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, September 25, 2011

Recommendation nº 6: The three little wolves and the big bad pig

Front cover



I've decided to feature two recommendations this month, to keep with the theme of traditional stories.   This is a wonderful title, and recommended by Helen Davies, an English teacher in a French state school.  A great suggestion Helen, and I've had loads of fun looking at this picturebook, discovering all sorts.  

Eugene Trivizas is a sociologist, with a PhD in criminology and one of Greece's leading children's authors. He's written over 100 children's books and this title was the first to be written in English.  I've already featured a picturebook illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, and her delightfully detailed watercolour illustrations bring another dimension to Trivizas already very funny words.  
The three little wolves and the big bad pig is of course a retelling of the traditional story, The three little pigs and highly suitable for older students.  Helen has used this picturebook with teens. 
The front cover is an illustration of The Three Little Wolves taking a break from building work, perched on scaffolding.  Each is nibbling something meaty, a chicken drum stick or a hamburger.  They look relaxed and happy, fastidious with checkered napkins on their laps and open lunch boxes at their sides.   It's a great cover image setting the scene for the many building projects which we will be shown as the story progresses.   However,  only the three wolves appear on the front cover and they are without doubt the goodies, but try turning over to the back cover...
Back cover
The back cover continues the illustration with scaffolding stretching across the picture, and here we see the Big Bad Pig, climbing up a ladder and leering in the direction of The Little Wolves.  It's a wonderful combination and well worth opening out the book to show the continuous image. 
The title page shows us one of the creatures we will encounter later, a beaver, well-known in the animal world for his strong dams.  He's shown next to a dirty bucket, but it's not clear till later what is actually in the bucket.
Recto 1
The first page is a single recto. A large amount of text explains which of the wolves is the oldest, "The first was black, the second was grey and the third was white."  Mother wolf tells her cubs they have to go out into the big world.  She warns them to take care of ... can you guess... the big bad pig! But look carefully at the illustrations. What is mother wolf doing? Painting her nails black!  The fur on her head is in curlers and the end of her tail, which is sticking out of the bed covers, is also in curlers.  She has a flippant look to her, tired of her cubs and ready for the good life again, the posh red slippers on the floor by the bed giving us an inkling of the way she likes to dress. 
Off go the wolf cubs and they soon meet a kangaroo carrying red and yellow bricks.  
Opening 2
As with the original story, the wolves are given what they ask for and they work hard to build their strong house of bricks.  Their lawn grows quickly too, and one day while they are playing croquet the "big bad pig came prowling down the road".  We are then treated to the well-known question answer routine, accompanied by Helen Oxenbury's delightful tongue-in-cheek paintings, showing a mean old pig and scared wolf cubs.
"Little wolves, little wolves, let me come in!"
"'No, no, no,' said the three little wolves.  "By the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, we will not let you in, not for all the tea leaves in our china teapot!'"  
Then, the pig "puffed and he puffed and he huffed and he huffed, but the house didn't fall down." 
Opening 5
"But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing." What did he do? He got his sledgehammer and knocked the house down!  Look carefully at the illustration, can you see the wolf cubs escaping?  The black wolf is carrying a china teapot!  They are very frightened.
We know how the story goes: the wolves need to build  a stronger house, but what is stronger than bricks?  Concrete!  They meet a beaver who is making concrete in a mixer.  He gives them all they need and they work hard on their new concrete home.
Opening 7
They are playing badminton when the big bad pig arrives. Opening 7 is a great double spread, a small black and white sketch of the pig, looking thoroughly mean and the wolves in grey tone against their grey concrete house.  The pig is a bright pink peering over the wall in the background, can you see him? 
We are told of the question answer routine, "Little, frightened wolves, let me in...."  and then when we turn the page... "But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing."
Opening 8
He gets "his pneumatic drill and smashes the house down"!   The close up of the pink pig with the wolves escaping in the background is hilarious.  They have tied their sheets to make a rope and the teapot is there, ready to be grasped as they flee, "but their chinny-chin-chins were trembling and trembling and trembling."
An even stronger house is needed. Luckily for the wolves, they meet a rhino driving a lorry full of "barbed wire, iron bars, armour plates and heavy metal padlocks."  "The three little wolves built  themselves an extremely strong house" and felt "very relaxed and absolutely safe"! 
This time the wolves were playing hopscotch when the pig arrives. 
Opening 11
That pig is diffiuclt to stop.  Alert students will notice the red dynamite sticks on the grass under the pig in verso and, during the usual dialogue and huffing and puffing, they already know how the big bad pig is going to destroy the house.  "Frightened little pigs, with the trembling chins, let me in!"
Opening 12
And the little wolves are running off carrying their teapot, their fluffy tails scorched.
What could they do now?  They were certain there was something wrong with their building materials. Luckily for them along came a flamingo pushing a wheelbarrow full of flowers.  
Opening 13
And they decided to build a house of flowers. It had a wall of marigolds, one of daffoldils, one of pink roses and another of cherry blossom.  The roof was made of sun flowers and they had a carpet of daisies.  It was beautiful, but very fragile. And along came the big bad pig. "Little frightened wolves with the trembling chins and the scorched tails, let me in!"
And as the pig inhaled to blow down their house ...
Opening 15
The scent from the blossoms softened his heart and he realized how terrible he had been ... "he became a big good pig". He sang and he danced and made freinds with the wolves.  They played "pig-pong and piggy-in-the-middle", and they invited him in for tea and they all lived happily ever after!
Back verso
Can you see? They are drinking tea from the teapot they salvaged from each house, as they ran for their lives. 


