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.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The blue horse

Blue Horse I, 1911, Franz Marc
This is one of the many paintings by Franz Marc, a German expressionist at the beginning of the last century.  He used vibrant colours to impart emotional values to his paintings: "Blue is the male principle, astringent and spiritual. Yellow is the female principle, gentle, gay and spiritual. Red is matter, brutal and heavy and always the colour to be opposed and overcome by the other two." Eric Carle was shown the work of Franz Marc when he was a child, and his most recent picturebook, The artist who painted a blue horse  was created in homage to Franz Marc and his colourful paintings.

Front cover
This is the first post on my blog which features a book by Eric Carle,   I've mentioned him once or twice, but not looked at a picturebook in detail.  One of the first picturebooks I used and encouraged other teachers to use was Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? (Bill Martin Jr & Eric Carle), and many of his picturebooks are used really successfully in ELT pre-school and primary classes - my personal favourites are From head to toe, The bad tempered ladybird, Do you want to be my friend?, The mixed up chameleon, The very busy spider, Draw me a star, Today is Monday, Little cloud, Dream Snow, Mister Seahorse as well as the picturebook of all picturebooks, The very hungry caterpillar. 

Back cover
The artist who painted a blue horse is created in Carle's characteristic style, collages of colourful paper against painterly backgrounds.  The back cover has eight blobs of paint framing his spidery signature.  The endpapers are covered in brush strokes of many colours. I'm thinking maybe he's used his waste paper, the piece that covers his work top, on which he tries his paints, overflows onto when using stencils, or splats and splashes as he creates his pieces of art. 

Front endpapers
The title page contains the colourful letters from the front cover and our first opening shows us our artist...
Opening 1
"I am an artist" is like "I am a penguin" from his wonderful From head to toe - an indisputable fact - with a colourful palette at hand and a brush full of blue paint, the character could be nothing but an artist. 
Our first picture is indeed a blue horse, galloping across the page, as though running home at the end of a day in the paddock. 
Opening 2
And our artist continues showing us many brightly coloured animals. A red crocodile, the bubbly water covering his tail.  A yellow cow, my favourite, luminous against a dark background dotted with stars.
Opening 4
Then there's a pink rabbit, a green lion, an orange elephant, a purple fox, a black polar bear, and a polka-dotted donkey.   The last opening shows us the artist, standing confidently, feet apart, looking out at the reader and the words state quite clearly, "I am a good artist".  
Opening 12
Some of Eric Carle's picturebooks have special messages: The mixed up chameleon shows us how important it is that we accept who we are and value differences; The very busy spider helps readers see the importance of not giving up;  Mister Seahorse promotes the role of fathers in bringing up their children. The artist who painted a blue horse is no exception, it encourages children to be creative and to use their imagination, to use colours that appeal to them personally and to enjoy colour.  But even more importantly it tells teachers and educators that "there isn’t any wrong colour ... and you don’t have to stay within the line. As an artist you are supposed to be free."  Anything goes says Mr Carle, and an artist can be a good artist at the flick of a paintbrush.  

Better than my own description of this unique picturebook is Eric Carle telling us about it in a short film you can watch on Youtube, made for Puffin Books.  

There's also a nice little classroom guide, designed by the penguin group, which can be downloaded here.  

Finally, listening to Eric Carle talk about picturebooks, and his life creating them, is a wonderful way to  spend an hour, so if you have a hour at hand, do take a peek at the talk he gave at Harvard in April 2010, The education of a good picture writer.   It is WONDERFUL and you get a real feel for the boy who made the man, who created so many beautiful books, not to mention the work he has done promoting picturebooks for children through his museum of picture book art.

A big thank you to Eric Carle for all that he has done for children through his books.  But a special thank you for this last offering, one I treasure and shall use in all my pre-school classes in the hope that it encourages the children I work with to think they are "good artists" too.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Recommendation nº 7: Five Little Fiends

