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 25, 2011

Recommendation nº 6: The three little wolves and the big bad pig

Front cover

I've decided to feature two recommendations this month, to keep with the theme of traditional stories.   This is a wonderful title, and recommended by Helen Davies, an English teacher in a French state school.  A great suggestion Helen, and I've had loads of fun looking at this picturebook, discovering all sorts.  

Eugene Trivizas is a sociologist, with a PhD in criminology and one of Greece's leading children's authors. He's written over 100 children's books and this title was the first to be written in English.  I've already featured a picturebook illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and her delightfully detailed watercolour illustrations bring another dimension to Trivizas already very funny words.  
The three little wolves and the big bad pig is of course a retelling of the traditional story, The three little pigs and highly suitable for older students.  Helen has used this picturebook with teens. 
The front cover is an illustration of The Three Little Wolves taking a break from building work, perched on scaffolding.  Each is nibbling something meaty, a chicken drum stick or a hamburger.  They look relaxed and happy, fastidious with checkered napkins on their laps and open lunch boxes at their sides.   It's a great cover image setting the scene for the many building projects which we will be shown as the story progresses.   However,  only the three wolves appear on the front cover and they are without doubt the goodies, but try turning over to the back cover...
Back cover
The back cover continues the illustration with scaffolding stretching across the picture, and here we see the Big Bad Pig, climbing up a ladder and leering in the direction of The Little Wolves.  It's a wonderful combination and well worth opening out the book to show the continuous image. 
The title page shows us one of the creatures we will encounter later, a beaver, well-known in the animal world for his strong dams.  He's shown next to a dirty bucket, but it's not clear till later what is actually in the bucket.
Recto 1
The first page is a single recto. A large amount of text explains which of the wolves is the oldest, "The first was black, the second was grey and the third was white."  Mother wolf tells her cubs they have to go out into the big world.  She warns them to take care of ... can you guess... the big bad pig! But look carefully at the illustrations. What is mother wolf doing? Painting her nails black!  The fur on her head is in curlers and the end of her tail, which is sticking out of the bed covers, is also in curlers.  She has a flippant look to her, tired of her cubs and ready for the good life again, the posh red slippers on the floor by the bed giving us an inkling of the way she likes to dress. 
Off go the wolf cubs and they soon meet a kangaroo carrying red and yellow bricks.  
Opening 2
As with the original story, the wolves are given what they ask for and they work hard to build their strong house of bricks.  Their lawn grows quickly too, and one day while they are playing croquet the "big bad pig came prowling down the road".  We are then treated to the well-known question answer routine, accompanied by Helen Oxenbury's delightful tongue-in-cheek paintings, showing a mean old pig and scared wolf cubs.
"Little wolves, little wolves, let me come in!"
"'No, no, no,' said the three little wolves.  "By the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, we will not let you in, not for all the tea leaves in our china teapot!'"  
Then, the pig "puffed and he puffed and he huffed and he huffed, but the house didn't fall down." 
Opening 5
"But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing." What did he do? He got his sledgehammer and knocked the house down!  Look carefully at the illustration, can you see the wolf cubs escaping?  The black wolf is carrying a china teapot!  They are very frightened.
We know how the story goes: the wolves need to build  a stronger house, but what is stronger than bricks?  Concrete!  They meet a beaver who is making concrete in a mixer.  He gives them all they need and they work hard on their new concrete home.
Opening 7
They are playing badminton when the big bad pig arrives. Opening 7 is a great double spread, a small black and white sketch of the pig, looking thoroughly mean and the wolves in grey tone against their grey concrete house.  The pig is a bright pink peering over the wall in the background, can you see him? 
We are told of the question answer routine, "Little, frightened wolves, let me in...."  and then when we turn the page... "But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing."
Opening 8
He gets "his pneumatic drill and smashes the house down"!   The close up of the pink pig with the wolves escaping in the background is hilarious.  They have tied their sheets to make a rope and the teapot is there, ready to be grasped as they flee, "but their chinny-chin-chins were trembling and trembling and trembling."
An even stronger house is needed. Luckily for the wolves, they meet a rhino driving a lorry full of "barbed wire, iron bars, armour plates and heavy metal padlocks."  "The three little wolves built  themselves an extremely strong house" and felt "very relaxed and absolutely safe"! 
This time the wolves were playing hopscotch when the pig arrives. 
Opening 11
That pig is diffiuclt to stop.  Alert students will notice the red dynamite sticks on the grass under the pig in verso and, during the usual dialogue and huffing and puffing, they already know how the big bad pig is going to destroy the house.  "Frightened little pigs, with the trembling chins, let me in!"
Opening 12
And the little wolves are running off carrying their teapot, their fluffy tails scorched.
What could they do now?  They were certain there was something wrong with their building materials. Luckily for them along came a flamingo pushing a wheelbarrow full of flowers.  
Opening 13
And they decided to build a house of flowers. It had a wall of marigolds, one of daffoldils, one of pink roses and another of cherry blossom.  The roof was made of sun flowers and they had a carpet of daisies.  It was beautiful, but very fragile. And along came the big bad pig. "Little frightened wolves with the trembling chins and the scorched tails, let me in!"
And as the pig inhaled to blow down their house ...
Opening 15
The scent from the blossoms softened his heart and he realized how terrible he had been ... "he became a big good pig". He sang and he danced and made freinds with the wolves.  They played "pig-pong and piggy-in-the-middle", and they invited him in for tea and they all lived happily ever after!
Back verso
Can you see? They are drinking tea from the teapot they salvaged from each house, as they ran for their lives. 

Hilariously funny, and kids just love the absurdity of the pig's badness and the ever stronger houses culminating in a soft swaying flowery one. Brilliant adaptation, with stunning illustrations.  It begs rereading, enabling students to discover threads of visual and verbal narratives: Visually they will pick up on the different playground games, the animals and their goods, the teapot at each escape.  Verbally they will enjoy the cumulative greeting from the pig, who begins by calling the wolves, "Little wolves, let me in!", and finishes with, "Little, frightened wolves with the trembling chins and the scorched tails, let me in!" They'll join in the memorable dialogues, and will love saying, "But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing."

Helen describes using the book as a base for re-telling well-known stories, with students creating their own retold stories.  Other writing activities could include:

  • Taking the view of the pig and describing being bad and then becoming good, and explaining why;  
  • Becoming a reporter and writing up the story for a newspaper. 
  • Writing a post card to mother wolf from the cubs, explaining the events, and the happy eneding. 

These are challenging activities, but possible with older students who have a fair bit of language competece.   This link, to a set of Scholastic activities, meant for mainstream learners but useful for ideas, may be of interest.  Enjoy!


tanja said...

hi, thanks for sharing your insights on this thoughtful blog, I've enjoyed your posts and found some new titles.

Sandie Mourão said...

Thanks for popping by Tania :-)