Hilariously funny, and kids just love the absurdity of the pig's badness and the ever stronger houses culminating in a soft swaying flowery one. Brilliant adaptation, with stunning illustrations.  It begs rereading, enabling students to discover threads of visual and verbal narratives: Visually they will pick up on the different playground games, the animals and their goods, the teapot at each escape.  Verbally they will enjoy the cumulative greeting from the pig, who begins by calling the wolves, "Little wolves, let me in!", and finishes with, "Little, frightened wolves with the trembling chins and the scorched tails, let me in!" They'll join in the memorable dialogues, and will love saying, "But the pig wasn't called big and bad for nothing."


Helen describes using the book as a base for re-telling well-known stories, with students creating their own retold stories.  Other writing activities could include:

  • Taking the view of the pig and describing being bad and then becoming good, and explaining why;  
  • Becoming a reporter and writing up the story for a newspaper. 
  • Writing a post card to mother wolf from the cubs, explaining the events, and the happy eneding. 

These are challenging activities, but possible with older students who have a fair bit of language competece.   This link, to a set of Scholastic activities, meant for mainstream learners but useful for ideas, may be of interest.  Enjoy!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Recommendation nº 5: The gigantic turnip

Front cover
The Gigantic Turnip, illustrated by Niamh Sharkey has been recommended by Teresa Fleta, a teacher, teacher educator and great friend, who lives in Madrid, Spain.  I'd only seen this title in Portuguese, so it was good to order it in English and give it a good look over. 
I've already featured a picturebook by Niamh Sharkey, an Irish illustrator who uses oil paints to create her big, bold illustrations.   You can see her brush strokes in some of the backgrounds and they add a lovely textured feel to her work.  
This particular picturebook is published by Barefoot Booksthey have a very special publishing moto, here's a part of it: "Interactive, playful and beautiful, our products combine the best of the present with the best of the past to educate our children as the caretakers of tomorrow".  
As you can see from the front cover the book comes with a CD which contains the narrated story - a nice addition, read by clear-voiced Ellen Verenieks.  
We all know the Russian folk tale, made famous by Aleksei Tolstoy, about an old couple who plant some turnip seeds and one grows to such an enormous size that they can't pull it out without help from their animals.  It's a cumulative story, getting longer and longer as more animals are called to help the old couple.  Finally they manage to pull up the turnip with the help of a mouse and everyone eats a very large amount of turnip soup or stew.  It's well known in ELT, and included in course books and reader sets
Portuguese turnips
The big orange root vegetable we can see on the front cover is actually quite unlike a turnip.  Turnips are white with a purpley top.  The turnip in the illustration looks more like a swede, of similar shape, but more orangey in colour and completely different in taste. But this is a cultural thing, for in Ireland and Scotland, swedes are called turnips! In the States they're called swedish turnips.  When I show this image to my students they can't quite match their Portuguese turnips with this yellow thing! 
But let's look at the book, the back cover has a nice collection of other vegetables for us to look at, most of which are immediately recognisable. 
Back cover
