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, June 26, 2011

Recommendation 2: The smartest giant in town


Front cover
A research colleague and fellow picturebook lover, Annett Schaefer prompted me to talk about The smartest giant in town, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Shaeffler.  Annett lives and works in Germany and she has used this picturebook with primary students there.  It's opportune that a book by Julia Donaldson be featured this month, as a couple of weeks ago she was nominated as Children's Laureate, and will be very busy promoting all sorts of book related happenings around the UK between now and June 2013. Congratulations to Julia and may she do many wonderful things over the next two years. 
Back to picturebook of this post!  The smartest giant in town... does outward appearance really matter?  George thought so!  He was a scruffy giant, the scruffiest in town, "He always wore the same pair of old brown sandals and the same old patched up gown."  This is the story of George and his smart new clothes.    Julia Donaldson almost always writes in rhyme, though in this picturebook she's mixed prose with rhyme.  I often wonder how writers and illustrators work together and whose ideas belong to who - who decides what will be in the illustrations? I found an article in the Guardian which answered my question: Julia readily admits that  all the illustrative ideas belong to Axel Scheffler, "He adds so many little witty touches to the books."  In this picturebook there are loads of other things to notice,  dozens of references to other stories, often traditional ones, which children will recognize almost immediately. 
Let's start with the covers, the front and back.  A great big spread showing us the characters that appear in the story, dwarfed by a giant pair of legs wearing smart black shoes.   
Title page
The title page gives us a cameo illustration of the giant, he's looking forlorn, in old clothes and sandals.  It's a contrast to the the title sitting above the illustration, announcing that the giant is smart and we've also just been shown smart looking giant legs on the cover, so it gets our curiosity going and already we are wondering whether this is the smart giant we are going to read about. 
Opening 1
The opening spread shows us a busy street scene: it's a land of make believe, filled with normal sized people, giants and creatures wearing clothes, some taken right out of well known traditional stories.   Do you recognize any of the characters in this illustration? Could the two children by the fountain be Hansel and Gretel? There's Puss in Boots and a dwarf from Snow White for sure, and the fountain is reminiscent of The little Mermaid.  Can you see the sign right on the edge of the recto page? "NEW! GIANT SIZES", a clue for what might come next!
Opening 2
And sure enough! This is just what our giant happens upon, a shop selling smart clothes, and they have his giant size!  He buys a whole set of new clothes, and becomes "... the smartest giant in town".  I love his socks, "with diamonds down the sides".  A sign of true smartness!
George the giant leaves his old clothes in the shop and off he goes looking terribly smart.  But of course something has to happen, he meets a sad giraffe, whose long neck is terribly cold. 
Opening 4
And in true kindness, George gives the giraffe his tie, and as he walks away he begins a song, which continues through the book: 
"My tie is a scarf for a cold giraffe, 
But look me up and down - 
I'm the smartest giant in town."
Look at the illustrations on this spread.  A lovely looking giantess quite fancies our George; there's one of the pigs from Three little pigs; another dwarf; a studious rabbit is peering at a "MIssing Giraffe" poster; a man carrying a chicken; there's a rabbit using a mobile phone.  Children will notice and want to comment on these features. There is so much going on. George of course continues oblivious to the activity around him!  
He comes to a river and a goat who was "bleating loudly", on a boat of all things (it rhymes with goat as we will see in a bit!).  The poor goat has lost his sail, and so George donates his very smart shirt. This is the visual sequence we see on the two spreads: 
Opening 5
Opening 6
And it's repeated three more times: Left verso shows George meeting an animal in distress, facing right recto with three cameo illustrations describing the animal's distress, followed by a new page showing George resolving the problem by donating an item of clothing and finally walking away, singing his little ditty, which gets gradually longer as you can see here:
"My tie is a scarf for a cold giraffe, 
My shirt's on a boat as a sail for a goat,
But look me up and down - 
I'm the smartest giant in town."

