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.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Look at the endpapers - repost

I did something very silly - I deleted some of the images in my Picasa album - and it played hells bells with my early blog posts.  I am recreating those which were well visited.  This is the first of these recreations. 

Look at the endpapers (Originally posted in July 21, 2010)
Endpapers from The very hungry caterpillar (Carle)
Endpapers are part of the picturebook peritext (another post I ruined, but will be replacing in time). I thought I'd take a closer look at the different endpapers we might find in some of the more widely used picturebooks in ELT.
Endpapers from Winnie the witch (Thomas and Paul)
There are endpapers that are left blank, in white or cream. Sometimes endpapers echo a colour that belongs to a book. Winnie the Witch, by Valerie Thomas & Korky Paul has black endpapers (naturally!) with striking slashes of colour... which we can associate with Winnie's magic wand once we've read the story. 
Endpapers can hint at aspects of the story, like the wand slashes by Winnie. The end papers from The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle are at the top of this message. Did you recognise them? Ripped paper, full of holes. I wonder if it was the caterpillar? 
Endpapers from Brown bear, brown bear what do you see? (Martin Jr and Carle) 
Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle has strips of coloured tissue paper in the sequence of the animals as they appear in the story. Can you see Carle's signature? We put our signatures on works of art, what is Eric Carle telling us? Interestingly in the hard back edition, the endpapers have no signature, but instead a red bird. 
Endpapers from The Gruffalo (Donaldson and  Scheffler)
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 1999. The endpapers show us a quiet green wood, waiting for something to happen!  My anniversary edition has two sets of endpapers.  The second set has the sketches for early versions of the characters by Axel Scheffler,  lovely!
Additional endpapers in the anniversary edition (front illustrations)
Room on the Broom by the same authors, has endpapers showing us the four items belonging to the witch which appear in the beginning of the story and are lost / broken, as the narrative progresses.   
Endpapers from Room on the broom (Donaldson and Scheffler)
They're also in sequential order, with a dark storm brewing, introducing us to aspects of the narrative again.  
Endpapers from Is it because? (Ross)
Is it because? By Tony Ross is a part of a set of materials from the British Council Learn English website. The endpapers are covered in question marks, reinforcing the question the narrator is asking. 
All these examples show us endpapers which are the same at the back and the front. But there are end papers which are not the same. We’re going on a bear hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury has two different endpaper sets. The front ones show us an empty sea shore, possibly early morning, before we set off for our bear hunt. The back endpapers show us a dark sky at the same beach, with the bear walking away from us.  Dejected and unwanted, poor bear.
Front endpapers from We're going on a bear hunt (Rosen and Oxenbury)
Back endpapers from We're going on a bear hunt (Rosen and Oxenbury)
Down by the cool of the pool  by Tony Mitton and Guy Parker-Rees also has two different endpaper sets.  The front depict a cool bluey pink watery scene, the pool.  Possibly reflecting the pink sky as the sun rises in the morning. The back ones are a delicious orangey yellow, the sun is shining right into the pool.
Front endpapers from Down by the cool of the pool  (Mitton and Parker-Rees)
Back endpapers from Down by the cool of the pool  (Mitton and Parker-Rees)
Handa’s surprise by Aileen Browne has a wavey line of delicately drawn fruit from the story on the front endpapers, and the back ones show us the animals who appeared in the story. There's a sequential order to both sets.
Front endpapers from Handa's surprise (Browne)
Back endpapers from Handa's surprise (Browne)
Suddenly! by Colin McNaughton has front endpapers which confirm, 'where there's a pig, there's a wolf!'  For this is what our story is about, a  wolf  following an unsuspecting pig.

Front endpapers from Suddenly! (McNaughton)
But as in all "Tom and Jerry" like comedy, the poor wolf never manages, and the back endpapers are a second ending, with the wolf being taken to hospital!
Back endpapers from Suddenly! (McNaughton)
Many endpapers can surprise us by extending the story and giving us more.  One of my favourite picture books, is Say Hello! by Jack and Michael Foreman.  The blurb on the back of the books says: "When someone's looking lonely and in need of a friend, there's one little word that can help…" The front endpapers are a cool blue, and blue line is used throughout the book, defining places and backgrounds. A little boy watches a group of other childen playing and it is a friendly dog who makes the first move to invite him to play.  A double spread of children watching as the dog jumps up and licks the boy is accompanied by "No need to be the lonely one.  When someone's feeling left out, low, it doesn't take much to say …" Turn the page and the book ends with the children calling out a huge group "Hello!
Back endpapers from Say Hello! (Foreman & Foreman)
The back endpapers show us how we can say 'Hello' in lots of languages, black pencil line font, on the same cool blue background.  Truly spectacular.

