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, July 08, 2012

Winnie the witch at 25...

Original front cover 1987
New front cover 2006
Did you know that Winnie will be 25 on the 13th July?  Doesn't she look great?!  Illustrated by Korky Paul and written by Valerie Thomas, Winnie the Witch was first published in 1987,  she has featured in more than a dozen picturebooks and is also in a series of young fiction titles written by Laura Owen. The cover seen on the left is the original one from 1987, the one on the left is from 2006. 
Korky Paul creates his characters and settings by taking "the obvious and imbuing it with that exaggerated and distorted Korky Paul look." He describes how he came upon Winnie's lovely black house, "In 'Winnie the Witch', Valerie Thomas used only one adjective to describe our heroine's home - 'black'. My initial sketches showed a picturesque cottage complete with thatched roof and exposed timber beams. The results were dull boring and obvious. 'What's the opposite of a cottage?' I asked myself Answer: 'Stately Home'. Once I had hit upon this idea the book opened up for me. All the rooms and paraphernalia of a stately home would serve as a wonderful and dramatic back drop for Winnie's antics with her cat, Wilbur. The real challenge lay in illustrating it all in black! " 
Let's have a look at the black that links this witchy narrative... Both covers show Winnie falling over her black cat.  Korky Paul says he designs his front covers last, and that it is based on "one, or a combination of illustrations from the book." He looks for "a scene that is a synopsis, a visual shorthand of the story without revealing any twists or surprise endings. It must also clearly show the main protaganist." Indeed this front cover does just that, for those of you who know the story, you can nod knowing - this is the problem which sets our story
The end papers ... 
Front endpapers
Korky Paul writes: "The endpapers I use as an opportunity to design a bold graphic statement to express the essence of the book. It's an enjoyable exercise and can prove quite difficult to find a neat, simple solution. The splashes of colour I used in 'Winnie' is a good example of a bold graphic design giving a flavour of the story." Upon returning to these endpapers we recognize them as the slashes of colour which emanate from Winnie's wand. 
Title page
The title page (it's also the image on the back cover) shows Winnie about to step on her cat, again a clue about the problem she has to overcome in the following pages.
The first opening shows us that wonderfully elaborate black house and the matter of fact description which begins,"... The house was black on the outside and black on the inside ..."
Opening 1
We don't actually get introduced to Wilbur, the black cat, till opening 2.  A cosy scene shows Winnie and Wilbur together in apparent domestic bliss...
Opening 2
Everything is black, well shades of black, except Winnie and some dubious green stuff near Winnie's chair.  And because Wilbur was black too "... that was how the trouble started."
Winnie could see Wilbur if he had his eyes open, for they were green, but as soon as he fell asleep, something cats do lots of, she couldn't see him, so... she sat on him, tripped over him on the carpet or on the stairs. The verbal text is wonderfully repetitive and a joy to read.  The illustrations are comic-book-like, appearing in multiple frames, often showing the before and after ... 
Opening 5
Opening 5 is one of a series of examples.  We see the fall, described as "nasty" by the words and shown as verrrry nasty in the illustrations. So, Winnie does her magic, "ABRACADABRA"  and Wilbur is bright green! 
Opening 6
Clever Winnie!  She can see Wilbur when he "... slept on the chair (...)  slept on the floor [and] ... when he slept on the bed." And of course he's not allowed to sleep on the bed! So she sends him outside, onto the lawn ... you can guess what happens of course..."Winnie came hurrying outside, tripped over Wilbur, turned three somersaults, and fell into a rose bush." And Winnie got mad!
Opening 8
Worse than mad... furious! This spread is a great example of the perfect page-turner... we see a furious Winnie, wand splurging colour and the words tell us... "She picked up her magic wand, waved it five times and ..." We know what's going to happen, but we have to turn the page to see. 
Opening 9
Wilbur is described in the words, but we are shown how he feels - he is a sad looking cat; we are told that Winnie is happy as she can see him wherever he goes, "... even when he climbed to the top of the tallest tree." And though Wilbur's bright colours focus our gaze upon the top of the tree, if we look down we can see Winnie is looking up at him... Is she worried? 
Korky Paul uses his cartoon frames on the next spread ... 
Opening 10
A desperate Wilbur and over time, a desperate Winnie.  So Winnie sensibly change Wilbur back to his lovely black and together, they face the problematic black house and Winnie does her magic...
Opening 12
And that black house we know so well is a lovely yellow one, with a red roof and red doors... and if you compare the black house with the yellow one you will see the bedroom and the bathroom have swapped places! But the important thing is that Winnie can see Wilbur everywhere now.

Korky Paul writes: "In a picture book it is essential these two elements [picture and word] are tightly integrated to tell the story successfully. I frequently use a comic-book layout, which in turn is rooted in cinema. Close-up shots, long-shots, events happening off camera are all cinematic devices used to tell a story effectively and dramatically." Upon returning to this picturebook, one I've taken for granted for so long, I've rediscovered its magic and the reason why Winnie has remained such a successful character, a 25-year old star skillfully created by Korky Paul.  

If you don't know the ELT teachers' notes for Winnie written by Jane Cadwallader, do look out for them: lots of fun activities focussing almost entirely on the concepts to be found in this picturebook: colours, bodyparts and furniture. But you don't need these activities, you can just share the picturebook with your students and enjoy the way the pictures and words come together so brilliantly to make a truely funny picturebook.  Magical in fact!

If you want to celebrate Winnie's birthday - 25 years is a biggie ... check out her website, and download some fun birthday activities.There's loads to do!

The srticle by Korky Paul I  have quoted from can be found here.

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