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, August 28, 2011

I love my white shoes

Front cover
I'm not sure where I first saw Pete the cat being reviewed, but I came across him more than once.  I ummed and ahhed but didn't buy the bright yellow book (my photo does not do it justice). Then Zoe from Playing by the book, wrote about Pete the cat on her blog.  I followed the links to the creators telling their story to a group of pre-schoolers and I was hooked.  Pete the cat: I love my white shoes was waiting for me in my pile of holiday post when I got back!  I've been humming his song ever since!   I've also been watching Youtube films of children retelling the story.  I am well geared to sharing it with the first pre-school group I can get my hands on!   There is nothing better than real children interacting with a picturebook to convince me that a picturebook will work. 
So, Pete the cat: I love my white shoes is written by Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean.  A dark blue cat in bright white sneakers. He is a cool dude.  
End papers
The endpapers show us Pete staring up at four pairs of sneakers, no white pairs there, maybe that's because he's wearing them?  Here's Pete walking down the road...
Title page
And so that's how we start, walking down the street...
Opening 1
That great big foot striding on, it's almost as though Pete is going to step on the reader!  And watch that yellow bird, she gradually gets more involved with Pete's story.  "Pete the cat was walking down the street in his brand-new white shoes.  Pete loved his white shoes so much, he sang this song:"
Opening 2
"I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes, I love my white shoes."  I can't say this without bursting into song, which is from watching the Youtube film and hearing the Harpercollins song download, and Pete's very cool dude stance is all the funnier for knowing the wacky tune.  The rebus-like message in his speech bubble will attract the children's attention and so will the way the word for "white" has been highlighted in the recto page. 
Opening 3
But wait, "Oh no! Pete stepped in a large pile of ... strawberries! What colour did it turn his shoes?"  How he could have missed that VERY large pile of red fruit is beyond me, but he looks great right on the top of that pile of strawberries!  And of course we all know the answer to the question, don't we?
Opening 4
You got it!  RED!  And there's one red shoe and lots of red all over the place.  "Did Pete cry? Goodness, no! He kept walking along singing his song." Can you remember how the song goes?
Opening 5

And so it continues.  Pete steps in a pile of blueberries, even bigger than the strawberry pile.   In fact there are two piles now, one for Pete and one for the yellow bird. What colour did they turn his shoes?  BLUE! There are two blue shoes in this illustration. (Many of us adults will wonder at this trasformation into plain old blue, for when blue and red come together we normaly get purple.  But hey!  No problem, it's all part of Pete's wild walk.  And "Did Pete cry?  Goodness, no! He kept walking along and singing his song."  You may have noticed that Pete says "Everything is cool" in opening 4, and he has something different to say on each of these spreads... his blue shoes are "Awesome!"   We see Pete sharing his umbrella with the yellow bird as he sings his song, lots of blue rain cascading around them. 
You'll have picked up the visual rhythm and structure for sure, and it's repeated with brown, as Pete steps into a muddy puddle.  Brown shoes, we see three brown feet and Pete is fine about it all, in fact he even thinks it's "Groovy!"  He sings his song and drinks some coffee, which is also brown.   But then he steps in a bucket of water... "and all the brown, and all the blue and all the red were washed away".  The bird looks very worried!
Opening 12
Oh dear, what colour are his shoes now? You guessed it! WHITE! But now they are WET!"  And we see four white sneakers again.  "Rock and roll!" says Pete, and he sings his song ...
Opening 14
"I love my wet shoes, I love my wet shoes, I love my wet shoes." There's no stopping Pete!  And... "the moral of this story is: No matter what you step in, keep walking along and singing your song ..." 
Bach verso
"... because it's all good."   

What a moral!  Good for you Pete, a great way to help children to take it easy and look on the bright side of life.  Love it! 

"AGAIN!"  The children call out... you'll be so tired of telling, and retelling this picturebook, I guarantee!

Watch the YouTube film and see just how much fun the storyteller and the kids are having.  Watch and take notes, and use some of the ideas for your own storytelling techniques.  Really, the pauses, the sound effects and the gestures are all excellent ways to get your students, and you, super motivated and enjoying the experience.  




HarperCollins have a collection of printables for some of their books, and there's one for Pete the cat.  If you want to see their other printables click here.

And if you haven't already, check out the link to Zoe's blog, where she shares the fun coloured playdough she made with her two girls, following on from the idea of fruit dyes.  A great followup activity.  