The half title page contains a small cameo of the elderly couple pulling at the turnip, an illustration which is also shown later in the story, and the copyright and title pages introduce us to some of the characters in the story, again snippets from within. They don't contribute in any way to the narrative, though children will comment on the large cow underneath the title  during repeated reads, confirming it is the cow from the story. 
Copyright and title page
The first spread introduces us to the couple, in their overgrown garden, with the verbal text appearing in the garden path, with the font changing size.  
Opening 1
The following spreads set the scene, introducing the animals in the story, and the act of planting. Here are the animals.  Note they start in the verso with the smallest of animals and finish in recto with the big brown cow. 
Opening 2
We need rain for plants to grow, so along it comes beautifully depicted in this spread showing the dark night and the plants in the garden beginning to grow.  Can you see the turnip leaves already big and strong?
Opening 4
We are told, not shown that the seasons pass, everything is harvested and that at the end of the row there is a gigantic turnip.
Opening 5
Nice use of space here, and children really get a feel for the size of the turnip.   The enlarged font works well too. And so the next day the old man got up ... there's a lovely bit where the verbal text says, "the old man sat up in bed, sniffed the cool, late summer air and said, 'It's time for us to pull up that turnip.'",   And he really did try, and here begins the cumulative, repetitive part of the story : "The old man pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked, but the turnip would not move."   And so he calls his wife, and they "... pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked, but the turnip would not move."  The woman fetched the brown cow. 
Opening 9
Can you see the pigs in the background?  On each occasion we are shown the animals who will be called to help when everyone is unable to budge the turnip.  And of course they get smaller in size and larger in number.  "The old man, the old woman, the big brown cow, two pot-bellied pigs, three black cats, four speckled hens, five white geese, and six yellow canaries, pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked. STILL the turnip would not move." 
Opening 14
They were  all exhausted! "But the woman had an idea." She found a mouse, who she caught using some cheese, and she took him outside to help. 
Opening 17
And so now it was almost night time, they've spent all day trying to pull up this turnip!  "The old man, the old woman, the big brown cow, two pot-bellied pigs, three black cats, four speckled hens, five white geese, and six yellow canaries, and the hungry little mouse pulled and heaved and tugged and yanked."  
Opening 18
"POP!", every thing went backwards ... "The canaries fell on the mouse, the geese fell on the canaries... [and so on].  All of them lay on the ground and laughed." The turnip could almost be a planet in this illustration it is so big!   Every one ate the huge turnip stew, but "the hungry little mouse ate most of all."

The mouse also has a lunar look to him in the illustration, with the night sky as a background.  

Facing the verso illustration, you can see the CD and back flap with information about the illustrator, narrator and Barefoot Books.  All nicely compact. 

It's a nice version of the traditional story, with lovely illustrations.  The verbal text is long, but much of it is repetitive, and the children will enjoy chorusing the different animals, especially "two pot-bellied pigs". Teresa didn't give me any follow up activities, but we can all imagine a fun dramatisation with masks and enough characters for a classroom of 25, if one child is the turnip! Great fun!  But most of all read this several times over a number of lessons.  The exposure to the rich language will help children remember it and they'll soon join in. 

Thanks to Teresa for sharing!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There was an old lady



