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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A cautionary tale ... whatever

Front cover
A colleague told me about Whatever by William Bee, and when it arrived, sometime over the summer holidays, I immediately took to its clever simplicity.  I laughed outloud on the first read, then returned slowly to take in the different parts and look carefully at the illustrations.  
Anyone remember those silly tales about boys who ran away from their nurses, and were eaten by lions or girls who told lies and were burned to death? 19th century children's literature at its best and probably the most well known collection, Cautionary Tales for Children by Hilaire Belloc, is still available in ever more modern editions. Whatever has that cautionary tale feel to it, and a lovely retro look too.  
Our protangonist stands, arms outstretched, on the front cover.  He's dressed like a miniature business man, and you can just imagine the kind of child he is ... prim and proper and ever so annoying. 
Back and front covers
If you open out the book, you'll find the back cover is the mirror image of the front.  Witty!  Endpapers are nice and decorative too.  
Front endpapers
I'm wondering whether Willaim Bee has been influenced by 1950's wall paper designs for this pattern? The title page is plain and simple: contains the title, the author/illustrator's and the publisher's names. But the facing copyright page is neat.
Copyright page
One bare tree - all its leaves are lined up on the endpapers - and can you see the way some letters have been enlarged in bold?  (If you click on the image you can see better) What do they say?  "Whatever", yeah, who gives a damn about the copyright blurb?
This picturebook uses lots of white space.  It contributes to pacing the narrative, makes us pause and look as the information is given to us in bits as we turn the pages. 
Opening 1
First we are shown Billy (diminutive of William, by the way), hands down now, the half smile stuck on his face, looking bored.   Then we meet Billy's Dad.  
Opening 2
He's a bigger version of Billy, the only difference being his hat, his larger feet and his bushier eyebrows ... oh and his exuberance.  It's oozing off this page already.  
And so we begin.  Our problem is that Billy is difficult to please.  Dad is exuberantly waving puppets, while discarded soldiers are left behind and Billy looks away uninterested.  
Opening 3
Show Billy something very tall ... 
Opening 4

"And he'll say 'whatever'".  (Love the way the book has to be turned to portrait for the giraffe). 

Opening 5
Notice as you turn the pages how Billy's face shows all sorts of expressions: surprise, disgust, disinterest, annoyance - all with those simple dots for eyes, angled lines for eyebrows and a little red mouth that moves mostly downwards.  
And so we continue showing Billy "something very small" (pretty butterflies); the world's curliest trumpet (and it really is curly!); the world's bounciest castle, and he always says "Whatever".  
Opening 9
Take him on the world's steamiest train (there's even a fish leaping around!), or "fly him to outer space" ... what does he say? "Whatever". And so what happens when Dad tries to scare him with the world's hungriest tiger?  Why, Billy says "Whatever" of course!
Opening 10
Isn't he a handsome tiger? And a hungry one too ...
Opening 11
Oops!  All but Billy's shoe is swallowed.  Lots of lovely white as the tiger plods off. 
Opening 13
Can you see the tiger's bulging tummy?  And Billy decides it's time to say something ..."Dad! I'm still in here you know".  Guess who's leading the tiger away from the story, and  what do you think he says when he hears Billy?  I'll leave you to guess!

Reviews describe this as being a picturebook for all ages.  Absolutely right.  It could be used in primary, where everyone will quickly call out "Whatever!", or with teens, where they will mutter "Whatever" under their breath!  Get them to say "Whatever" in a dozen different ways, using Billy's facial expressions as clues to his mood.  With these students, you might also want to show them some of the original cautionary tales for fun.  And with adults in a teacher training context use this picturebook for them to see how cleverly words and pictures can be used to create irony and humour suitable for a wide range of ages. 

And if you really want to ensure there's a bit of formal language work, why not have some fun with superlatives, they're even highlighted in the verbal text - what more could we ask?

But most of all, it's a great little picturebook.  Great for just reading and sharing and laughing together over.  

I was prompted to feature it on my blog when I saw it had recently been published in Portuguese by one of my favourite Portuguese publishers, Planeta Tangerina.  Well done them for bringing it into Portugal.  Well done me for featuring it on my blog!


Helen Davies said...

Sandie - another book I have to buy ! My nephew says this all the time "whatever"......
How many different ways of saying "whatever" exist ?

Sandie Mourão said...

Hi Helen!
Yes, "Whatever" can be said in so many different ways, a bored whatever, an annoyed whatever, an exasperated whatever. All those faces being pulled by Billy will give the students using this book lots of clues!
If you do use it in class, let me know how it goes.