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.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A certain kind of rabbityness

Front cover
With a cover like this, a picturebook can't fail ...  it's Jo Empson's debut. She's fresh out of the Cambridge University MA for children's literature, and one of a number of exciting new talents. A great friend and storyteller,  Alec Williams, brought the book to my attention.  Not quite sure what adjective to use to describe it as it moves from life to death and back to life again.  
The front cover shows Rabbit, our character, very happy and surrounded by paint splodges giving the reader a clue to the special talents our rabbit hero brings to the rabbit community.  
The endpapers are delightful, Rabbit in various positions, black shadows against an olive green, showing us all the different activities rabbit enjoys doing... 
Front endpapers
The title page opposite the copyright page with a dedication to "... my big brother who liked doing unrabbity things too",  shows three rabbits ...
Close up of title page
They are looking in wonder at the title, if we return to this page after we might understand a little better why they are wondering at the word "Rabbityness". 
The picturebook continues with openings showing Rabbit doing rabbity things, all shown in Empson's singular watercolour of black and green. The illustrations are placed against a white background, using the grass to anchor the black rabbit figures to a non-existent ground. This reduced, minimal setting, helps us focus upon the character showing us Rabbit's rabbityness. Here he is hopping and jumping ...
Opening 1
On subsequent spreads he is twirling his whiskers, washing his ears, burrowing and sleeping.   The verbal text follows rabbit, undulating behind him, over him, through him and under him: it's quite lovely. 
Opening 3
Notice here on spread 3 how the font actually slopes downwards in the verso, as "Rabbit likes burrowing".  As Rabbit slows down and we are shown him sleeping the verbal text tells us, "Rabbit also liked doing unrabbity things."  Upon the page turn we are shown what he likes doing...
Opening 4
Wow!  We are shown a page covered in splashes of colour and almost miss the verbal text, which could be redundant anyway, "He liked painting..."  Rabbit is holding a paint brush skillfully between his ears and front paws, leaving splodges and splashes in his wake ... lovely!  But this colourful life Rabbit leads doesn't stop here...
Opening 5
Musical notes hang in the air like bunting as Rabbit blows skillfully into a didgeridoo. All this makes Rabbit very happy, and we are shown a closeup of his smiling face, just like the one on the front cover. His happiness was catchy and he made all the other rabbits happy too as he "filled the woods with colour and music".  We are seeing spreads full of colour, delicate, but happy colour, then we turn the page and ...
Opening 7
We are told Rabbit disappeared and shown a bare spread, with grey leaves falling, a stark contrast to the earlier colourful spreads. 
Opening 8
The woods are grey and the other rabbits are sad - the spread oozes sadness. But then the rabbits discover "a DEEP dark hole", left by Rabbit. 
Opening 10
Down in the hole, (the words follow the hole downwards) the other rabbits discover that "Rabbit had left them some gifts" ... "things to make colours and music". We can see drums, didgeridoos, paint brushes, and bright bunting, and though it took time these "rabbits discovered they enjoyed doing unrabbity things too". This reminded them of Rabbit and made them happy ... 
Opening 13
... and they filled the woods with colour and music again. Rabbit has left these rabbits with a gift to discover their own creativeness. Just look at them all enjoying themselves. 
The final spread shows us Rabbit ... his back turned as though he's hopping away.  He can leave now he knows his friends have successfully discovered their different talents. 
Opening 14
Rabbityness looks at individuality and creativity and, as it does so, the reader is shown how they can deal with the loss of something precious.  It's a special picturebook, simple and beautiful and very suitable for younger learners. 

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