And so George meets a family of mice, whose house had burned down. He gives them his ... shoe of course!  It's reminiscent of "There was an old lady who lived in a shoe"! He then met a fox, who was crying next to his tent because his sleeping bag was wet. So George gave him his very smart yellow sock with diamonds down the side. Then he met a dog who was stuck in a muddy bog, so George gave him his belt to cross the bog. And of course as you look at  these different spreads look out for more of the three little pigs and a princess and a frog!
And here is George, very pleased with himself, skipping happily along with one shoe and sock,  and a pair of belt-less trousers ...
Opening 12
... and his song has got quite a bit longer! 
"My tie is a scarf for a cold giraffe, 
My shirt's on a boat as a sail for a goat,
My shoe is a house for a little white mouse,
One of my socks is a bed fro a fox,
My belt helped a dog who was crossing a bog ..."
But oh dear, what happens?
Opening 13
With no belt, his trousers fall down!  And now he's cold and "not at all smart".  Poor George! So he decides to go back to the town and find his old clothes.   Lucky for him they were outside the shop in a very large plastic bag.  Once he had his old clothes back on he felt like "the cosiest giant in town!" and was quite content.  But that's not the end!  Waiting for him back at home were the five animals he had helped. 
Opening 14
They had made him a very special crown and written a thank you letter.  And so George became the kindest giant in town!  


The illustrations in The smartest giant in town support the words very closely, but the additional mini-stories that appear via the ad hoc appearance of other story characters leave lots of space for chattering and wondering. Annett describes observing a teacher in Germany who let the children talk about the illustrations in German before she read the words on the page.  She did this with 6-7 year olds and 8-9 year olds, who have 50 minutes of English once a week.  She described the process like this: " The teacher being [very] experienced and knowing the children very well gave them a lot of time to speak about the pictures in the mother tongue just supplying individual words in English here and there such as animal names (frog, squirrel) for example before reading out the text on one page in English." I really like this idea, and it's something I do a lot when sharing picturebooks with children and upon rereading picturebooks children begin to describe and label illustrations in English.  
Annett presented at a conference about this picturebook and a section of her presentation was summarised thus:  "Although the children’s initial responses prompted by the pictures in the book were exclusively in their mother tongue, Annett argued that they are nonetheless facilitating L2 learning. By reading the pictures and talking about them, she stated that children construct a framework of possible meanings that may become more elaborate and more precise as they decode visual images and language structures during repeated storytelling sessions. The pictures act as a form of scaffolding device in the same way as recurrent language structures in the literary text provide an ‘entry point or way into the story’ (Cameron 2001: 163). Annett stated that the children’s first language was an invaluable aid in that process as individual words used by the children in their L1 can be taken up by the teacher to introduce new language items in the L2."  
Rereading a picturebook is essential in enabling the L1 to support the L2, I can't emphasise enough the importance of sharing a picturebook at least three times with a group of children, not only does it help them move from L1 to L2, but it also gives children time to look and listen and understand, each time they'll pick up something new and different. As EFL teachers we focus on children's imitation of the words on a picturebook page, but in fact the illustrations also have significance, and words are needed to describe them. I've been saying this at conferences,  but I'l say it again, picturebooks are pictures and words and both can be used to promote language use
Annett described some follow up activities which are nice to feature here too.  She used a handout from the British Council in Hong Kong, which can be down loaded here.  Here's a scan of the mix and match activity the older children did.  As you can see, the song is an excellent way to focus on language, as it's repetitious and cumulative. 
They also looked at thank you cards, which they wrote in German, though a similar activity could be done in English with children who are more confident in their writing skills. 


I'd like to thank Annett for sharing some of her thoughts and ideas around this picturebook, and for allowing me to share some of the children's work.  Here's the reference she used:
Cameron, L. 2001. Teaching Languages to Young Learners. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Friday, June 24, 2011

