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.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Every one has bad days

Front cover
Bad Day, written by Jeni Couzyn and illustrated by Paul Demeyer,  was a picturebook I read to my son when he was small.  It's a title I've often returned to and enjoyed.  I like Couzyn's rhythmic verbal text and Demeyer's illustrations bring the picturebook together beautifully.   It's now out of print but still available second hand on amazon. 
It follows on nicely from The Cloud, which I featured at the beginning of the month, and also depicts a child who's not happy, cross and angry with his family, and who decides to "Go away".  
The title page has a small picture of a yellow canary, and in many of the following illustrations the canary can be seen fluttery around in the illustrations. 
Opening 1
The picturebook opens on a single recto page, facing the copyright and dedication pages.  Nice little dedication up at the top! 
All the illustrations are shown in a frame, this is supposed to make us feel detached, as though we are watching the events from afar.  Each page, or occasionally a double spread, has a short sentence accompanied by a framed illustration.  The verbal text really is rhythmic and lovely to read and children pick it up very quickly.   The illustrations skillfully expand upon what the words are hinting at.  Here, on opening 1, we see a happy little family, all getting on with life, smiling, except for our protangonist - he's easy to spot with a face like thunder!
Opening 2
And so it continues, the family gets on with life, mum and dad, big brother and little brother, the little yellow bird and their energetic dog, and in each illustration we see the thunder faced child get crosser and crosser with the world.    The words continue quite matter of factly, and we gradually see the family notice that he's not having a good day - big brother does seem oblivious though!   It continues ... "Hate my big brother. Hate my little brother." The angry child covets his older brother's freedom, fiddling with his toy motorbike as the brother zooms off on his real one. Then he gets cross when his little brother takes the toy motorbike.  Then everything comes to a head, as it does on all bad days ...
Opening 4
Baby brother cries and dad gets cross.  If you click on the image above, you'll be bale to see the headlines in dad's newspaper, "Bad news", "Pretty bad news", "Worse news", More bad news"!   Then poor mum has just had enough!  Her two sons are crying, the dog is howling and dad has given up.  "Go away", she cries!  Children and teachers will empathise with this illustration, we've all experienced a day just like this!  
Our cross little boy goes up stairs, packs his favourite toys and runs out, escorted by the family dog and his pet canary. 
Opening 6
Then out in the street, he checks his wings, which we may have noticed sticking out of his case on opening 5, (and most likely children will notice them upon re-readings).  The canary has gone, but the dog is around.  The wings are yellow like the canary and  we wonder if they've been fashioned to imitate the small family pet.  And he's off, up into the sky and over the cars. The family dog has his case, maybe it's a regular thing this flying away business?
Hate is still a BIG feeling though...
Opening 7
"Hate these aeroplanes." Possibly justified - that's a lot of planes!
He flies over the Atlantic and asks, "Is this away?".  He asks a bird, who happens to be on the Statue of Liberty, "Is this away?" and of course the reply is, "No, this is New York."  Finally he pauses on a branch.  And the rhythm slows, the colours are deep bluey greens and we are gradually calming down.  "Is this away?", Owl replies, "No."...
Opening 11
Here we see owl, comforting the little boy, who's not angry any more.   So what is "Away"?
Opening 12
"Away is a feeling."  Suddenly, like one of those Hollywood movies we see a dozen little faces and heads pop up, are they about to break into song?  And Owl asks, "Love anyone?" Oh my goodness, the million dollar question.  
Opening 14
Why, "Yes!", our once-upon-a-time-angry little boy realises and off he flies.  And look at all those animals, suddenly they are in little family groups, and they are waving off our protangonist.  
Opening 15
The focus on hate in the beginning is replaced with love ...

"Love my Mum, love my Dad,
love my monkey, love my dog,
love my bird, love my big brother,
love my little brother,"

And the family is all happy, our little boy is being pampered by mum. Everyone is ready for bed, the boy's case, wings and toys are scattered on the floor.  Everything is normal again. 
Opening 16
And the final illustration shows our little boy, snuggled in bed, asleep, his wings, the dog and canary nearby and we read the words, "Love owl" ... and he's there in a framed picture above the bed.  Wise old owl, he knows. 

As we've shared this picturebook, we've felt the words through the way we say them and the images that have accompanied them.  Once again, it's an excellent support for developing  emotional intelligence.  Children will empathise with the little boy and be carried with him on his emotional roller coaster. Did he really fly away?  Was it all a dream?  How do we deal with our bad days?  Lots of possibilities for discussion, in particular with primary children.

Jeni Couzyn is a poet and the verbal text is a poem. I've copied it below so you can read it in its entirety.  Feel the emotion as it peeks then slowly dissipates, to be replaced with calm and comfort. 

Hate this day. 
Hate these toys. Hate this food.
Hate my big brother. Hate my little brother.
Hate my dad. "Go away."

Going away. Got my suitcase.  
Got my wings. Work OK.
Hate these aeroplanes.

Is this away?
No, this is the Atlantic.
Is this away?
No, this is New York.
Is this away?

Away isn't a place. Away is a feeling.
Love anyone?
Love my Mum, love my Dad,
love my monkey, love my dog,
love my bird, love my big brother,
love my little brother, 
love owl.

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