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, February 26, 2012

Funny face - funny faces

Front cover
I discovered Funny Face by Nicola Smee while reading an article by a friend and colleague Janet Evans.  
The front cover shows a simply drawn but bold looking face, smiling.  The back cover gives a photo album-like view of the same face demonstrating all sorts of emotions and the blurb reads: 
"One little boy, one big bear.  Many different faces!"
That's it in a nutshell!
Funny Face is a board book, so it contains none of the peritextual features a picturebook can include (like endpapers or title pages), the reader moves from front cover to the story pages immediately. I say story pages because even though this is a concept book, there is a narrative to it.  Each verso page shows the story and each recto the emotion evoked by the happenings in the story.  I find this very useful as it contextualizes each emotion, making it clearly understood by the children you are sharing it with. 
There are seven different faces in all, showing a range of emotions and we start with the happy face:
Opening 1

"I love playing with my ball." ... so I'm happy because that's what I'm doing.   As we read this we can use a light hearted voice expressing happiness, so children hear and see the emotion. 
Opening 2
But what happens next?  "Ooh!  A big bear!", children call out this emotion as soon as they see the illustration, the child in the book is so clearly surprised!   
Opening 3
Oh no!  The bear takes the ball and the children will all call out "he's crying", and he is, but what emotion is he showing us? And his dog too! He's sad.  It's a sad face. 
Turn the page ... Naturally once the feeling of sadness dissipates, anger takes over. The words tell us, "I'm very, very angry".  The pictures show us a cross looking boy and the dog is shaking his fist at the bear as he lumbers off behind a tree. Children will empathize with this change of feelings, they will have felt similarly.  Another page turn ...
Opening 5
Anger moves to confidently being rude!  "Here's what I think of you, big bear!" As the reader you can say this arrogantly, and even blow a raspberry!  That is one naughty face!  Turn the page ... But STOP! "Oops!  I think the big bear is coming back - with more bears!"  The illustrations show the dog and boy looking at each other worriedly. The face shows a clearly worried look.  Let's turn the page again...
Opening 7
The bears are ever closer and the boy and his dog are clearly terrified. As we read the words, "What do they want?", we can slightly stutter and make our mouth quiver.  The children you are sharing this book with will be leaning backwards slightly and their mouths will quiver as they say loudly "He's frightened". 
Opening 8
Why, all the bears wanted was to play!  Hooray!  And so we are all happy again and full circle we come back to a happy face. 
The very last page is a firm favourite showing all the different emotions and a mirror where  children can peer at their own funny faces!  (You'll have to excuse the photo here, my arm and blue sunny sky instead of a child's face is reflected in the mirror!)
Opening 9
Funny Face. Nothing complicated, a simple story and a load of faces, but it works really well and children request this book over and over. Remember that even if the children call out in their own language when you turn the pages, it's OK, they are demonstrating they have recognized the emotion, which is after all the objective of this little book.  It is our job to help them say these emotion words in English, which isn't too difficult, especially if it is re-read many times. Recast and paraphrase what they say and gradually the children's calls should turn into English calls as the pages are turned and they gleefully demonstrate they can recognize emotions and label them in English.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Two penguins who do everything together

