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, March 18, 2012

Jane the girl who followed her dreams

Front cover
Me ... Jane is a picturebook about the world famous Jane Goodall.  The author and illustrator, Patrick McDonnell, is the cartoonist who creates the MUTTS strips, and an animal lover inspired by Jane Goodall and her work. Selected as one of the three Caldecott Honour books in 2012 the blurb goes: "Watching the birds and squirrels in her yard, a young girl discovers the joy and wonder of nature. In delicate and precise India ink and watercolor, McDonnell depicts the awakening of a scientific spirit. A perceptive glimpse of the childhood of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall"
I was so pleased when the book arrived in the post, I wasn't sure if it would be suitable but I liked the idea of writing about a book which encourages children to follow their dreams, and Me ... Jane really is just perfect. 
Back cover
It's slightly longer than the average picturebook, 48 pages in all.  But ever page is worth its inclusion.  The book itself looks rather like one of those travel logs.  The front cover has a photo-like image of a blond haired girl holding a chimp (is it real?) stuck onto a background of delicately watercoloured animals in the jungle. If you turn over and look at the back cover this same girl is running, pulling her now obviously toy chimpanzee behind her, and simultaneously we see the real Jane and a real chimp, the dream come true.   
Front endpapers
The endpapers carry the mocca brown colour from the covers, a repeated doodle-like pattern with occasional paint smudges. Could they represent an African pattern?
Title page
The title page brings us back to the real Jane, hugging her toy gorilla, Jubilee.  There are a collection of different images on this page, giving us a taste of what we are likely  to find inside.  Talking about his choices of media and image, Patrick McDonnell says: "One of the things that makes Jane Goodall so special is that she has the mind of a scientist coupled with the heart of a poet. Her way of seeing the world unlocked groundbreaking work with chimpanzees. I wanted Me...Jane to represent these two characteristics. My more impressionistic watercolors evoke her poetic/humanistic soul, and the intricate 19th- and 20th-century engravings of fauna and flora represent her analytical thinking." We see both the watercolours and the engravings here.  
Opening 1
Opening 1 begins the rhythmic visual verbal pattern: recto watercolour and verso engraving and verbal text.  The engravings are sometimes so fine and light we need to peer closely to see them. For a classful of children this would mean leaving the picturebook in the classroom for them to browse through at their leisure, the illustrations certainly deserve of close scrutiny. The adult's arms presenting Jane with a gorilla are significant, McDonnell says: "It was Jane's father who gave her Jubilee in real life; in my book his hands also represent the hands of fate—which set Jane out on the journey of her life." Jane is seen alone in her world with Jubilee for the rest of the book.  Jubilee accompanies her on all the pages, for in real life he was her constant companion. We are shown Jane watching birds making nests, and squirrels climbing trees.  Jane loved the outdoors and when she wasn't outside she was reading about the outside.
Opening 5
Opening 5 is quite different, a page from Jane's own "The Aligator Society" magazine, with notes and sketches she made as a child. This is a lovely spread, and children will enjoy seeing what such a famous person did at their age. 
Opening 8
A cute story from Jane's childhood relates her hiding in Grandma Nutt's chicken coop to discover where eggs come from.  There are three double spreads in sequence which show Jane and Jubilee hiding and watching as a chicken lays an egg.  Each nicely demonstrates McDonnell's choice of watercolour and engraving coming together showing her humanistic soul facing her analytical thinking.: The first opening shows delicate engravings of chickens in the verso, the second a stopwatch with three bunches of wheat tied neatly, the third, seen in opening 8 above, neat rows of eggs.  Each recto the watercolour depiction of a small child entering a hen coop. 
Opening 9
The sequence of verso recto is suddenly broken again in the next opening, a double spread in watercolour with Jane embracing the world and its miracles.  Little chicks pecking on the grass around her, chicks hatched from the very eggs she watched being laid. 
Until now her life has been very much centered upon her own nearby world, but gradually we see her reading about far away places (sitting in her favourite tree called Beech), reading and rereading Tarzan and the apes. The engravings show wild animals...
Opening 12
But upon turning the page, we are told she dreamed of a life in Africa, and the these animals appear large as life in the watercolour recto, to be followed by a double spread all in watercolour of Jane swinging, Tarzan-like through the jungle. 
Opening 14
The following three spreads show Jane going to bed, tucking in Jubilee and falling asleep next to him.  She wakes not in her childhood bedroom but in a tent ...
Opening 17
for her dream has come true ...
Opening 18
The real life photo of Jane and a chimp emphasize the reality of everything.  The last opening a single verso is a sketch Jane made when she was first in the jungle, with notes on the art work that has appeared in the book. There's also an afterword by Jane Goodall, which inspires us all to follow our dreams...
"There are many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow ... They inspire me.  they inspire those around them."

The illustrations appear very faint in my photos, they are gentle illustrations and we do have to look closely to see everything, but it such a lovely picturebook and well worth sharing the message it brings with it.  A small group of children sitting close to the teacher could easily see the illustrations and be helped to talk about some of the things they depict.  Follow up activities could include discovering a little more about Jane Goodall, and the work she does. The Jane Goodall Institute celebrated its 35th anniversary this year.  There is loads to discover on the website by clicking on the links. Then children could investigate chimps and their habitats and possibly even look at engravings and see how they are made.  But  sharing this book and talking about its message is just as good.

The quotes from Patrick McDonnell come from an interview he gave, which can be found here.

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