A fun loving grandad

Front cover
Just like by Lynda Waterhouse and Arthur Robins was one of nine books in a collection I featured in a publication by Mary Glasgow Scholastic, Realbooks in the primary classroom, sadly now out of print.   Just Like was published in 2000 and is available very cheaply on the secondhand markets via Amazon.  I'm featuring it on my blog because it's an example of how picture and word are needed together to get the whole meaning.  It's a great little book, and I selected it nearly a decade ago not because of its word-picture interaction but because of its topic and the structures held therein.  I'm ashamed now that it was the words that attracted me to this title, but very glad that as I've learned more about different ways the pictures and words animate each other,  I've come to appreciate the irony which is created when they come together here. 
Back cover
This is the back cover and it explains what this picturebook is about - A boy and a man are  peering up at the framed words... huum I wonder who Sam is like?  If we return to the front cover, we realise these must be all Sam's Aunts and Uncles.  What a motley crew!  Could the red headed boy be Sam?
Copyright and title pages
There's a fun dedication from Lynda Waterhouse to all her aunts and uncles, which might interest the children you are sharing this book with.    This must be Sam, shown looking hot under the colar and sporting an Aunty-like lipstick mark on his cheek.  Bother those aunts! We can see four of them on the title page... it must have been the one with the lipstick!
We begin with the family get together when Sam was born.  A typical British street, with houses which are all the same yet different and a crowd of family members arriving.  
Opening 01
We have no idea who they are, least of all whether the biker is anything to do with the family at all.  Slowly we are introduced to the relations, but you have to be alert, or you'll miss the clues! 
Opening 02
"'Sam looks just like you,' Great Aunt Bertha said to Dad." Can you see the fat Aunt pointing?  That's Great Aunt Bertha!   On turning the page we see that not all the family were in the living room...
Opening 03
Grandad wasn't there!  Look at him!  A wild Grandad!  Notice how the words tell us Grandad as "playing outside", but the pictures show us that he's being very clever with a skateboard!  
This pair of spreads has set us up for the rhythm we will encounter as we continue.  First we are shown a scene with all the family, except Grandad (for now we look for him and see he is never there!), comparing Sam to one of his relations. Then when we turn the page, or move from verso to recto and we see Sam's Grandad doing something completely unexpected!  We are encouraged to turn the page because a sentence is left half finished, "They all munched and nodded ..." [page turn] "... except Grandad. (...)".  But of course we want to turn the page because we know Grandad will be doing something silly! The more this happens the more we want to turn the page and the funnier the story becomes!
Sam is told he has eyes like his Mum ... "They all nodded ..." [page turn] "... except grandad who was racing down the hill." We see him with a group of happy children on a snow sled! 
At a cousin's wedding, Sam was compared to his shy Uncle Norris ... Look at grandad!
Opening 06
He's practising his magic tricks ... practising!  He isn't very good yet!
Sam is told he is a show off like Great Uncle Bernard, he's musical like Auntie Rita, and he has delicate skin like Great Aunt Bertha.  Until on Sam's 8th birthday, which we know because we can count the candles on his cake, he was asked to make a wish.  Every one smiled ...
Opening 12
... except Sam! Oh my goodness is he upset?   Sam was tired of being compared to all his family.  "I am me. And the only person I am like is ME." Not only did the candles blow out, but ...
Opening 13
"The jellies wobbled. The sausages shivered.  The crisps curled.  Nobody said a word."  We are shocked for two reasons, first we have been led to believe that Sam is a quiet chap, who takes all the fuss in his stride, and second the rhythm we have become used to has been broken.  Not to worry, it's soon back... Aunty Vera can't stop herself...
Opening 14
 Finally Grandad takes some notice!   
Opening 15
Sam gets to go on the bike with his grandad and off they go! 

I selected this picturebook to be used with older primary. The humour is perfect and there's a some challenging language there, as well as lots to look for and at in the illustrations. The language, "to look like [someone]" and "to be like [someone]" is used very clearly and the children can have fun using it to for their own personal descriptions.   They can also have a hilarious time describing some of Sam's family, who are portrayed beautifully in the illustrations.  As ever it's a book which needs to be returned to, as there is so much in the illustrations, too much to take in with one encounter.  Leave the picturebook in the classroom and let the children browse through it.  They'll be giggling to themselves as they do!
If you have a moment, check out the other books Arthur Robins has written / illustrated.  There's a nice collection of alternative traditional tales, with titles like Little Red Riding Wolf, and  Ghostyshocks and the three scares - well worth collecting for slightly older children. 


Sunday, June 19, 2011

That's one cheeky Gorilla!

