs". Teresa didn't give me any follow up activities, but we can all imagine a fun dramatisation with masks and enough characters for a classroom of 25, if one child is the turnip! Great fun!  But most of all read this several times over a number of lessons.  The exposure to the rich language will help children remember it and they'll soon join in. 

Thanks to Teresa for sharing!

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