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, October 30, 2011

Who was Goldilocks?

Front cover
Goldilocks and the three bears is a well known children's story in English speaking countries and when I first began using it in Portugal in the early 90's very few Portuguese pre-school educators knew it, it's more well known now I think.  It's a story we use in ELT for numbers and family (mummy, daddy and baby); every thing comes in threes (three bears, three bowls, three chairs, three beds) , and there are some nice adjectives (hot and cold, hard and soft and just right!).  We assume , if we think about it at all, that Goldilocks is a spoilt little brat, going where she has not been invited, doing what she's not meant to do and generally well deserving of the fright she gets when the bears find her in their bedroom. Anthony Browne, takes us on quite a different visual journey in his picturebook Me and You.  In an interview about his picturebook, he says
"I always thought that Goldilocks got a rough deal in the original and I'm trying to redress the balance. How do we know that she was a greedy, selfish little girl? Perhaps there was a reason for her to enter the bears' house? I'm trying to tell the story from two different points of view: the baby bear's story shown in warm, reassuring coloured pencils, and Goldilock's harsher existence painted like a graphic novel, in sepia tones."  The result is a perfect picturebook, to be contemplated from front to back cover, with nothing missed out. 
Back and front covers
The front and back covers of the hard back edition are one whole image, a grassy area in front of a long row of terraced houses.  The bear family are presented on the cover, looking out as us, as though we are taking a photo of them all, a happy little family. In the background, by chance we've also photographed a solitary figure, walking head down, hands in pockets.  
Front endpapers
The endpapers are plain with no illustrations, however the baby blue and orange are prominent in the two narratives we find in the picturebook.  The blue belongs to the bear and his family and the orange to the sepia illustrations of the little girl. 
Title page
The title page contains two illustrations which are copies from later in the book.  They are fittingly inside frames, two very different characters in different worlds, and placed under the three title words, "Me and You", for the story that follows is told in the voice of the little boy bear. The two illustrations are different in both tone and style, the bear is drawn with coloured crayon, the bright colours contrast the duller, darker sepia tones of the watercolour illustration of the little girl, who has a tiny piece of auburn hair sticking out from under her hood, (it almost connects her to the bear).  The title uses different fonts which emphasise the difference between the two characters as well. The dedication on the facing page reads, "For all the underdogs". 
Opening 1
The little boy bear introduces us to his house, a warm yellow home, number 3 (of course!) in a spot of bright green, in the background the rest of the city appears to be big and industrial-like, (but those chimneys and towers could also be tall tree trunks).  There's a menacing looking wolf-like dog entering the illustration, but everything else looks serene and peaceful.  The three bears are each seen from separate windows, in different parts of the house and a solitary red ball bounces alone in the garden outside.  
Opening 2
The book continues in double page format, verso in sepia showing us the little girl's story and recto in bright, picturebook-like colours showing and telling us the little boy bear's story.  The little girl's world is daddy-less, it's cold and drab, they live in a small house in the city, and when we see mummy pause in front of the butcher there is confirmation that there may not be much money to spare either. Now the recto, and if you look carefully at the pencil crayon illustrations, you will see everything is outlined in the orangey brown of the bears, uniting the images within their world. Daddy is tall and wide, behind a more fragile mummy and their cute little son, they ooze affluence - I love mummy bear's skinny ankles, all rich mother's have skinny ankles!  
Opening 3
As little boy bear tells us his story, the story we know so well about porridge that's too hot to eat, the little girl's story visually unfolds - a story we don't know at all, about a little girl who sees a balloon, tries to catch it and gets lost.   We see her face properly for the first time and she is frightened.  
Opening 4
The bears walk in their very posh neighbourhood - three together, yet very seperate, little boy bear describing the events. "Daddy talked about his work and Mummy talked about her work.  I just messed about."  (Look carefully at the background trees, notice anything odd?) We see the little girl walking, getting more and more lost and suddenly coming upon the bears' lovely yellow house in the middle of the greyness she has been runing from.  It is glowing, enticing her with its warmth and she pushes the front door open.   As she moves around the table trying the porridge, the bears walk back home.   As she tries the three chairs (and breaks the little one), they walk through their open front door, mummy and daddy accusing each other of leaving it open.  As the little girl walks up the stairs, we see the three bears begin the  someone's-been-eating-my-porridge-routine.  She tries the beds as the bears find the three chairs...'"We'd better take a look upstairs", whispered Daddy.  "After you, Mummy." '
Opening 9
The little girl is asleep, comfy in little boy bear's bed, her auburn hair flowing as though it's part of the wood grain in the headboard.  The bears are quietly climbing the stairs, '"Do be careful dear," said Daddy.' 
Opening 10
And there they are!  We see the same scene from both perspectives. The little girl in her sepia watercolour illustration is suddenly confronted by three scarey bears.  Browne has skillfully painted their fur to make them look prickly and mean, the background is dark, a darkness which seems to radiate from the bears. We are feeling so sorry for the little girl whose red hair is reflected in the bears' eyes. We see her terror in the little boy bear's version, as he continues with his well known monolgue ... "Someone's in my bed,"I said, "and they're STILL THERE."  Even the bears carved into the head board are surprised. 
Opening 11
The little girl flees. As the little boy bear describes her actions, we see her leave the bedroom, go down the stairs, out through the front door and into the street.  As she runs into the rain we can just make out the bear family peering through their windows at her, the little boy bear upstairs, the adults downstairs.  The graphic novel frames take the girl back into the grey city, past railings, walls topped with barbed wire and others covered in graffiti.  We see this as well as glance across at the little boy bear.  In his colorful picture he is deadpan looking through his window.  At first we are uncertain if he is in or out, the reflection of a wooded landscape looks like it is behind him... the forest that belongs to the original story maybe?  "I wonder what happened to her?" he says to himself.  
The ending is a hopeful one, I say this as Anthony Browne has described it so himself. And of course it is, the illustrations in the final spread are full of hope, at least the final frames are ...
Opening 12
Janet Evans interviewed Anthony Browne in her latest collection of chapters Talking beyond the page  and he explained how the story wasn't originally in its present form. He had thought of telling two stories, first the bear's then the girl's, but it was the editor who suggested telling two stories simultaneously, in parallel, with a hopeful ending. It works wonderfully and we all sigh a deep sigh as we see the girl reunited with her mum.  Do we think about the bear again? A lonely little chap, in his pretty house with a lovely garden.  

Anthony Browne is a genius - this picturebook is challenging on many levels. It needs to be read and re-read, and the children/teens/young adults you are showing this picturebook to, need to be encouarged to talk through what they see and think about as they piece the puzzles together.  When Browne was the UK Children's Laureate  (2009 - 2011) he said the following: " ... Picture books are for everybody at any age, not books to be left behind as we grow older. The best ones leave a tantalising gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the reader's imagination, adding so much to the excitement of reading a book."   Me and You does just that and can be used with children and teenagers as a spring board for discussion. 

If you go to the CKG website here, you can download some excellent visual literacy activity sheets for a number of picturebooks, including Me and You.  


Phil Wade said...

Another great post. Love the pictures, they almost look like photos and could create great discussions, like you say.

I have to catch up with your other posts now.

Many thanks.


Chano said...

Great post, Sandie! Always a pleasure to read you. Luciano