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.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What does it mean to be a Huey?

Front cover
The Hueys in The new jumper is Oliver Jeffers' latest picturebook, and by the title it looks like there's going to be a whole series of them - and the back cover confirms it, "An irresistible new series from award-winning picture book creator, Oliver Jeffers." 
The Hueys ... I remember seeing the blob-like creatures on Jeffers' website, on some design work he had up there, but I went back today and they are gone.  They are great little characters, which is amazing when they are just blobby, bouncing-beanie-kind-of-things with stick legs and arms.  Their penis-like noses hang between two dots for eyes and not all of them have mouths. Yet they are as full of expression as anything. Jeffers has pulled a biggie this time. Here's the promo film, which is up on Youtube.
Simple, no minimal, is probably the best word to describe what Jeffers has done in creating the Hueys.  They are simple little creatures, black and white, making a black and white kind of book.  There are none of those lovely watercoloured pages like in Lost and found or the collaged creations found in The INCREDIBLE book eating boy, but the insertion of a powdery blue page or a delicate pastel green remind me of The great paper caper, which  uses these colours, as does Stuck!  But this minimalism works really well.  
Front endpapers
When we open the book (I have the hard back edition, and it's still not available in paperback) we are presented with five Hueys, parading across the front endpapers
Copyright and title pages
The title page omits the orange from the front cover, cleverly emphasizing the dullness that monotony and black and whiteness can bring to life. Even the blobs are bored saying, "bla bla blabity bla" "mm hmm" ... 
I was surprised, when I turned the page, that Jeffers' characteristic hand written font didn't continue into the body of the book ... it does as we'll see later, but as the Huey voices. That's kind of nice.  So this (is it Times Roman?) font represents that voice over we heard on the Youtube video, like the nice man's voice we hear on children's programmes; a matter of fact sort of BBC-kind-of-voice, can you hear it?
Opening 1
My photos aren't good, but you can just make out that the recto page is beige. First one Huey, then two, the beige background accentuating their minimal form and sameness. Then turn the  page again and ...
Opening 2
It's confirmed, "There were many, many of them..." and they are all the same.  They all look the same, think the same (they all think about drinking tea!) and they do the same things (hang up pictures!), that is until our special Huey "- Rupert was his name -" made himself a jumper. 
Opening 5
Here's where the orange returns, bright, in fact quite stark against the muted pastel and white.  A slashing dash of colour and Rupert looks the bee's knees, though "Not everyone agreed with his taste..."  Look at how a simple line across the nose makes a Huey look uncertain, or just moving the willy nose across makes a Huey look secretive. And Rupert is whistling away, very proud of his new jumper. Keep looking at those Hueys faces.  
Opening 6
These Hueys just don't understand Rupert, the thing that united the Hueys was their sameness.   Rupert found his freind Gillespie, who "thought being different was interesting." So he knitted a jumper for himself, just like Rupert's. 
Opening 8
Now Gillespie was different too, and Rupert didn't look quite "so strange anymore".  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and soon lots of Hueys were making jumpers so they could be different too. 
Opening 11
And before you know it, each and every Huey was different. The message being given to everyone makes a mockery of their being different! "Do you like our new jumpers?"  Is this Huey speaking to the rest of the Hueys or is he asking us, the reader? 
Then thank goodness for Rupert, who, true to form, made a mind blowing decision...
Opening 12
He decided to wear a hat! Look at Gillespie's face! "And that changed everything ..." But that's not the end, turn over to see the back endpapers, please!
Back endpapers
Wow the Hueys have gone wild!  Don't they look good?  

So is this picturebook for little kids?  Yes, I htink it would work nicely with early primary, but it would also be a wonderful starting point for discussion with a group of teens or young adults.  If taken at a deeper philosophical level we are looking at how we see identity; just how unique are we and what are the consequences of our actions?  Are we leaders or followers?  Just how important is it to be different and who decides what's different anyway? Oooh!  This simple little book is loaded! 

What's more, these Huey guys are going to be all the rage (mark my words!). You can already make your own Huey here, and there are fun activity sheets here.  Primary children will love these, and so will you, it's such fun!  Here's my Huey ...

From http://www.makeyourownhuey.com/

The Hueys are being marketed, like no other Oliver Jeffers character yet. There'll be Huey t-shirts and Huey mugs.  Watch out! The Hueys are here!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What does Polly Wally like to eat?