Endpapers are amazing things, don't ever forget to pay them the attention they deserve. Go back to them after you've read the picture book and talk about them with the children. If they are there, they're definitely worth looking at.   

Six Men: a story about war



Front cover
David McKee created the picturebook Six Men very early in his career. First published in the UK in 1972, it's now only available new in the US edition I think.  I blogged about another of his picturebooks, Tusk Tusk a while back, also about conflict and war, but published a little later (1978).  These two picturebooks are similar in theme, but quite different visually.  Unlike Tusk, tusk, which is brightly coloured, Six men is black and white, the only colour appearing on the covers, the deep brown, which, as in all good picturebooks, unites both back and front covers, creating the heavy ground and a heavier sun.
Back and front covers
On the publisher's website it has been described by Ken and Sylvia Marantz, who write:  "Once upon a time six men search for and finally find a land where they can settle down and grow rich. But they fear thieves, so they hire six strong guards. When no robbers arrive, the men worry that paying the guards is a waste of money. So they put them to work capturing a neighboring farm. Enjoying the power, they add soldiers and capture more land. Some, who escape their expansion, work and live happily together across the river, but still worry about the six belligerent men. So in case of attack, they take turns being both farmers and soldiers. Unfortunately one day the bored soldiers on both sides of the river shoot at a passing duck. The anxious armies, fearing they are attacked, gather and a mighty battle begins. In the end, only six men on either side are left. And so they set off in opposite directions, beginning again the search for a place to live and work in peace. ..."
The story is one we all know, the causes of war.  The picturebook is a modern-day parable and very suitable for older students, I'd say teens in particular, but if the topic is suitable and the children's level of English is good it could be shared with children down to about 9 or 10 years old. 
Peritextually, other than the covers, it's not very exciting.  Lots of white pages and space, with the two word title sitting alone in the middle of the page.  
Opening 1
On the spreads, the white space is used cleverly balancing McKee's illustrations, which are made up entirely of fine line drawings in black ink.  If you look at opening 1 the recto page is full of neat lines juxtaposing each other, creating a sort of mountain of jagged rock for the six men to climb over. The verso contains those oft heard words "Once upon a time ..." and and single circle, representing the sun, hanging empty, yet together with the white space, balanced against the rocky crags of the facing page. 
I don't now if McKee was influenced by Paul Klee, but as I look more closely at his lines they remind me of some of Klee's work, though lack the colour which would have been present in the Swiss painter's masterpieces. 
The balance that McKee manages to obtain on each spread is visually very satisfying. McKee also uses pattern and symmetry very successfully.  
Opening 4
Look here at opening 4, where he has illustrated six soldiers.  They all look alike at a glance, their helmets resembling bullet heads, yet as we peer closely we can see they each have a different expression. Opening 5 is similar in its patterning ...
Opening 5
The soldiers are shown with their helmets placed neatly together, creating a whole symmetrical helmet Edam cheese shape. The change in perspective, from eye level to birds eye view is odd. The six men are laid along the verso edge, eyeballs upwards - it makes you want to turn the book round and follow their gaze upwards towards the lazy soldiers, thus returning to the more comforting eye level.  Pattern appears in a number of spreads:
Opening 8
Here in opening 8, the soldiers helmets fit neatly into the body of each soldier next to them, the drawing is almost geometrical, it's a delight. 
Opening 9
The six men's greed culminates in opening 9, where we are told that they "ruled over the land from high watch tower down to the great river." A long shot view of the land shows us the soldiers at work. You can just make out the platoon chasing two figures towards the river, which is only visible as water because boats sit upon it.  From here onwards the drawings begin to take on a symmetry that reflects two sets of men at war with each other, for those chased men cross the river and begin living with farmers, who as yet have not been conquered. Together they create an army to fight that of the six men across the river.
They took turns in working as farmers and training as soldiers and "in this way they became prepared to face an enemy:" And so it began. A soldier on each side of the river bank ... symmetry representing the two sides of the story, the conquering and those not wanting to be conquered. 
Opening 11
All  because of a duck ... the alarm was called and each soldier rushed back to his army. 
Opening 13
Each army separated from the other by a carefully drawn, thin black line. Fear spread and the war began...They fight ... 
Opening 14
... and they die. 
Opening 15
These soldiers are pilled upon each other, bullet shaped helmets nose to nose with the squared ones... it's a muddle but a neat one, with soldiers fitting into each other as they die in unison. Once the battle was over everyone was dead, every one, but for six men on either side...
Opening 17
And so the story begins again, as the six men search "for a place where they might live in peace."  If used as a prompt, the simple black lines in this picturebook, stark, sharp and pointy and very clear in their message, open doors to discussion and interpretation.  