Front cover
June has been a busy month, so my posts have been erratic, apologies to those of you who follow this blog regularly. 
As possible further titles for my blog posts in June I've been musing over some of the picturebooks that appear in ELT resource books or which have written about in articles / chapters.    I thought I'd start with a title from the latter: one of my favourite picturebooks, Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. Peggy Rathmann is an American author illustrator, well known for her picturebook, Officer Buckle and Gloria, which won the Caldecott Award in 1996 and Ruby the copycat, her first picturebook.  Good Night Gorilla was published in 1994, and nominated an ALA Award.  
Good Night Gorilla is atypical of a picturebook, as it contains 40 pages instead of 32. Many  of the pages are wordless, so it might be considered challenging for an EFL / ESL teacher.  It's one of my favourites for the two stories we are given, the one told in the words (when they exist) and the other shown in the pictures.   Let's take a look:
Back cover and front cover
The front and back covers together present both the setting and all but one of the characters: a zookeeper, who is locking up for the night, a cheeky gorilla, who is obviously key (excuse the pun!) to the story and a group of soft toy-like zoo animals. The Gorilla is looking ut at the child reader, his finger requesting silence, "Shhhh, don't tell!". That little grey chap pulling a banana is an armadillo!  None of my Portuguese pre-school children know what this is, as it's natural to the Americas, but they certainly have fun finding out about it and it's a word they rarely forget!  Notice the moon above the 'I' in NIGHT, an aspect of the font which children also pick up on and enjoy. 
Title page 
I only have paperback editions, in which there are no endpapers, but the title page shows us a night sky with the characteristic front cover font, and a moon over the 'I' again.  A banana hangs from the top edge of the page.  ("It must be the mouse", the children think when returning to the book.)  There are two distictive cameo illustrations of the gorilla on the left verso page.  They don't appear anywhere else in the book, and reinforce this gorilla's possible impishness... on rereading children will recognize the tyre from an illustration later in the book ... and where is he going I wonder?
Opening 01
This is the first spread, and we see now what a cheeky gorilla he is, reaching out and taking the zookeeper's keys.  If you look closely in the cage you'll see a toy gorilla, a book, a bike and the tyre, as well as a mouse standing on the lock, chewing at a balloon.   The zookeeper is plodding along, head down, torch shining ahead, saying goodnight.  All the verbal text appears in speech bubbles and most children recognize that they represent speech and it helps to focus their attention on the words themselves.  
Good Night Gorilla is perfect for getting children to predict.  What do you think is going to happen?   Let's turn the page and see. 
Opening 02
Oh my goodness, the gorilla's escaped, so has the balloon and the mouse, who is carrying a very heavy banana.  What's the Gorilla going to do next? 
Opening 03
He's following the zookeeper, who checks the elephant and says "Good night, Elephant". Cute looking elephant, with a nice big ball and a toy in his cage - who does the toy remind you of? That elephant is fond of peanuts too!  What do you think the gorilla is going to do?   You probably guess he's going to open the elephant's cage, and you are right.  That's just what he does!  If you go back to the previous spread you'll see that the gorilla uses a red key for his cage, which is red and he's got a pink key for the elephant's pink cage.  The elephant follows the gorilla and they open the lion's cage, the giraffe's cage, the hyena's cage and the armadillo's cage.  Each cage is a different colour with a matching key. Each aninal has something in his cage which the children will notice and comment on, as well as on each spread we see the mouse carrying the banana, and balloon floating further up into the sky.  Multiple stories being shown in the illustrations alongside a plodding verbal text comprising of "goodnight + animal"!     
And then what?  What happens to all the animals who are following the zookeeper on his rounds, led by a gorilla intent on escape? 
Opening 07
They follow the zookeeper home! Oh my goodness!  Then we have a series of wordless pages, which can prompt the children to make wild guesses.  Are they really going into his home?  No!  Turn the page, Yes!  Oh my goodness, past the hall, with pictures on the walls, pictures of the zoo animals and the zookeeper.  Pictures, which, if we peer closely, also show the zookeeper and his wife getting married, the wife holding a baby gorilla in her arms.  
They walk into the zookeeper's bedroom and settle down to sleep as the zoopkeeper settles into bed, next to his dozing wife. The wife says "Good night, dear." and turns off the light.   The following wordless spreads appear as a sequence:
Opening 10
Opening 11
Opening 12
Opening 13
Children love it!  They recognize that the speech bubbles represent each one of the animals in the bedroom, they wonder whose eyes they are, and delight in discovering they belong to a possibly irate wife. What do you think happens next?  Why, the wife takes the animals back to the zoo of course!
Opening 15
But surprise of surprises, as she walks back, saying "Good night zoo.", who's following her? The gorilla holding the keys, with his finger on his mouth looking out at the child reader pleading that they keep the secret.  And the mouse is still lugging that banana!  Can you see the moon and the balloon, now a tiny spot in the sky? 
They are next seen in the bedroom, the wife getting into bed, the gorilla and the mouse crawling into bed from the foot board.  The keys left on the floor, breaking the illustration frame.  And here is the last of the spreads ...
Opening 17
A surprising ending!  There's the gorilla asleep, "Zzzz."  The banana skin left on the bed cover. The mouse saying "Good night, Gorilla", the title of our story, and we've come full circle. 
Is this normal? we wonder, the Gorilla sleeping in the house?  If we look closely we can see a photo on the bedside table, of the zookeeper, his wife and the gorilla, posing as though a family.  The moon and the balloon can be seen through the window in the verso page.  "Again, again!" call the children, and so we begin again, and this time the children will be confirming what happens next, remembering with glee whose eyes they are, and what the wife will do.  They all chorus, "Good night, zoo", and follow with a confirmation that the Gorilla will sleep with the zookeeper and his wife all the same.   
There is so much going on in this picturebook, mini stories running parallel to the main one, and much for the children to comment on and talk about.  They will also enjoy inventing ways for "telling" the wordless pages.  It's a challenging picturebook for our ELT contexts, but well worth having a go.  