Front cover
Five Little Fiends is a picturebook that comes recommended by Gail Ellis, who works at the British Council in Paris.  It's one of my favourite picturebooks, so it's a great pleasure featuring it here on my blog.   Gail mentioned this title in a talk she gave at a Picturebooks in ELT Symposium in an IATEFL Conference Brighton in April 2011, and I will be sharing some of her ideas at the end of my post. 
Five Little Fiends was written and illustrated by Sarah Dyer.  It was her first picturebook and she was awarded a Nestlé Book Prize for it.  If you follow the links on her web site, you'll see she's created quite a few more picturebooks and there's also a good interview with Sarah on Saffron Tree
To the book!  It has a visually striking cover, five red creatures, with long claws reaching into the title.  Despite their red devilishness, they look quite friendly, don't they?  There are no endpapers in my paperback version, but the title page is a goodie.  
Title page
The red background is quite shocking and our red fiend only stands out because he has yellowy highlights.  He's hugging the world.  Once you've read this picturebook you can go back to this page and talk about the significance of this little prologue-like picture with your students. 
Opening 1
Opening 1 shows us a vast plain, (lovely texture there, possibly made with oil pastels), with "five lonely statues", each sitting on a plinth. The trees alongside them are dwarfed, so they must be very large. 
Opening 2
On the next opening, we discover that the Fiends live inside the statues.  The image on the verso there is clever, showing us a Fiend in his statue, and the writing is also inside the plinth.  We also discover that these five Fiends would come out of their statues everyday and "marvel and their surroundings".  In the illustrations we are shown five singular Fiends, looking out upon their surroundings, the land, the sky, the sea, the sun and the moon. The students you are sharing this book with will realise they can see the five elements upon revisiting the picturebook, so do encourage them to look and find the different bits when you read it again. 
Opening 3
Oh my, what a thing to do.  Each little Fiend decides to take their favourite bit.  The sun, then the land (a Fiend is shown rolling it up like it's a thick piece of rope); "one took the sky" (peeling it back, as though it's wall paper). 
Opening 5
Then "one took the sea, one took the moon". The illustrations show us two Fiends, one happily looking at his prize, the sea in a jug, with a lonely star fish. The other Fiend is chasing the moon with a butterfly net.  The two angles, one very close up the other at a distance work really nicely on this spread. 
Opening 6
Each Fiend took his prize possession back to his statue.  They are shown happily encased together with their favourite thing.  Again we see the outlines of the statues and the text divided up between the statue plinths.  As with the surroundings, which has been separated up, the sentence is also divided up into little bits, only when seen together do the bits make sense.  Those Fiends were so happy: one hugged the sun, hot and warm, another breathed in the air.  Our earth-loving Fiend smelled the flowers and our sea-loving Fiend swam with his starfish, appropriately wearing a snorkel! The last Fiend, held the moon and closed his eyes in ecstasy. But we all know what happens when we remove a piece of a puzzle, nothing works quite right anymore.  Of course ...
Opening 8 
"... they soon realised that ... " and once again it is the illustrations that are showing us what they find out, and what is confirmed when we turn the page.  For "the sun could not stay up without the sky" and without the land, "the sky was nowhere to be found", "the land started to die without water from the sea", which "could not flow without the pull of the moon" ...
Opening 11
"... and the moon could not glow without the sun."  Great illustration showing the blackness of no shining moon. Nothing worked.  So these clever Fiends got together and decided they would put everything back. And that's what they did. 
Opening 14
And together they were able to "marvel at their surrounds" in all perfection again.  If you look carefully you will see that this time they are all holding hands, reinforcing the importance of being together, thinking together about one another and the world they live in. 

Fabby book or what? So simple, yet such a powerful message.  One of the reviews, quoted in the back of this picturebook, comes from the Sunday Telegraph, "An unsanctimonious ecological parable about greed and sharing for three-to-five-year-olds". I'd agree whole-heartedly, but claim that we can use this with older students too, for the illustrations speak loudly and clearly, and provide excellent opportunities for discussion, which could fill a number of classes with activities about the environment and how it is interconnected. 

Gail suggested that we use this picturebook, not just to promote sharing and caring  but also that it be used as window into raising awareness of diversity.  Her thesis is "one based on the promotion of community cohesion.  This educates children to live with diversity and shows them how different communities can be united by common experiences and values.  It takes children from the familiar to the unfamiliar so they can see themselves as part of a larger and diverse community" (Bland et al, 2012).  She suggests that upon sharing Five Little Fiends, children could look at statues in their own school, the community within which their school is located, their own country and then other countries.   In so doing moving from the known to the unknown.  

An interesting and doable idea. Whatever you decide to do with it, even if you just read it, and re-read it,  and let your students comment about the illustrations.  It's a great little book,

Bland, J., Mourão, S., Ellis, G. Fleta, T. & Schaefer, A. (2012) Symposium on Picturebooks in ELT . In Pattison, T. (Ed.) Conference Selections Brighton 2011. Canterbury, IATEFL. 