A favourite traditional song, known and loved by most English speakers is I know an old woman who swallowed a fly.  It's said to have an unknown author, but Copyright has been given to  Alan Mills and Rose Bonne (1952), and there's a famous recording  by Burl Ives which you can hear it on good old youtube:
It's a wildly extravagant, cumulative story of an old lady who swallows ever larger creatures and eventually dies.  Plain and simple!  Children love anything that makes the impossible possible, and this traditional song does just that!  An old lady swallows a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow and finally a horse!  The picturebook I'm featuring today is the award winning version of this song by Simms Taback, There was an old lady who swallowed a fly.
Dust jacket front cover
The picturebook is a visual delight, the artwork is mixed media and collage on craft paper, using bright colours often against a black background, there is loads to look at and muse over.  
I have a hardback edition, not sure there is a paperback one, at least I couldn't find it.  The dust jacket cover has a hole cut into the paper where the old lady's mouth is, and we can see a fly wiggling around in the blackness. If you take the dust jacket off, there's another illustration:
Front cover
The mad looking lady is surrounded by flies, and if you look at the back covers, you will see a masterful collection of flies, all labelled and in neat rows. I was doubtful there really was such a thing as a robber fly or a sawfly - but Taback really does know his flies - they exist, though not as attractively decorated as they are in these illustrations! Before moving inside, I just want to draw your attention to the spine, which gives us the title, the author and the publisher names, all beautifully written on ripped pieces of coloured paper.
Spine
This ripped collage technique flows through the illustrations and is quite delightful. 
Front endpapers
The endpapers are covered in tiny pieces of ripped paper - they look like multicoloured snow flakes in the very dark of night. 
Copyright and title page
The copyright and title pages are a sudden contrast in bright orange, with all but one of the animals featured in the story, busily moving around in the illustrations.  The fly from the front cover has buzzed across the spread and circled the old lady, who is seen as calm and relaxed in this cameo illustration - the only time she is ever seen looking normal and old lady-like!  In the dedication to Peter Newell, Taback is openly acknowledging the contribution of illustrators at the beginning of the last century, who through their work paved the way for picturebooks as they are today.  Peter Newell's book can seen in its entirety here if you are interested. 
So let's get going with the song!
Opening 1
In wonderful picturebook fashion the spreads and illustrations follow a visual structure, which begins in opening 1, and works in sets of pairs. The verso page is a busy illustration full of all sorts of images, flowers and flying creatures all buzzing around together.  Some are painted, some are collages - this page presents the creature the old lady will swallow and to help us there's a newspaper with telling headlines "Old lady swallows fly".  The recto shows us the old lady, quite barmy, waving her umbrella and there's a smallish hole in the page, in the middle of her tummy, can you make it out?   Notice also the words, on different coloured rectangles, even the full stop is on a separate bit of paper.  "There was an old lady who swallowed a fly."
Turn the page and ...
Opening 2
We can see the fly in the lady's tummy, through the hole.  "I don't know why she swallowed a fly."   On the recto page, in that multicoloured snow we saw on the endpapers, "Perhaps she'll die" and some of the other animals in the story are commenting, all in rhyme. "I think I'll cry..."; "She gulped it out of the sky."; "But it's only a fly."; "Oh, my!" 
And if we continue this pattern is repeated with the spider and so on ...
Opening 3
Opening 4
Can you see the recipe for Spider's Soup in the verso of opening 3? Notice also how whole sentences are featured on strips of coloured paper in recto.  This is a feature which reappears on this recto page each time. 
Each time we turn the page, the hole in her tummy gets bigger as it fills up ... here she is with the spider and the fly...
Opening 5
And here with the fly, spider, bird, cat and dog ...
Opening 11
I especially like the verso in opening 11, where we are shown the cow surrounded by flowers and packets from food made with milk, and of course the newspaper headlines, "Whole cow devoured".  
Opening 12
Here's the second spread in this pair, opening 12.  Look how the parts of the song are shown on different pieces of coloured paper, and for the first time we see the horse, he's remained incognito till now! So, "There was an old lady who swallowed a horse." 
We know how the story ends don't we? 
Opening 14
"She died of course!"  And all the other animals lament, "I'm filled with remorse."; "It was the last course." etc... and right at the bottom of the recto page, a small self portrait by Taback, "Even the artist is crying ..."
Back verso
And here's the moral, "Never swallow a horse."

What a visual delight and so much there to go on and use in the classroom.  The collage illustration begs to be imitated and played with by the children.  Pages of ripped up paper, or mixing of paint and collage.  Different colours on black is visually very striking, and the children's work would make a wonderful display. 
Then there's the words and sentences on separate coloured paper, ideal for playing around with.  Words can be made into sentences, also using punctuation.  Sentences can be ordered to make the song.  A great activity for primary children who are coming to grips with reading and writing in English.  And lots of fun can be had with the rhyming words.  

And as ever youtube has the film of the book, which is really well put together. It's followed by the song, so you can sing along, though it's a bit fast! 

