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.

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!

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