Friday, June 03, 2011

A box of tricks

Front cover 
Katie Cleminson is a fairly new author illustrator, and her first book, Box of tricks came out in 2009.   I discovered Katie's work when I visited one of my favourite blogs, Playing by the book.  Zoe, who writes this blog has interviewed Katie Cleminson, which is fun to read.   
Katie uses a pipette, (a special dropper with a squeezy rubber top that comes with nose drops or ink bottles), to get the blotchy lines to her illustrations, and the lovely blobby, colourful backgrounds.   Drawing with a pipette must be tricky, but the results are beautiful, in particular the spontaneity that is associated with having to use this kind of tool.    In Box of Tricks Katie Cleminson uses black outlines against large white spaces, and when she brings in colour it is kept to tones of blue or red.  It's a truely lovely book to look at. So let's begin...  
As ever I want to begin with the peritextual bits. The cover introduces us to our heroine and a character we will meet inside. It's a copy of one of the illustrations towards the end of the book, and children recognise this and comment on the outcome when they see the picturebook again, "That's the bear that ..." (I won't spoil the surprise!) You'll also notice that Eva is wearing a cloak here... I wonder why? 
My copy is paperback, but it contains the endpapers, musical staves with dancing rabbits.  
Front endpapers
I'm puzzled by the these rabbits, for they appear in the story, and they dance there too, but seeing them here like this is perplexing.   But don't they make good musical notes cum dancers?  And I love looking and looking again at the different poses, they really are dancing and they are so good at it!  The back endpapers are similar, but the rabbits are different and there's more of that lovely blotchy pipette splodging... it's party like. 
We are shown the box on the title page, Eva is opening it, a box which must be handled with care, for  it "contains magic"... and so our story has begun.
Title page
It's Eva's birthday and she receives a special present, a box.  She opens it and jumps in...
Opening 1
That's a very Alice in Wonderland jump!  And of course she "became a master magician. TA-DAH".  Her first trick was easy, she wished for "... a pet called Monty."
Opening 3
Wow!  That's a BIG pet! There's colour in this spread, for we are in magic-land.  But a pet wasn't enough, next Eva pulled out rabbits, lots of them and with a "flick of her wand they floated in the air." Woah! So did Monty, and all the children listening and looking go WOW! Eva is very small, down below doing her magic.  
Opening 5
But for her biggest trick she threw a party, and for that she needed food and musicians and plenty of dancing ...  It all gets magicked together, here are the musicians:
Opening 8
... I love the next spread, with the whole caboodle: musicians, rabbits, Eva and her Monty, all dancing away - that is one BIG Boogie!  We've followed the colour in a sort of crescendo getting more intense and finally WAM, here it all is, on this wordless full page spread. WONDERFUL. 
Opening 10

An apart, it reminds me of the early Paula Rego paintings, with black and white outlined creatures against coloured backgrounds, though far more light-hearted of course!  (Here's a link to one of Paula Rego's paintings for you to get the picture!)

And after all that dancing everyone is pooped!  
Opening 11
And "Eva shut her eyes, clicked her fingers ... " turn the page and see: " and everything vanished..."  Eva is sitting on the left hand page, a vaste white expanse around her, all that colourful party blodging disappeared.  
Opening 12
Actually, not everything disappeared!  That last bit of magic is falling into the box and Eva got her wish come true, a pet called Monty. 

And if you turn the page one last time, there are those dancing rabbits again, on the endpapers.  What a delightful picturebook.  Such great use of space and line, and the colourful backgrounds when Eva enjoys her magic adventure, coming together in that wordless spread and then calming again and ending quietly - you can almost hear a triangle ping, or a violin string being plucked, signally the end of the story.  Maybe that's why Katie Cleminson has used musical staves  for the endpapers, for there is an orchestral feel to the illustrations.  

It's perfect for pre-school children, and extra special because the illustrations are so different.  You'll find the children will point out all sorts of  things and you can follow it up with some pipette drawings and splodgings too.  Lots of fun!