Time for tea Polly Wally is a fun picturebook by Kali Stileman.  It's wacky and silly and perfect for 4 and 5 year olds. Stileman uses a sort of collage technique, cut shapes and scribbles to create lots of textures, in particular Polly Wally herself (himself?) who is a very busy blob of paint strokes.  Polly Wally is a bird, can you see the yellow beak and skinny legs?  What do you think she likes for tea? She's peering at a line of busy ants marching across the bottom of the cover...
The half title page shows a row of coloured birds on the grass, the title a contrasting grey above them.
Half title page
There's also a clue here about Polly Wally's tea, can you guess what it is? A nice bright pair of endpapers greet us as we open the book further ...
Stileman is a designer and these look a little like her wrapping paper designs! The copyright and title pages give us a couple more clues about Polly Wally's tea...
Copyright and title page

Opening 1
Sure enough as soon as we turn the page again we see Polly Wally with her knees knocking, she really is hungry.  Super large font to emphasize just how hungry Polly Wally really is.  Those front cover ants have managed to climb the tree and there's that butterfly again, and the seven-eyed spider we've seen a couple of times already (keep up!)
Opening 2
Ohh goodness, that's Jemima Giraffe!  Jemima likes "luscious lip-smacking leaves ... try some."  Umm, what do you think?  Will Polly Wally like the leaves? (NB the stick insect at Polly Wally's feet).
Opening 3
"Yum!" said the giraffe. "Yuck!" said Polly Wally!  Nope that's not what she likes to eat for tea. Look at her eyes!   Our story is set up, children know that whatever comes next will proceed in a similar fashion.  Polly Wally will try to eat the offered food and won't like it! There's lots of repetition... "I'm hungry" ... "I eat ..." "Try some." Yum!" said ... "Yuck!" said Polly Wally!  That's good as children get to grips quickly with those chunks of language and love helping tell the story with you.  The repetitive format of exclaiming hunger, being offered food and not liking it is also supportive and children can confidently guess what will happen next.
So, Polly Wally meets Xanthe Zebra, who likes sweet green grass, Eleanor elephant who eats lots of fabulous fruit, Colin crocodile who just agrees that he's hungry too... oops, fly off Polly Wally! Finally, Mavis monkey who eats nobbly nuts.  
But, it's not as simple as that because on each spread children notice the mini beasts scattered around, a worm in the grass, a stripy caterpillar ...
Opening 7
Can you see him on the verso page?  On other spreads there's a fat beetle climbing a tree and that seven-eyed spider hangs alongside Mavis Monkey.  And Polly Wally is almost always being watched from a not too far distance by a pert little red bird...
Opening 10
Can you see her in the verso page? When we turn to opening 11 we realise it must be Polly Wally's mummy, who's "come home with ..."
Opening 11
Close up of recto page
If we pull the flaps we'll see she's been cleverly collecting all those beasties for Polly Wally's tea.  "A wiggly worm, a tickly stick insect, a big shiny black spider, a speedy spider,a nd a creepy crawling caterpillar."  
Opening 12
It's our turn to go "Yuck!" now!  YUCK! How could you Polly Wally? It's good hearing/seeing the children making the connection between all the different insects when they see them under the leaves, and of course upon returning to the picturebook they are careful to look for the different creepy crawly beasties, knowing they will turn up on the penultimate spread.  And of course we can have a nice discussion about what we like eating for tea.  
An extra is that this particular edition, a paperback one, has lovely thick pages, so it's nice and robust and will take quite a lot of battering in the library!  
I'd like to thank Random House for sending me a copy of Time for Tea Polly Wally - greatly appreciated and well used already!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Monkey and me ... Monkey and me ...

