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 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. 

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