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.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dogs must be dogs!

I was prompted to write about this picturebook when a friend wrote and told me that the apple pie I had made her as a gift had been eaten by her dog!  Oh yes!  That's happened to me, made something yummy, leave it on the kitchen top and when I get back it's been wolfed: it has happened to birthday cakes, freshly baked loaves of bread, neatly cut cheese waiting to garnish something, cooling pieces of roast meat and whole Portuguese chouriços ready for the pot!  If you have dogs and they are allowed in the kitchen it's what happens! 
Front cover
It's not that dogs want to be bad, they just can't help it, they are dogs and when something smells good, it just has to be eaten!  The dilemma between wanting to be a good dog and following your instincts is the backbone to this wonderful picturebook by Chris Haughton
This is Haughton's second picturebook, I wrote about his first, A bit lost here. Chris Haughton is a designer and a picturebook creator, and this is evident when we look at the picturebook, an object in itself, every single part is to be looked at and read, every bit is there for a reason. Using his distinctive psychedelic palette, purple, pink and orange clash brilliantly on his front cover, with George's black nose weighing down the colours and keeping them together.  George is lovable, round, larger than life, and twice as big as his owner Harris! 
Back cover
... he is loved greatly by both Harry and the cat, as we can see here on the back cover.  It's an important image as George needs to be loved at the end of the book ... 
Front endpapers
The front endpapers give us a stylised vision of Harry's house, and provide a kind of map, for we will see all these areas, surfaces, objects in the following spreads. It's a neat and tidy house, everything in place.  No Harry, no George, just the cat under the table.
Copyright and title page
The copyright and title pages bring us back to the orange colour scheme and show Harry and George, one small the other oversized.  If you have a dog, you will recognize the look on George's face, it's that, "Am I going too look?"   But no ...
Opening 1
Harry is going out and George is staying in. "Will you be good George?" "Yes!", says George, "I'll be very good!".  Harry and George are brightly coloured against a stark white background.  The following page is full coloured again ...
Opening2
A trotting George, who is hoping he can behave!  The alternation between full coloured spread and colour upon white flows through the first half of the book.  
Opening 3
The white background seems to highlight what George sees and thus his dilemma: a brightly coloured cake (and boy it must smell good to a dog!) upon a white background, how could he miss it?  He loves cake, but he said he'd be good... and then the question to the reader in words,"What will George do?" and George himself visibly trying to decide what to do.  The face we saw on the front cover ... a cliff hanger?  a page turner ... why yes, we do want to know what he does don't we?
Opening 4
Back to a full colour spread and a we see George doing the thing we know he should not do.  KIds love it! They gasp, they cry out "George, no!" They cover their eyes or their mouths. Together we can all say, "Oh no, George!" This happens twice more, George sees cat, he loves to play with cat, "What will George do?"; he sees the dirt in the flower pots, he loves to play with dirt, "What will George do?".  We know the answers before we've tuned the pages. Poor George, he just can't help it.  Our rhythmic set of spreads changes and suddenly... 
Harry returns, pleased to see George until he sees what he's been up to.  George is so miserable. 
Opening 10
This great big pink dog, so full of remorse, and the repeated question, "What will George do?"  Dog owners will know... 
Opening 11
And Harry is forgiving, isn't he good?  So off they go for a walk and we are treated to several more spreads, for this picturebook is longer than 32 pages. 
Opening 12
Froliking off into the park, George sees a cake. "Will he eat it?"  No... he runs straight past it!  And past the dirt and pat the cat. What a good boy George is!  But then...
Opening 14
Trash (or rubbish if we come from the UK!), oh my!  George's nose is like an arrow, pointing towards the rubbish bin. George loves digging in trash, and so we are asked that question again, "What will George do?".  Children are shaking their heads they know what George will do, they are calling out and sighing deeply.  They know how difficult it is to be good!
Final verso
But when we turn the page we see that face again and above it the words, "George?"  Has he? Hasn't he?  My kids are convinced he has! But don't close the book yet! The back endpapers ...
Back endpapers
We are taken back to Harry and George's house, but this time everything is over turned and broken... it is the house after George has had a go at the cake, the cat and the plant pots! Can you see that his duck has moved too?  It sort of confirms what happened at the end... George must have gone for the trash can.  "Oh no, George!"

After we've looked at this picturebook once or twice we can ask the children how easy it is not to do something you really want to do!  How do they think George feels and have they ever felt like that?  Controlling impulses is not an easy thing and some 5 or 6 year olds find it very difficult.  Get them to talk about it a bit, even if in their own languages and not English.

A very wonderful picturebook, thank you Mr Haughton, and thank you to Gabriela's dog, who reminded me I had it on my shelf! 

Forgot to mention the Youtube trailer, which is just perfect ... listen out for the sound effects.


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!