Monkey and Me is another picturebook by Emily Gravett, but unlike Little Mouse's big book of fears, it's a picturebook for the younger end of pre-primary. It's perfect in every way and so typical of Gravett's skillful, sketchy style, and use of all those peritextual features to a maximum. 
Back and front covers
Front and back covers are connected through Monkey's tail: a jubilant little chap, welcoming us into the book. He is being held up as though in reverence by the little girl. The small cameo illustration of Monkey being dragged away on the back cover reinforces the toy's happiness at being part of her game. 
Front endpapers
I have the hardback version of this lovely picturebook and the endpapers are not only there to keep the book together, but begin our visual narrative: the small girl is getting dressed and struggling with her tights as monkey looks on.  This is our protagonist getting ready for what is to come as we turn the pages. The black-and-whiteness of the sketches also serve as a sort of preamble, as though Gravett is warming up. 
Copyright and title page
The title page shows us our little girl, now dressed, her tights bright red, and we can see from her sketch that she has a stripy t-shirt too. She's glancing across to Monkey who is similarly clutching the dedication and copyright information. 
This picturebook is repetitive in structure, the repetition comes in pairs: a spread with the chanting refrain, "Monkey and me, Monkey and me, Monkey and me, We went to see, We went to see some ... " and illustrations supporting this refrain, the girl pulling her monkey in all directions.  What did they go to see?  Can you guess by looking at the way she stands and walks?
Opening 1
Opening 2
The next spread shows what they see ... Why penguins of course! And here they are larger than life, waddling along, coaching babies and carrying fish. The word "PENGUINS" in big capital letters is as much part of the illustration as the actual birds.  And so this little book continues, our next spread sees the chanting refrain, and the little girl leaping with Monkey stuffed up her t-shirt, the animals she sees are Kangaroos. The font for "KANGAROOS" is also leaping across the spread. I use this picturebook very successfully with 3- and 4-year olds, and they don't take long to realise that on the first spread of each pair the little girl's movements are a clue to which animal comes next. Some children also begin to make connections with the letters, recognising the 'P' for penguin, the 'K' in kangaroo, or other letters they might know from their own names. 
Opening 5
Opening 6
This pair of spreads is a fun one, and the children love seeing the bats hanging from the very letters that spell their names. Some children say they are afraid of bats, but these chaps look quite harmless and together we can all agree that they aren't very frightening after all. 
The little girl takes Monkey to see elephants and then on the penultimate pair of spreads Monkey is smiling broadly, has anybody noticed he's not been smiling much till now? I wonder why?  Can you guess what they are going to see?
Opening 9
Why "MONKEYS" of course! The font fills the spread and the monkeys are in and out of it. 
Opening 10
This spread is a sort of crescendo, for when we turn the page, we see a sleepy little girl, hugging Monkey as she walks slowly across the recto page.  The words tell us, "Monkey ... and ... me, Monkey ... and ... me, Monkey ... and ... me, We went ..." (You can read it slowly, sleepily.) 
Opening 12
"... home for tea:" A tired little girl hugging her toy monkey, she's had chips for tea, with ketchup. An untouched banana lies temping a real monkey who peers over the table top. Her picture lies on the table showing what she's seen with Monkey on her tiring day. So far I've not had one child question the presence of the trespassing monkey, peeking into the child's world... did she really see all those animals? 
And as we close the book, we turn to the back endpapers. 
Back endpapers
Those delightful sketches in black and white again, but this time of the animals marching off out of the book.  Children love labelling them, remembering the animals they saw and pointing to the sleeping bats, hanging from the baby elephant's trunk. Great ending, great picturebook. Don't forget to re-read this little gem, children love remembering all the animals and the feeling the pleasure of getting it right. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The book of phobias

