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.  

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