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Old MacDonald with a twist

Front cover
Traditional stories portrayed in picturebooks have been recommended by several colleagues, so I thought I'd do a month of posts on the theme of Traditional stories or songs in picturebooks and include at least two recommendations. 
To start I'm going to feature one of my all time favourites, introduced to me by Opal Dunn, years ago!  
Old MacDonald had a farm, is one of those songs that everybody, who is 'doing' farm animals, sings in ELT classes!  But I was never really a great fan: the repeated refrain "With a bow wow here and a bow wow there. Here and bow, there a bow everywhere a bow wow..." etc was just too much for many of the early years' language learners I was working with and "EIEIO" was always rendered in a Portuguese pronunciation, as the song exists in translation in Portugal.  But when I began using this picturebook, Old MacDonald, by Jessica Souhami, all that changed! Hearing the words clearly and slowly, in association with the pictures and fun font placement, enabled the children I was working with to imitate the English sounding "EIEIO" and to pick up that tricky refrain.   But most of all it was such a fun experience as there's a wonderful, unexpected twist at the end, not to mention all the different ways the animals like to travel! It's brilliant!
If you take a look at the front cover, shown above, you can predict which animals will appear, can't you? Or can you?  I like Old MacDonald's eye brows, I have a uncle who is a farmer and they are just like that!  As a reading adult you will also notice that it's a "Lift the flaps!" book.  
Title page
No exciting peritext, except if you look at the title page, which looks like the words are being trumpeted out of the page  gutter.  Notice how the designer has been included there: that's unusual on the title page, isn't it?
Opening 1
Here's the first spread, with the words of the song and a long-legged farmer striding across the page.  It's interesting that he is moving right to left, normally movement is depicted from left to right.  He's pulling something, but we can't quite make out what it is.  Can you guess? Let's open the flap, can you see it?  It's covering half the recto page. 
Opening 1 + flap
It's "... a duck, EIEIO" Let's turn the page again... 
Opening 2
And the song continues! 
There's lots of interesting things to notice about these spreads.  The illustrations are big and bold, collages of cut out shapes with simple line drawings.  The font does some exciting things visually.  In opening 2 the words flow out of duck's beak, rather like the title did on the title page. Then the font changes for the EIEIO and children notice this immediately.  They are drawn to the visual letter shapes and like to point at each one as we say them together as the book progresses.  
So, we've seen two spreads, or rather two and a half! They come in pairs like this through out.   First spread shows the farmer and an animal in some sort of transportation, but we can only see a bit of the animal until we turn the flap; and the second spread depicts the creature visibly making its animal noises. 
The pig arrives in a pram, here he is oinking ...
Opening 4
The children notice that the font represents a piggy tail immediately!  
The sheep arrives in the back of a truck and the cow is travelling in a plane.
Opening 7 + flap
And children get such a kick of seeing the next opening with all the words in the cow's belly:
Opening 8
Many of them question how it was possible for the cow to fit into the plane.  Clever children!
So what else do we have on farms?  Horses, chickens, I wonder what's next, and it's in a rocket, WOW!
Opening 9 + flap
Of course it's a rocket, Martian's don't travel in any old truck!  What a fun surprise!  But what sound do Martians make? 
Opening 10
"Beep!" Of course! 
And the song comes to it's finale ... "Oh ..."  Quick turn the page: 
Opening 11
"EIEI ... " what's under the flap? 
Opening 11 + flap
Nice!  The farmer and his animals!  Duck in a bath, pig in bed, sheep doing her knitting and the farmer and the cow having tea, with milk (of course!)  And the silly Martian is up the chimney! What a groovy version of Old MacDonald ... and it just has to be read "Again!" 


Print-salience 
I just want to make a point about the different ways of showing the words in this picturebook. It's considered a "print-salient" picturebook, because the print attracts the children's attention.  It doesn't mean that they will ignore the illustrations, far from it, they still focus on those almost exclusively especially if they aren't officially reading yet.  But in a picturebook like this children do look at the words far more because they are part of the visual design of the picturebook.  Some children will be affected by this design more than others, and will begin to associate the written word and its sound.  Don't ignore this if you see or hear it happening, encourage children to make connections, and if possible leave the picturebook in the classroom, so children can browse through the pages, studying what interests them.