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, October 09, 2012

The colour of music

Front cover
I was in Hatchards in Piccadilly in August and loved being able to touch and feel all the books on their shelves (well not all, but almost!)  I happened upon Here comes Frankie, which, if you followed the amazon link, you would see is not as easy to get hold of as all that ... but I'm going to talk about it anyway.  
Why did I select it from the hundreds of other picturebooks on the shelves? First it's by Tim Hopgood, who I like a lot as a picturebook creator; and second it's about a little boy who sees colours and shapes as well as smells stuff when he hears things - he has something called Synaesthesia - when more than one sense combine. 
On Tim Hopgood's website he has a nice article about his work, describing how he uses the computer to get the wonderful textures into his illustrations.  He also loves music and this is what motivated him to create this picturebook.  
Back cover
As with all good picturebooks the front and back covers make one whole picture...  Here's the back cover to match the front one ...  Frankie's mum and dad dancing away to his trumpeting.  A joyful cat and dog scamper around Frankie's legs as he blows amazing colours from his golden trumpet on the front cover. We know he's playing music for we can see the notes, but why do we see all the psychedelic fruity colours?  
Endpapers ... lovely specimens!  Front are different to the back ones too!  The front set... 
Front endpapers
They are called the" QUIET colours used in this book", such as "Pin drop pink" or "Sssh! Green!" One more peritextual spread, to give us some more hints about what is to follow...
Copyright and title pages
Frankie is standing in the lime light, fruit, birds, butterflies and coloured swishes sprout from his trumpet.  Look at the title, now in grey.  Quite a contrast to the brightly coloured font on the front cover.  The copyright info is styled interestingly too, as though being blurted from  a trumpet, radiating from the bottom corner of the page. The two facing pages are almost symmetrical, as if sections of  a colour wheel. Bluey sections to one side and yellowy sections to the other. 
Opening 1
Opening 1 is made of all those quiet colours we saw on the front endpapers, "mumble beige", "silent night" ...  they set the scene for a very quiet life on Ellington Avenue. "It wasn't the kind of street where children played happily outside, or where the neighbours stood and chatted.  Ellington Avenue was always very quiet. Even the birds had lost their chirp." Frankie, and his dog are peering through the window and his cat stands gormless at the door.   It's even raining. 
In Opening 2 we are shown a number of quiet coloured photographs of Frankie and his family, his quiet family including the pets which neither miaowed or barked.  His mum and dad were librarians.  And of course, "They all lived together in perfect peace and quiet."
Opening 3
Lovely spread this one, and you'll see one similar later. Frankie's house, first floor and ground floor. His parents happily reading, doing crosswords, dog and cat snoozing, surrounded by quiet colours ... "But Frankie was beginning to find life at home just  a little TOO quiet. Even the big clock had lost its tick.tock."  
Frankie announced, very loudly (while standing on a chair) that he wanted to play the trumpet.  His parents suggest a book about trumpets or learning chess, but a few days later he comes home with a "shiny trumpet". After a bit, which takes place on a yellow background which doesn't appear in the quiet colours of the front endpapers, Frankie is able to make some noises ...
Opening 6
Against quiet colours, we are shown Frankie first trumpet sounds, which didn't sound very good, and smelt like pickled onions and next door's drains! Look at the way Hopgood has illustrated the sounds, swirly whirly shapes with recognizable onions floating around. When Frankie played the trumpet he could not only hear the sounds, but he could see and smell them too! 
Opening 8
As Frankie practiced and got better, so the colours and smells got better too! The shimmery, shiny spread shows "bursts of weird and wonderful smells." 
Opening 9
 Here's the house again, but this time the colourful, beautiful smelling music is winding its way through the rooms, "Amazing!" says Dad; "Delicious!" says Mum, and the cat and dog are quite transformed. 
Opening 10
Dancing across coloured, geometrical shapes the dog barks, the cat miaows and the clock begins to tick... as Frankie opens the front door, his parents begin dancing.  We turn the page and Frankie is in the street, quiet Ellington Avenue, neighbours are peering through their windows and opening their doors as the music makes everything brighter.  
Opening 12
A transformed street as everyone taps, claps and dances to "the sound of sunshine, along noisy Ellington Avenue." What a great ending and much fun to be had comparing the two street scenes in opening 1 and opening 12.  Ahh, but stop, it's not over yet!  
Back endpapers
The back endpapers show us the "LOUD colours used in this book", and all with great jazz related names like "Gillepsie's Green", "Summertime Yellow", "Coltrane Blue".  Tim Hopgood writes that "Not everyone's going to get it, but maybe it will springboard to something else; maybe they'll go and find out about something."  That's what's so good about endpapers, they sometimes add to the puzzle, sometimes not.  Maybe upon re-visiting a picturebook they'll be discovered! 

There's also a bit of blurb about Synaesthesia, explaining what it is and sharing the names of some famous musicians and painters who had the condition, Jean Sibelius, Miles Davis and Wassily Kandinsky. Here's a list of other artists and musicians who are said to mix senses (including David Hockney, Leonard Bernstein, Marilyn Monroe and Stevie Wonder). 

It's a great picturebook, the careful progression from quiet to loud colours, the use of geometric background shapes to create a number of sequences across a spread, and the structure of the narrative itself (setting, problem, and subsequent resolution) make this an exciting picturebook to share with older primary children.  Lots of discussions can be had around individual significances of colour, shape and sound; as well as recognition that there is a condition which means people mix senses ... and is there a message there?  Being allowed to express oneself as you wish can have some amazing consequences!  

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