Friday, December 09, 2011

Blanket bugs come in all shapes and sizes

Front cover
Bugs in a blanket is one of the many quality, Phaidon picturebooks available. Well-known for its art books, Phaidon has been working with slightly different illustrators from European markets,  Beatrice Alemagna is Italian and based in France. Bugs in a blanket is the first of several Bugs books, all illustrated using real embroidery and patchwork.  Quite something.  You can see the stitches, make out the buttons and sequins, and you'll really get the urge to touch the pages, everything is so life-likely soft and wooly. This is one of the reasons I have chosen this picturebook, to share some very unique illustrations. 
The format is landscape, with a solid hardback cover and thick pages. There are lots of pages, much more than the normal 32. I've counted 42 which is very odd, as it's not divisible by sixteen.  But not to worry! 
The front cover shows us a row of jolly bugs,  they are standing against a background of rough linen.  The back cover (which I don't have as a photo) shows us the bugs from behind.  I like it when illustrators do that, front and back, it's a great visual joke.  The blurb on the back reads: "It is Fat Bug's birthday, and he has invited all the bugs that live in the blanket to his party.  They have never met each other before and are in for a big surprise." 
Title page
The endpapers double up as the copyright and title pages.  Lots of nice wooly blobs and a bug like shape for the copyright info.  The title font, as on the front cover, is cut felt.  As you open the picturebook, you'll discover the illustration is always on the recto, and the text is always on verso.  We start with the bed, at the bottom of the garden, that's where the blanket is!
Opening 1
And that's where the bugs live! "The bugs have lived there for years and years. Each little bug, snug in his hole in the rug."  But today is one little bug's birthday ...
Opening 4
He's baked a cake (blanket dust cakes!), he's decorated his hole and he's even playing music: "Everyone knows that little bugs love to dance and hop about."  He hears the doorbell and runs to open the door, but what a  surprise ...
Opening 6
He doesn't look happy, look at that down-turned mouth! "He thought the other little bugs would all be fat and white, just like him. What a disappointment." 
Opening 7
'He looks at the little bug standing right in front of him and asks, "Why are you as skinny as a string bean?" He sounds quite cross.' Here begins an interesting visual verbal feature, where children are told what they will be seeing on the next page.  Here is our skinny (well skinnier than the fat bug) bug!  
Opening 8
'Little thin bug doesn't know what to say. So he looks at the bug next to him and asks, "Well,  how about you? Why are you as yellow as a banana?"' And so it goes, banana Yellow Bug is offended too, and compares the next bug's eyes to an owl's eyes.  He in turn is offended and asks why the Long-Legged Bug has such long legs.   Long-legged bug accuses a brightly coloured bug of looking like a parrot. 
Opening 11
'Little Speckled Bug is upset. He looks back at Little Fat bug and asks him,  "Why are you as fat as a hippopotamus?"' We have gone full circle. '"What a silly thing to ask!" says Little Fat Bug. "I was just born like this, a little bit fat."'  Well that's a sensible answer!
Each Bug then justifies their strange looks.  '"I was just born a little bit skinny." says Little Thin Bug.'
Opening 14
'"I've always been yellow all over," says Little Yellow Bug.'  '"I've got my Mama's eyes," says little Big-Eyed Bug'  ...  '"I was born brightly speckled," said Little Speckled Bug' ... Little Fat Bug realizes that no-one can help being the way they are and invites everyone in to dance and party!  Clever Bug!
Opening 20
But it's the next lot of text which brings it all home ... "Because you see, in the blanket, just as in the rest of the world, we can't chose what we look like - we are all born the way we are, and we are all different."  Deep and wise, especially for a Bug!

There's quite a lot of dense text on some spreads, and it's not too repetitive, so the book is not suitable for very small children in an ELT context.  I'd use it in a primary classroom, no problem.  There's the message that comes through fine and loud; I especially like the way the Bugs react to the insults,  and the illustrations are very expressive. They will help children see how comments can hurt and offend and hopefully help them become a little more empathetic.  You can support these pro-active thoughts by asking them what they think the Bugs are feeling. 

There's lots there to run with if you want to:

  • Get children talking about the personal features they've inherited from different family members; 
  • Match the hurtful comments with the justifications and then get children to make nice comments about each other, like:
Child 1 - "Your eyes are big and brown, they are very beautiful" "
Child 2 - "Thank you!  I've got my Dad's eyes."

