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 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. 


Medea said...

What a great review.

Recently I have found some great books with great illustrations/texture on the inside covers. This is so exciting, no wasted space! It lends so much to the atmosphere of a book, I think.

Love the video too, thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for exposing me to this book through this marvellous blog. I picked it up, along with several other recently reviewed books (Bugs in a Blanket, Stargazers Skyscrapers and Extraordinary Sausages, and The Cloud) and have absolutely loved it. It works so well for kids - The ludicrous end being the logical conclusion of a very rational early progression. My students (R-2) have loved it. We'll be using it to do some cool stuff next term. This term we are doing a marvellous class story with our own different bugs. Bugs in a blanket has become another class favourite!

I really like your blog and closely follow it to find new books to bring to the classroom. Thanks and well done!