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.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Twenty-four robbers

November is picturebook month, check out the different activities on the official website and celebrate picturebooks!

Front cover
Twenty-four robbers is a traditional skipping rhyme, which I used to skip to when I was at primary school...
Not last night, but the night before,
Twenty-four robbers  came knocking at my door.
Went downstairs to let them in
And this is what I saw:
Spanish Lady, Spanish Lady, doing high kicks
Spanish Lady, Spanish Lady, taking a bow
Spanish Lady, Spanish Lady, that's all for now

You can hear the skipping rope swish and the jumping feet, can't you?
Audrey Wood  created a picturebook with the same name over 30 years ago, and Child's Play have recently re-edited a whole load of her picturebooks, Twenty-four Robbers is among the collection.  It's a hilarious picturebook, full of robbers, who on most spreads are grinning stupidly and showing rows of white teeth!  In fact on almost every spread you can count twenty-four robbers, it must have been a nightmare to illustrate!
Back and front covers
Here they are, the twenty-four robbers... what a jolly lot!  Go on count them!  There ARE twenty-four! I have the paperback version, so there are no endpapers.  The book opens immediately onto the title page ...
Title page
A robber is sneaking into the book ... let's follow him.
Opening 1
Just as the skipping rhyme begins, so does this picturebook and we almost chant the words,  told by the maiden in the first person, "Not last night, but the night before, twenty-four robbers came knocking on my door."  We are visually bombarded, as is the young maiden, by the robbers outside a house by the woods.  Robbers everywhere, ready to climb up a ladder, hanging from trees, sitting on the wild boar and the cannon they are pulling, peeking into windows... it could be quite frightening except for the fact that the maiden holds a lantern and its yellow light fills the centre of the verso.  Some of the robbers hold yellow lights too. Yellow is a positive, happy colour and so we look at this illustration and smile, these robbers won't do anything terrible to our worried maiden. 
Opening 2
Even when we turn the page and see her innocent face looking sideways at the robber swinging in from the right; even as we run our eyes across the spread and see pointed swords and daggers, a robber with a ball and chain (has he just escaped from prison?), even then we still know that from the yellow interior of her home that all will be well.  What do they want?
Opening 3
"H-O-T ... Hot Peppers!!!" they chorus together ... they are mad!  Their red mouths open, framed by their white teeth... HOT!
Opening 4
And so they are given peppers and off they go.  In this spread we are given a clue for why they want the peppers ... a strange mobile kitchen with hanging pot. The maiden is standing in the background, shocked, can you see her? The verbal text rhymes, "I gave them peppers, and then they rode away. But twenty-four robbers came back the next day."
This visual-verbal rhythm, for this is exactly what it is, repeats itself three more times. The robbers return again,  asking for hot peppers, but the maiden had no more so she gives them corn... "and twenty-four robbers said, 'See you in the morn!'"  The three spreads show the robbers surrounding the maiden, calling out for hot peppers and then leaving triumphantly carrying a cob of corn.  And of course they return the next "morn", asking for more corn...
Opening 9
You can hear them calling for corn in this illustration!
The maiden explains, "I didn't have corn, but I had a little flour. They put it in their sack and said, 'See you in an hour!'" And off they go, grinning from ear to ear!
Sure enough, "Not this hour, but the hour before ..."  the robbers appear again. 
Opening 12
Their mobile kitchen is decked with flowers and so are these rascal robbers!  Some of their spears have been made into flag poles and even the wild boars look happy!  "I opened my door. I saw they had a pot. And twenty-four robbers said, 'We like you a lot!'" Ahhh, that's nice!  Dancing under the garlands of flowers they take the maiden's hand, thanking her for the peppers, the corn and the flour.
Opening 14
The maiden continues to tell her story... "Now here is what they did, and this is all true. They gave me a pot of hot pepper stew."  These robbers no longer look mean and bad, but are calmly waiting in line for their bit of stew, looking almost lovingly at the maiden.  Their cook, the bearded robber,  is pointing at her ... it's for you, you gave us all the ingredients.  But this calm spread is not the end... turn the page!
Opening 15
The maiden is calling out, "H-O-T ... Hot Peppers!!!", her mouth open, rows of white teeth surrounding a deep red tongue... just like the robbers in opening 3. And can you see? Littering the floor are the robbers' masks, they have taken them off.  The maiden's kindness has persuaded them to give up their life of stealing.  What a happy bunch they are!

This is such a flamboyant picturebook with its brightly coloured illustrations of wild robbers and a generous maiden.  Each of the spreads, you may have noticed, is framed in a pastel colour, blue, yellow, pink, purple, orange and green.  This framing gives the feeling of detachment, indeed we are being told about something which has already happened, so we look through the calm, pastel coloured frames as the Maiden's story develops and know we cannot intervene, except of course chant along to the rhythmic verbal text and giggle at the illustrations. 

A nice activity to get the children thinking is to ask how long it took for the story to happen.  They could draw a time line and illustrate it with the three different ingredients and the final pot of stew.  You could also discuss with the children how the robbers learned that sharing is better than stealing.  And, if the children you share this story with are old enough and can skip, why not skip to the original rhyme.  Finally the rhythmic beat within the verbal is so catchy (that's why we skipped to it when I was a kid!), why not get your children to chant it by heart and invent some actions, it could almost become a rap.  Put on a show for the rest of the school, it'll be a hoot!


Finally, Twenty-four robbers is a Fats Waller hit from 1941, the lyrics are a little different and involve bottles of gin and shot guns, so possibly not a good idea to share it with your children, but it is fun to listen to this old recording!  


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