Front cover
Fluff and Billy by Nicola Killen arrived last week.  What a cute little book, so cute I had to feature it immediately.  Cute in the sense of being endearing and clever at the same time. And just perfect for pre-school children, with the natural repetition in the verbal text and the expressive illustrations. 
Fluff and Billy are two penguins, great friends, who do everything together. Fluff has red feet and Billy has yellow chest feathers.  The painted font on the cover helps us focus on their different features, highlighting their differences, despite both being penguins. Here they are on the back cover, swimming together under water.  
Back cover
Though red and yellow appear on the front cover, it is blue and yellow which are the two base colours, and white of course.  Yellow introduces us to the two penguins, it appears as we open the paperback version of this picturebook in a recto page splatted with yellow paint, followed by a further spread, a yellow background with an oval window showing the two penguins, wings touching as though holding hands. 
Opening 1
The copyright page brings us the blue, that deep sea we saw on the back cover.  The two penguins are speeding forward into the book and a splat of blue slap bang in the middle of the title page repeats the front cover combination of these three words, "Fluff and Billy", the birds' names written with a paintbrush and brought together with an "and" written in Times Roman(?), the rest of the title is also in the same font. 
Copyright and title page
The play between these two font types continues within the picturebook pages.  The paint brush font represents the birds' voices and the other the narrator's.  You may also have noticed that Fluff's font is slightly darker than Billy's. 
Let's begin ... as though we haven't already!
Opening 2
I think this is one of my favourite spreads.  Look at the movement! Those blue foot prints on the verso spread  pushing us upwards as the penguins rush up the snowy hill and then zooming down the hill following the bluey dots as the penguins slide on their bellies.  The font slopes up and down too, and the verbal text comes twice each time, first it's Fluff, then it's Billy.  Each doing the same thing, so their voices repeated. As the mediator you can use slightly different voices too. Then ...
Opening 3
Aaaaaaa!  Aaaaaaa!  Now that looks fun. Lines and dots again showing movement and that crack in the ice on verso once again pushing our gaze across the spread.  Those splodges of yellow just adding a touch of sparkle to the page. 
Fluff and Billy go swimming, "I'm swimming" they both say; then splashing.  Fluff runs here and Billy runs here. 
Opening 6
Fluff jumps up and so does Billy, but woah!  That is one big jump, shown in the illustrations (we can only see his legs as he jumps out of the page!) but also the way the font has been turned on its side and is whooshing up, following Billy off that page. 
Opening 7
We see the result on the next spread.  Fluff looks worried as Billy lands on his head, those yellow splodges falling around him and things change, Fluff rolls a snowball, but Billy throws one ... right at Fluff. But that's not right, don't they always do the same thing?
"'Ouch!" cried Fluff".  On the next three spreads, we see the two friends sitting back to back, but apart, one on each side of the spread, separated first by the penguins words, "I'm not talking to you".  Their feelings are so visible, from their postures, the way their heads are tilted upwards.  They are as frosty as the snow around them.  
Opening 9
On the next spread it is the narrator who reinforces the point: "Fluff said nothing." "Billy said nothing." The penguins don't look quite so haughty.  Then ...
Opening 11
No need for words, we all know how both these penguins are feeling. And so Fluff tickles Billy, and Billy tickles Fluff. 
Opening 13
And they laugh ... "together!"  Yellow and blue in soft floating shapes. Friends again. 
But that's not the end, remember that yellow spread at the beginning of the book, well here it is again, but this time the penguins are leaving, wings touching, rushing off into more adventures. 
Spread 14
One of the cleverest picturebooks I've seen in a while: it's visually exciting and tells a real story, one of friendship, falling out and making up. The illustrations provide brilliant examples of emotions for children to see and talk about. And, as an added bonus, everything gets said twice!  Love it, love it, love it. A MUST for all early years English classrooms. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Stuck and completely over the top

Front cover
Stuck by Oliver Jeffers got me gaping and giggling.  It's outrageous, completely silly, but loads of fun.  Great for primary kids who just love taking their imagination to the limit. 
Stuck is Jeffers latest picturebook and its style is very similar to those that have gone before.  He uses stick legged figures, with simple faces, often showing just dots for eyes, maybe with the addition of a line for a scowl.  The character in this picturebook occasionally has a mouth, but never a nose. The illustrations are  a mixture or drawing and painting, creating a very off hand, almost sketchy result.  The use of Jeffer's own hand writing for the font, which even includes crossed out words, adds to the spontaneity of the visual on each spread. 
The title on the front cover not only tells us the title of the picturebook, but also gives us an idea of what happens once we open the book. We don't know this until we begin, but that's one of the wonderful things about picturebooks, we can keep returning to them and making connections.  
Back cover
The back cover shows a furry orange orang-utang in a rather uncomfortable position (flying? being thrown?) across the cover. I wonder why? We'll find out once we read the story.  So let's open it up and look at the endpapers. 
Front endpapers
In very light green, the same green we saw on the front and back covers, the end pages are covered in completely unrelated objects: whales, shoes, a bird, a cat, a tin of paint, a fireman... again we will discover what they represent when we've read the rest of the book. 
Title page
The title page shows us the character we saw on the front cover, carrying his kite.  Here we are at the set up of our story, a boy going out to fly his kite. On the first opening we learn that this boy is Floyd and his problem is...
Copyright and Opening 1
... his kite is stuck in a tree. But the real trouble began when ...
Opening 2
... he threw his favourite shoe up there to knock it down. This is just the beginning of Floyd's many attempts at getting his kite down by throwing things, unexpected things.  If you look at these two openings, you'll notice that the tree was first blue, now it's brown.  It's as though the colours reflect Floyd's feelings.  The next opening shows a different colour again:
Opening 3
You'll also notice that Jeffer's uses capital letters in the verbal text to emphasize certain words, "FAVOURITE" etc. So far we have a kite and two shoes in the tree, you can guess what he's going to do with Mitch the cat, can't you? He throws the cat into the tree to dislodge his shoes. Why, cats often get stuck in trees!  
Opening 4