  • If you sew or knit, take some material or wool into class and make some fun Bug pictures using these different materials. Use the art work to create a host of Bugs with names and descriptions.  Play match the description to the Bug. 
I really like the idea of this wooly Bug world entering my classroom and helping us to think about diversity and taking care not to say hurtful things to classmates.   Thanks Phaidon!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Sausages, sausages, sausages!

Front cover
At the beginning of November I wrote about a book called The Cloud, which is published by Child's Play.  They were really happy about my post and wrote and told me so.  They were the first publishers to actually notice I was writing about their books, so I congratulated them!  In return, they sent me a small selection of their latest titles, which was really nice - my first experience of getting books for free and it felt wonderful!  I didn't get a buzz from all the books they sent, but I did like this one, Star Gazer's Skyscrapers and extrardinary SAUSAGES by Claudia Boldt (I'll be featuring at least one more in later posts).   I like sausages and I love dogs, so that's a great help as it's a book which features a fat, sausage-loving dog and his owner! I also knew that Claudia Boldt had been nominated a Book Trust Best Illustrator of 2011, so it was good to get a look at this new talent first hand. 
The front cover shows us one of the main characters, Frank, the fat, sausage-loving dog.  He's got a Labrador look to him, and I instantly liked his podgyness (I have a naturally podgy black Labrador of my own, her ears woggle just like Frank's do, and she also enjoys a sausage or two!). I am already making all sorts of personal connections with this front cover, that's a good sign! If we look at the back cover, it does what I like picturebooks to do: shows one continuous illustration, and it presents the other half of this dog-owner-duo, Henrietta (her name is written in the blurb).  She's swinging dangerously from something as sausages float by beneath her.  
Back and front covers
This image together with the title leaves you wondering, what are we going to find inside? 
Endpapers show us all that is a sausage, fresh and smoked ... alongside icereams and sundaes. 
Curioser than ever, what is this book about?
There's a lovely "This book belongs to..."page in the forematter. Henrietta teasing Frank with a sausage. Then the title page has a little illustration of a loving dog licking his owner, a cross-eyes owner! 
Title page
This illustration actually leads us into the main body of the picturebook ...
Opening 01
... for the first opening is Henrietta's reaction to an over affectioante dog, "Careful Frank!  Don't knock my ice-cream!" This is when we disocver that she likes ice-cream and wants to make ice-creams when she grows up.  And what about Frank? 
Opening 02
A sausage dog of course! It's that image from the front cover, "I want to make sausages, eat sausages, do sausages.  Sausages, sausages, sausages."  And so we have our dilemma, Frank wants sausages and nothing but sausages.  Henrietta continues with ideas of what she would like to do when she grows up.  She wants to climb "the steepest skyscrapers, up amongst the ice-cream clouds."  But Frank wants sauasges.  She wants to be a lighthouse keeper ... "I could flash the light, while you guide the ships safely out to sea!" 
Opening 05
Frank wants sausages... "Sau-sea-ges, splash!"  Lovely sausage fish all over the place, lucky Frank! Can you see Henrietta swinging from the lighthouse in the background. 
Henrietta would like to be a star gazer, on a mission to Mars.  
Opening 06
This is a wonderful spread.  We can see Henrietta and Frank in different poses.  Flaoting together in the distance and whizzing by, Henrietta on a shooting star and Frank on Space-sa-ges!  There's a constellation of stars too... the Canis Major maybe?
When Henrietta is a super dancer, so is Frank, for he dances "Sass-se-ages, siss-se-ges, sou-sa-ges, and salsa-ges."   She's a queen bee and poor Frank is a worker, no sausages in this spread.  Finally she decides she's going to be a mechanic, and Frank is her assistant. 
Opening 09

But all he can say is "Sausages!". Henrietta has had enough.  So has Frank. 
Opening 10
That's a grumpy looking dog!  He's right, they have nothing in common. So they sit and grump at opposites ends of the page: Henrietta slurps her icecream and Frank chomps his sausage.     And that's when Henrietta has an idea. Can you guess what it is?
Opening 12
WOW!  Ice-cram sausages and sausage ice-cream!  Hooray!  A spread full of yummy sausage ice-creams and ice-cream sausages.  

Crazy story!  But I really like its quirkiness, and I think children will too, (I still have to try it out in the classroom).   How many of us have tiffs with our friends, when they won't do what we want to do?  This little story demonstrates what great solutions we can all come to. And what fun primary children can have thinking what they'd like to be when they grow up, and why not have some wild ideas, just like Henrietta? 

Thanks again to Child's Play for  sending me this picturebook.