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Recommendation nº 4: We're going on a bear hunt

Front cover
We're going on a bear hunt is a classic, one my own children grew up with, as it was first published in paperback in the early 90's.  It's also a picturebook  I use over and over in my pre-school English classes. It's been recommended by Caroline Swettenham, an English teacher from the British Council in Italy.  A great recommendation! 
We're going on a bear hunt is a traditional campfire chant, and has been adapted and rewritten by the magical Michael Rosen; The illustrations are by Helen Oxenbury, wonderful illustrations alternating between spreads of watercolour  and black and white sketches.  Helen Oxenbury doesn't have a web site, but there's a nice little film on www.guardian.co.uk, which gives you a taste of her work, and shows you what she looks and sounds like.  She's a wonderful watercolourist and looking closely at her illustrations again for this post has been a delight. I'm learning how to use watercolour and so I appreciate her skill, I've got a long way to go! I love her water and grass ...
So, the picturebook.  The front cover shows us four of the six protagonists, a father figure and three children.  There's an older girl (or possibly the mother?) and a black and white boarder collie on the back cover.  The covers create a whole image and it's the same as the title page illustration.  The characters are joyfully leading us into the picturebook, skipping and smiling, off we go. 
Front endpapers
My paperback edition, now nearly 20 years old, is battered and the corners are worn but it has the endpapers, and they are really very special.  The front and back ones are different, depicting a passing of time.  The front endpapers show a sandy beach, with rocks and seagulls and the sea and sky meeting in a hazy horizon.  This illustration has always puzzled me, as the sea itself does not feature in the story, except very briefly across the muddy flats that the family have to cross as they look for their bear.  Intriguing! 
Copyright and title page
Here are those front and back cover characters, they are skipping along, eager to find their bear.   The illustrations that follow come in pairs, first a black and white illustration, then a colour one. The first presents the physical problem, the second shows how it is overcome. 
Opening 1
The first black and white spread, begins the alternating sequence. These sketches are completely delicious, so enjoy them as you read the rhythmic words: take in those careful outlines, contours and smudges. I love the way the dog is almost lost in the grass.  The rhyming text is repeated through out the book and goes like this: 
"We're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We're not scared.
Uh-uh! Grass!
Long wavy grass.
We can't go over it.
We can't go under it. 
Oh no!
We've got to go through it! "

Opening 2
And turn the page to bright colour and a sumptuously grassy hill. What fun they are having! The text is two onomatopoeic words representing the grass as we move through it.  "Swishy swashy!"  
The next geographical hurdle is a river, possibly an estuary if we are near the sea. The characters are studying the water, we see their backs only, but it's clear they are contemplating what to do.  Same rhyming text ...
Opening 3
Opening 4
And "Splash splosh!" as they go through the water. 
So you've seen the grass and the water I like so much!  Pretty brilliant don't you think?
The family keep going through mud, "Squelch squerch!"; through a forest, "Stumble trip!"; through a snowstorm, "Hoooo woooo!" and then they find a cave.  
Opening 11
The dog looks a bit worried and the baby definitely doesn't want to go in. But they do ...
Opening 12
Brilliantly visual emotions shown here: this family is frightened.  The font on the text on recto gets bigger, and kids love to chorus loudly, "WHAT'S THAT?"  Gulp ... 
Opening 13
The words are on the verso, and we read them first, but we've already seen the illustration, we know it's a bear and the suspense as we describe his nose, his ears and his eyes, makes the discovery even more exciting and we can all chorus together ... "IT'S A BEAR!!!!"  
And then the previous pages are re-traced, in rapid succession, the bear is seen following the family as they race home, super quickly. 
Opening 14
And we have to say it all very quickly too, out of breath and panting as we get to the swishy swashy grass, but the bear's still there. Oh no! The family get into the house, through the front door, which they forget to close, so they have to go back and close it, just as the bear is coming up the path.  Oh my!  "Back upstairs. Into the bedroom. Into bed. Under the covers."
Opening 16
"We're not going on a bear hunt again." A big pink eiderdown covers them all, even the dog.  The baby seems quite happy, holding his bear, perhaps he wasn't so frightened after all.  
Don't forget to turn the page and show the back endpapers ...
Back endpapers
It's the beach we saw earlier, the sun is going down, but the dark snow storm clouds are still visible.  The bear is walking away from us, back to his cave - back into the story.  Ask the children how they think he feels.  

Caroline highlights the children's joy in joining in with the repetition as she tells the story and their "smiles, laughter and surprise.  And of course 'Again!'" Oh yes!  "Again!" All children chorus this as you close the book.  I haven't come across a pre-school group who haven't wanted this wonderful picturebook again, and again, and again! Caroline says she encourages the children to act out the story, which is an excellent way of supporting their memory of the sequence followed in the narrative.  

A collection of activities can be found here, including this link to Michael Rosen telling the story on Youtube. Well worth watching.  He's such a great performer, and it'll give you ideas for how to use the story for a storytelling session! 