Front cover
Little Mouse's Big book of fears is actually by Emily Gravett, even though Little Mouse really has contributed to its brilliance - he's a sort of Emily Gravett avatar!  It's gobsmackingly wonderful and until recently I wasn't quite sure how it could fit into the world of ELT.  How short-sighted of me.  
I remember when I read an interview in the Guardian, cut out and sent to me by my father who knew I'd have missed it otherwise.  There the journalist takes great pleasure in highlighting how Gravett used her daughter's mice to create many of the nibbled and stained pages of this picturebook.  We are looking at real mouse pee, real mouse nibbles as well as a load of very clever collage and skillful sketching in all sorts of mediums, all captured by today's advanced printing technologies!  It's not surprising it won the Nestlé Children's Book Prize when it first came out in 2007. 
The front cover has a whopping great nibbled hole in it, Little Mouse at his best.  Emily Gravett's name has been roughly crossed out and replaced with "Little Mouse's", whose fright-filled face can be seen through the nibbled hole.  The ledger-like note book has a second hand, stained, battered and well used look and feel to it, the inside spreads are that dark yellowy brown that comes to books that have been on shelves for a while.
Front endpapers
The endpapers are covered in hieroglific-like characters, we aren't really sure what they are at this point, but upon returning to them it's clear they are the visual representations of many of the phobias mentioned in the book. But the front endpapers contain other important information too: we are introduced to our front cover graffiti artist, lugging the pencil that did the dead.  He's looking up at a clipped cutting (or nibbling): the challenge that leads this story. In short this is a self-help book, where the reader is asked to fill every "large, blank, space" with a combination of drawing, writing and collage. "Remember a fear faced is a fear defeated."
Close-up of front endpaper
The title page continues with the same graffiti and nibbling stunt and we are into the ledger. From the title page we see Little Mouse's face and he's clutching the pencil, when we turn the page we realise he's been wrapped in a spider's web.  
Opening 1
But as our eyes scan the illustration, we see the die hole nibble in verso opens up onto a spider which was on the copyright page, and the handwritten "I'm scared of creepy crawlies (especially spiders!)". That's when we notice the top of each page of the spread, verso indicates "Arachnophobia (Fear of spiders)" and recto "Entomophobia (Fear of insects)", each with the request to, "Use the space below to record your fears." We take all this in and begin piecing together the information we are shown and told, but we are only beginning, for each spread challenges us in different ways to find the pieces. Nevertheless, it begins the visual verbal structure we encounter throughout the picturebook. 
As we turn the pages, Little Mouse faces each fear, he doesn't look very confident and the pencil he drags along with him gets sharpened one end and nibbled the other, shavings and nibbles are scattered everywhere, as it gets shorter! Little Mouse faces "Teratophia (Fear of monsters)" and "Clinophobia (Fear of going to bed)", connected across the spread by a large bed with many pairs of eyes peering from the under-the-bed- darkness.
Opening 3
On opening 3 Little Mouse faces his fear of knives, "Aichmophobia", holding his tail tightly between his legs he peers up at a sweet get well card (showing a chubby mouse with his tail bandaged up), a poster for The Amazing Flying Mousecrobats, three blind circus mice who use "their tails and sense of smell to guide them", and a photo of three white mice in dark glasses, with their tails cut. This collection of memorabilia is aced by the life-like "The Farmer's Friend" newspaper cutting on the recto ...
Close up of opening 3
Dozens of plays on words: the children's nursery rhyme, Three Blind Mice,  is retold in an article about Mrs Sabatier from Deep Cut Farm, who managed to rid herself of "a trio of cheese-mad rodents". There's a photo of her triumphantly holding the three tails above an advert for The Amazing Flying Mousecrobats Circus cancelled "due to unforeseen circumstances". The fold over flap is an advert for "Three fab knives".  
If left open the flap (an array of adverts about bathrooms and plumbing) contributes to the visual verbal play on the next spread, where Little Mouse faces "Ablutophobia (Fear of bathing)" and "Hydrophobia (Fear of water)". Then onto "Dystychiphobia (Fear of accidents)" and "Rupophobia (Fear of dirt)".  The toilet theme continues though this time in relation to having accidents! Appropriately stuck onto the page with plasters, the toilet advert has tiny sketches of how a tiny mouse can actually reach the loo seat ... too late though, Little Mouse has already had an accident, and embarrassed he is about it too!
Opening 6
There are more intertextual references as poor Little Mouse faces his next fears: Ligyrophobia (Fear of loud noises) and Chronomrntrophobia (Fear of clocks).  Brilliantly shown with a reference to the traditional nursery rhyme Hickory, Dickory, Dock, poor mouse is ricocheted across the shuddering face of a paper clock, with the tall grandfather at 1 o'clock and the sheet music (rewritten by Emily Gravett) nibbled, torn and covered in mouse prints,  in the background.  That pencil is getting a good deal shorter!