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Sharing plorringes

Front cover
Norris the bear who shared is a delightful picturebook by Catherine Rayner, where her beautifully crafted illustrations are to drool over. Norris is a big brown bear represented in chunky brush strokes, Violet is a tiny delicate mouse with a pink tail and Tulip is a fidgety raccoon in black, grey and white. They all love plorringes, but there's only one in the plorringe tree. 
From the title and cover of this lovely picturebook we know that Norris shares, we read the words and we see him giving Violet a piece of orange fruit.  If we look on the back cover, the illustration continues ...
Back and front covers
Norris has also given Tulip a piece of the orange fruit.  This is not a story about learning to share, instead it is one about knowing that sharing is part of what we do.  Small children find sharing difficult and Norris shows them that it's easy.  But he also shows them that sometimes we have to wait for good things.
Let's have a look inside... the half-title page shows us a plorringe, no bear, no raccoon, no mouse, just the object of desire.
Half-title page
The font is orange throughout, reflecting the sumptuous colour of the plorringe, which looks like a mango, cuts like an orange and resembles a guava inside. 
Title page
The title page brings our focus back to Norris, big brown Norris: the bear who shared. When we turn the page, the plorringe and Norris are together for the first time.
Opening 1
Norris stretches across the spread, as though sniffing the fruit.  "Norris was wise..."  he knew that if he waited the fruit would fall.  So he waited. 
Opening 3
Tulip and Violet weren't quite so wise, "They clambered closer to the plorringe and gazed at it.  It looked delicious."  Norris just waited. 
The next spreads use the senses to describe the plorringe. Tulip and Violet sniffed it. "It smelt of honey and sunny days." Norris waited. Tulip and Violet listened to the plorringe and of course there was no sound!  
Opening 7
"Tulip and Violet hugged the plorringe.  It felt soft as candyfloss."  (Yummy!) Norris kept on waiting. This illustration is a delight. I like the balance between the verbal text and the illustration.  Last of all ...
Opening 8
A close up of two very pink tongues and the plorringe itself:  "Tulip and Violet were just about to have a little lick of the plorringe, when ..." Those three dots tell us that something is about to happen! "UH-OH!" "WHOMP!"
Opening 11
"Norris's wait was over." But Violet and Tulip are visibly concerned. "What about Tulip and Violet?"
Opening 12
Do you see that some of the font is slightly bigger, emphasising "Violet" and "Tulip" and the words "wise" and "kind". Violet and Tulip look so forlorn... Of course Norris shared the "delicious, sun-kissed, soft-as-candy floss plorringe" (all descriptors used in previous spreads).  And Norris knew a "special thing had happened under the plorringe tree" ...
Back verso
Ahhh!  Just lovely. Friendship and sharing as well as learning to wait, all important lessons for little ones.  There's not a lot of repetition, so this is probably best shared with children in bilingual contexts, though I've shared it with a group of Portuguese L1 children and used English and Portuguese to get the verbal message across, and gradually moved into English only as I've re-read it.  The children love seeing Violet and Tulip about to lick the plorringe and call out "UH-OH!" "WHOMP!", before I've tuned the pages!  We all agree that Norris was very wise as he knew how important it was to share. 

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!