A big thanks to Caroline for recommending this classic.  BRILLIANT! 





Thursday, August 18, 2011

My oh my, Tiny Little Fly!

Front and back covers of Tiny Little Fly
Tiny Little Fly is written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Kevin Waldron. Rosen is famous for his rhymes and poems, and true to form this large-sized treasure is in rhyme.   Kevin Waldron is yet another award winning Irish illustrator, (see posts about Oliver JeffersChris Haughton and Niamh Sharkey).  Together they make a great team, though it is unlikely they ever actually met!  The illustrations are stunning and the extra large format, with a spectacular pull out quadruple page, are real child pleasers! 
As you can see from the main image above, the front and back covers are part of one large illustration.  It represents one of the visual sequences to be found inside, though the actual illustration is unique to the covers.  The largeness of the tiger is accentuated by the fact that parts of him don't fit the cover and he contrasts brilliantly with the tiny fly who we notice as we following the tiger's one-eyed gaze.  
Inside of front cover and half title page
As ever I have the paperback edition, but the inside of the front cover has a lovely old fashioned wallpaper look to it.  This printed patterned look is subtly repeated through the book, and you can see two of the flowers on the half title page, below the fly, who seems to have appeared from nowhere! 
Copyright and title page
... and there's no stopping him, look at how the fly zooms across the copyright page and is ready to fly into the book. I like the way we are told the words are by Rosen and the illustrations are by Waldron. Take  a peek at the dedications, on the copyright page:  Can you guess why there are three elephants on MR's dedication? 
Opening 1
There's no stopping that fly, as we begin with Rosen's rhyme.  "My oh my, Tiny Little Fly! Tiny Little Fly sees great big toes...".  Typical of an unfinished sentence and half an illustration we all want to TURN THE PAGE! So we do!
Opening 2
Ohhh, that is an annoying fly, he buzzes all over and "... sits on Elephant's nose."  
Opening 3
"Great Big Elephant winks one eye, says to himself, "I'm going to catch that fly!" 
Opening 4
"Great Big Elephant winks the other eye. TRAMP! CRUSH! TRAMP! But off flies fly!" ... and we can just see the tiny fly zzing off towards the right edge of the recto page. 
And this sequence repeats itself two more times. Fly meets a hippo, grey with delightful pinky markings. We are treated to the lovely repetitive rhyme, with fly settling on Hippo's ear.  Then ... "Great Big Hippo winks the other eye. ROLL! SQUASH! ROLL! But off flies fly!" Cool  image of Hippo in the mud ...
Opening 8
Next fly meets a tiger, that lovely big orange one we saw on the front cover. Fly settles on his claws, though we actually only see paws. Same repetitive rhyme and ... "Great Big Tiger winks the other eye. SWOOP! SNATCH! SWOOP!  But off flies fly!"
And now things take a turn for the theatrical.  All three animals thrash around... 
Opening 13
TRAMP! CRUSH! TRAMP!ROLL! SQUASH! ROLL! SWOOP! SNATCH! SWOOP! Great sounds, which children will love saying ... and then, open out those flaps and  ...
Opening 14
All three animals are floundering in the dust and mud.  That pesky fly has got the better of them!  Fold those big flaps back in, and turn the page. Fly is off, leaving the dusty trio behind him. "Tiny Little Fly, winks one eye ..."
Back recto and inside back cover
"See you all soon. Bye everyone, bye!"  And there he is winking his very large fly eye!  Wallpaper flowers have returned, and if you look closely at the inside back cover, can you see the fly on the wall? He, he, he!

Great picturebook!  And Kevin Waldron's illustrations are just fabulous. Big and bright and very enticing.  Pre-school children will love them, and so will early primary.  The repetitive  rhyming text will have the whole class chorusing along with you in no time.  

If you go to Waldron's  web site and scroll down to his January 2011 post, you can see just how big the book is, as well as see some of his sketches and ideas.  Hippos are my favourite of animals, (after dogs), so I love this little number ...
From www.kevinwaldron.co.uk

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A bit lost: a psychedelic delight