"Isolophobia (Fear of solitude)" shows Little Mouse quite alone on the verso looking fearfully at the black recto page.  But, Gravett's tour de force is the following spread, Opening 8:
Opening 8
Here we are presented with "WhereamIophobia (Fear of getting lost)" ... no it's not a real phobia, but made up by Emily Gravett! and "Acrophobia (Fear of heights)".  The spread doesn't look that amazing really, but the map of "Isle of Fright" is an incredible piece of illustration, unfolding to show us the island in detail.  You can what shape the island is  from the cover and some of the places of interest include an owlery, a cat on a fence, Deep Cut Farm, and giant spiders' webs.  These are references to phobias encountered in the picturebook.
Close up of opening 8 with opened map
Once opened up, the map is pure delight and covered in hilarious places and references to Little Mouse's fears.  The village at the south end of the island is called "Loose Bottom", there's a straight of water called "Farmer's Cut" which separates the mainland from "Tail End", at "Sharp Point".  The island to the south is calls "Oops"!  These are just a few of the fun names and descriptions to be found, often referring back to previous spreads and fears. The key, shows us that the colours represent a continuum from green (edgy) to red (petrified!); the scale is shown in "500 mouse bpm to 70 human bpm" - brilliant!  And that's not all, the back of the map, which may go unnoticed,  has little notes and sketches giving us directions to Wide Eye Lake (I think!).  
You'd think that was it, but no!  There are still more fears. "Ornithophobia (Fear of birds)" and "Phagophoboa (Fear of being eaten)", where Little mouse is chased by real feathers (with eyes and teeth) and a very scary looking owl. Then onto "Cynophobia (Fear of dogs)" and "Ailurophobia (Fear of cats)".  Here Little Mouse has sketched and collaged a dog, next to the words "I get nervous near dogs", but if we focus we see that the dog is made up of all sorts of photos and cuttings of cats, and a fold back postcard of a dog tells us that in fact Little Mouse is ... 
Close up of opening 10 with flap
"... PETRIFIED of CATS!" Poor Little Mouse is really in a bad way.  The penultimate spread shows him cowering , afraid of his own shadow, "Panophobia (Fear of everything)" and "Sciaphobia (fear of shadows)" And the words tell us, "I'm afraid of nearly everything I see. But even though I'm very small ..."
Opening 12
Ahhh, after all that facing of fears it is good to know that there are those out there that suffer from "Musophobia (Fear of mice)"! Look at Little Mouse's posture, and smiley face, he's got through the book and is feeling tall.  He hugs his pencil stub, which has faithfully served him as he did just as Emily Gravett suggested on the front endpapers. 
And the back endpapers? True to form, Gravett has used them to give us the ending:
Back endpapers
A contented Little Mouse, hugging his pencil, covered in bits of paper with references to the fears he has overcome, birds' feathers, receipts, bits from the collection of collages he used and drawings of Little Mouse being brave (frightening a spider; pointing a sword at a cat etc). And there's a dedication, two in fact: the picturebook is dedicated to anyone who is has musophobia but that's crossed out and replaced by a dedication to "The fabulous rats Button and Mr Moo who taught me everything I know about nibbling." 
Back cover
The back cover shows Little Mouse, now free of his pencil, grasping at the book shop receipt, which tells us the condition the book is in: Used: "Poor, scribbled in, rodent damage". Look closely and you will see what time the book was bought, "Stroke of one" and it was paid for by "MOUSTRO UK". 

Woah!  What a brilliant picturebook!  

Lots of possibilities for slightly older children who will enjoy the madness of the layout and find the phobias fascinating.  They could make their own collage of something they are afraid of by following the instructions in an activity sheet, or an arachnophobia door hanger.  

Older students might enjoy discussing some of the phobias, making up a phobia like the Whereamiophobia and describing the symptoms. Write a short dialogue between Little Mouse and a journalist about one of the phobias, using the illustrations as a prompt. Enjoy the detailed illustrations, in particular the map of the Isle of Fright.  Could the students create a map of an Island based on the one in the picturebook and have fun giving directions. 

Look at some of the phobias carefully. How much Greek or Latin do we know?
Ablutophobia – Latin ablutere = to wash off
AilurophobiaGreek αἴλουρος (aílouros) = cat
Chronophobia – Greek xρόνος (choronos) = time
Hydrophobia – Greek ὕδωρ (hudōr) = water
Musophobia – Latin mus = mouse

Finally for much older students include this picturebook when discussing phobias and fears and use a series of question prompts from ESL Discussions

How TERRIBLY short-sighted it was of me to not think this picturebook could be used in an ELT classroom.