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.

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. 

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