I've just come back from a wonderful two week holiday, despite only managing to spend a couple of hours in a large Exeter Waterstone's, I came out triumphant and heavily laden with picturebooks.  Treat of treats to be able to pull them off the shelves, whiff them, flick through them and hug them... living in Portugal means I don't get to do this often with English books.   One of my prize purchases is the focus of this blog, A bit lost by Chris Haughton.   
Front cover
I'd seen this picturebook referenced in several places and Haughton was recently nominated one of UK's best new illustrators by Book Trust.  But some things just don't seem obvious until you have them in your hands. A bit lost is completely obvious, and I can't believe I didn't buy it from The Book Depository earlier, but hey... better late than never!
I've discovered that Chris Haughton started using colour in his work quite late, he said he just didn't seem to get it right. After looking through A bit lost, it's difficult to imagine he ever had difficulties, it's so full of rich colours - in fact it's the very colour which makes it such a great treasure.  Oranges and lime greens  and blues and purples are predominant, all brought together in a flat style that imitates simple prints.  From what I've gathered Haughton first sketches then uses the computer to finish his illustrations.  They are stunning and after looking around his website you'll really enjoy revisiting a style he has perfected and the humour that naturally oozes from his illustrations. 
Like all good picturebooks,  each bit of peritext has things to look at and associate with the story, which is about a sleepy owlet, who falls from his nest and is helped by a chatty squirrel to find his mum again.
The cover introduces us to our owlet, all alone and lost, against a background of olive green, a predominant colour in the illustrations. If you look at the back cover there's an illustration of mummy owl looking very upset, as her owlet is nowhere to be seen.  
Inside of back cover
As usual I have a paperback edition and the inside of the front and back covers show a cool foresty scene.  

Page 1
Walker Books enjoy having a page for the owner to write their name, and this is no exception: there's an entertaining page, showing our lost owlet wondering at the large notice above his head.  
Copyright and title page
And the copyright and title page is completely delicious. Olive green and orange with the specially designed font, created by Haughton, sitting boldly above a sinking sun.  The visual format on this doublespread continues on the first opening, where owl and her baby are placed on the verso page.  
Opening 1
Haughton has used darker colours for the two owls and their multi-story tree home.  They leap out at us as we turn the page.  It's a wordless spread, with a halfpage flap for the recto.  The recto flap slowly wafts up as the book lies on the table, and gives us the impression that the owl is moving...
Opening 2




The words are simple, "uh-oh!" then...

Opening 3
"Bump... Bump... BUMP!" The same colour pallet here with the addition of a deep, purply blue base.  We don't know it yet, but on returning to this page we'll see the other characters peering from the forest, a bear, frog and rabbit in verso and the chattery rabbit in recto.  Can you see them?
Up till now we've had double spreads oozing colour, set within a white frame.    For most of the remaining spreads, white plays a more predominant role and we see versos and rectos either as full colour, right to the page margin, or with brightly coloured cameo illustrations against the stark white.  There's a rhythm to these pages too, which you can see in the next set of pages:
Opening 4
Opening 5
Opening 6
This visual rhythm is repeated three times, with a repetitive verbal text aswell. Owlet describes his mummy, "She's VERY BIG. Like THIS!" or "My mummy has POINTY EARS. Like THIS!" or "My mummy has BIG EYES. Like THIS!" The illustrations show us owlet miming these physical features followed by, '"Yes! Yes! I know! I know!" said Squirrel. "Follow me ...' Squirrel rushes off, with owl close behind.  Can you see mummy owl on her perch in the orange forest, in spread 5?  She is shown in three different positions as squirrel takes owlet to see different animals in the forest. He shows Owlet a large bear (a wonderful illustration of an unassuming bear plonked right in the middle of the recto page in opening 6), a rabbit with long pointy ears and a small frog with large eyes.  '"No! No!" Said little owl.  "That's not my mummy"' is the repeated refrain upon each encounter. Until finally it is the frog who saves the day.  "Follow me. Your mummy's looking everywhere for you."
Opening 11
Great illustration of the three animals in siloute, and there's mummy not far ahead. "Is this your mummy?"  Of course it is!
Opening 12

Just the owls, no background, and mummy owl has a tear in her eye.  She must have been so worried.  
Mummy is so grateful she invites squirrel and frog for a biscuit, '"Yes, please," said Squirrel.  "Biscuits are our favourite thing."' They sit together in the multi-storied owl tree, high above the treetops. It's now evening and everything is a luscious orangey pink. 
Opening 14
Careful now...
Back verso
"Uh-oh!" and we are back to where we started!  Now isn't that a feast for your eyes?  Delightful, so simple and worthy of a very large "Again!".  I've not used it with any pre-school kids yet, but when I start storytelling in my classrooms in January (once my thesis is done and dusted) it will be one of the first picturebooks I share.  I know it will be a great success. 

I've done  a bit of research about Chris Haughton.  He's a really interesting chap from Dublin, who has done some wonderful work with a fairtrade organization called People Tree.  Do check out his website and sit through a 30-minute presentation, which starts slow, but gets really interesting as he describes how he started and where he got all his ideas from.   Finally Chris Haughton has a blog, and he has written a post about the making of A bit lostWell worth a peek!
Somehow knowing more about a picturebook creator, makes the book different.   Enjoy!