The next spread is a deep red in verso, lovely. Floyd is worried, what should he do, (that simple line across his eyes representing a knitted brow).  He gets a ladder. We all know what he will do with that ladder, he throws it into the tree instead of climbing up it, in an attempt to knock down the cat. He flings a bucket of paint to knock down the ladder, a duck to knock down the paint, a chair to knock down the duck, a bike for the chair, then a kitchen sink and the front door (which he actually unscrews). And so it gets wilder ...
Opening 8

Next it's "The FAMILY car" and if you look carefully you can see a milkman at the front of the house, wondering where the front door is. And of course he was the next to be thrown up the tree, to knock down the car of course!  Ah, and here's the orang-utang we saw on the back cover.  Where did he come from? And all the other things that follow, "a small boat to knock down the orang-utang", then a "BIG BOAT"; a rhinoceros, a long distance lorry, "the HOUSE across the road", complete with the neighbour inside! How does he manage to throw them up into the tree? It doesn't seem to matter, Floyd has a kind of superhuman strength which goes so far as to fling a lighthouse and a whale. 

Opening 11
Here they all are on opening 11, the tree solidly supporting the mass of objects, getting ever bigger.  The verso page boldly stating that they all got stuck. The words hang above Floyd, as though he is shouting them out, exasperated.  What will happen next? 
Opening 12
Why a fire engine passes by of course, but they don't end up helping as we would expect, up they go "first the engine, followed by the firemen, one by one."  Whatever next? With each object lodging itself in the tree Flyod worries that someone will notice it is missing, he is certain that "Firemen would definitely be noticed missing ..." and that's when he had an idea, a light blue boy against a turquoise blue background, lightbulb and all - a saw. 
Opening 14
But did he saw down the tree?  No!  He threw the saw up at the tree of course!  An down came his kite, "UNSTUCK".  After all the excitement he'd forgotten all about it.   Off he went and had a great afternoon.
Opening 15
In bed at night (lovely black background), he was sure he had forgotten something, and we can see the loaded tree through his bedroom window.  On the very last recto we can make out all the objects in the tree against a dark blue night sky and a fireman is saying, "HANG ON A MINUTE, LADS. I've got an idea ..." 
How do they get down?  Well that's another story!

As is now invariably the case, there's a Youtube film advertising the book, and with Oliver Jeffers himself reading bits.  He has the best Irish accent ever! 

DId you pick up on the repetition?  "Floyd throws the ... to knock down the ...", and a fun activity would be to get children to create trees, using watercolour and scribbles, much as Jeffers has. Don't stick to just green trees, be bold, go for blue, brown, red ... whatever.  Then ask children to cut out four or five different objects from magazines or pamphlets and to retell the story using different objects. "Floyd throws the cake to knock down the ball.  He throws the table to knock down the cake. He throws the BBQ to knock down the table. He throws the  car to knock down the BBQ."  Silly examples, but no sillier than good old Jeffers' and kids have a great time, the only rule being the objects must increase in size.  These "Stuck trees" also make a fun display. 

Sunday, February 05, 2012

NO! The thoughtful dog

I've not posted on my blog for two weeks, so a big apology to regular readers.  I've just handed in my PhD thesis so it was a very busy two weeks getting everything ready, and my blog got left behind.  But life is normal again and so is my blog. Hooray!
Front cover
This week's post is about a book I was sent by the publisher Child's Play and it has been sitting on my desk waiting patiently to be written about. Created by Marta AltésNO! gives us a dog's view of life. I have four dogs of my own, so you might think I'm biased, but even if you don't like dogs, the idea that Marta Altés has taken and made into a picturebook is brilliant. 
Dog owners will all have experienced chewed newspapers and slippers, dug up gardens, dirty paw prints on clean floors, disappearing food, and too much slobber. Ever wondered what the dog thinks it's doing? Marta Altés has given it a great deal of thought and dedicated the result to her dog Floc.  
NO! has all those bits that make it a good picturebook.  The front and back covers are one whole image, unbroken across the spine.  
Back and front covers

The front cover shows the front of our protangonist, looking very pleased with himself; the back cover is the the back view of our doggy friend, and a broken vase can now be seen.  We don't know it yet, but lots of information is being given us as viewers, and as ever, upon returning to this picturebook children will comment on the signifiance of these two images.  You can't quite see the detailed line drawings that cover the background, they're lovely. 

We open onto the end papers, literally printed on the back of the front (and back) covers.  Multiple images of our dog, doing all sorts or doggy things.
Front end papers
I found myself smiling as I looked across the two pages, very doggy-like poses and positions. My own dogs do all those things, in all those ways. Title page is a goodie too.
Title page
There's our dog about to eat something quite deliciously smelly!  And so our story begins...
Opening 1
This is "No".  A waggy-tailed dog with a very large nose. "No" thinks he's such a good dog.  
Opening 2
"... so good that my family is always calling my name!"  What a cute angel-like dog. No then explains why he's such a good dog.  The words tell us quite plainly of his good intentions, they tell us his point of view. The pictures show us the disastrous results, they show us the owner's point of view. No helps his family get to places faster (I always wondered why my own dogs pulled so hard!). He tastes their food, just to check it's OK ...
Opening 4
He helps his family find treasures in the garden (by digging lots of holes) and rolls in the dirtiest of dirt (and often smelliest) so that he will look his best!
Opening 6
And worse still, he warms their beds while looking his best (and you can imagine what the pictures show us!). Each and everytime, the "NO" gets longer and louder ... "NOOOOOO!" 
He tidies their newspapers ...
Opening 8
... feeds himself (from the kitchen bin) and helps the family with the laundry.  One of my dogs was very good at that.  She chewed one of my favourite summer blouses and I still haven't forgiven her.   The "no" on this spread is eight O's long!
Finally we see No's family, a spread of vignettes showing a very happy dog and two distressed children. 
Opening 11
He is certain they love him "very much", but more important, he knows he loves them. There is one thing that he just doesn't get ...
Opening 13
"Why did they buy me a collar with the wrong name?" and we are shown what his real name is (Spike).  There is one more spread, before the end papers.  
Opening 14
He doesn't really care if his collar says Spike, he's a content little dog, knowing he's a good little dog. 

It's a fun little book, and seeing the world from another's eyes is indeed a lesson, even if they are a dog's eyes.  Marta Altés has very cleverly brought pictures and words together to create this story and children are easily able to appreciate the humour the pictures bring to the words (or is it what the words bring to the pictures?).  The words tell the dog's story and the pictures the owner's story - the irony comes from bringing them together - this is what I call a 1+1=3 picturebook!

On the first sharing of the book learners will be chorusing "Noooo!" in no time (no pun intended) and will want to share their own experiences and pet dog stories. Do lead them to the discovery that there are two different stories told by the words and shown in the pictures. Why not encourage them to write and illustrate some of their own pet stories and put them together in a class book ... can they show and tell two stories too?
Many thanks to Child's Play for sending me NO! by Marta Altés.