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, February 26, 2013


I have a lovely sister-in-law who buys me picturebooks for Christmas. Lucky me.  Boy + Bot was one of these Christmas's gifts. Written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by Dan Yaccarino.
back and front covers
The front and back covers ... literally the front and back of the boy and the robot.  Love it! The illustrations are crisp guache, and have that sort of retro feel to them.  The inside front flap of my hardback issue says, "They are alike in many ways ..." The cover is showing us they both have a front and back, stand on two legs, have two arms, two sticky-out ears, a smiley mouth, a button nose and two black eyes. How alike they are! 
Endpapers are covered in chunky images all connected in one way or another to these two friends. 
Front (and back) endpapers
The title page comes before the copyright and dedication, which I find a bit weird, breaks the flow... but the illustration is a cutie ...
Title page
... Boy at the beginning of his story, his and Bot's story.  This is how they meet.
Opening recto
The words of the story are trimmed to a minimum.  Nothing flowery or lyrical.  Almost robotic here and in many places elsewhere. The illustrations are all loosely framed in white, sometimes filling a page, other times a whole spread, other times in multiple panels across the opening. The narrative tells and shows us how they become friends and overcome a little misunderstanding. 
Opening 2
Bot uses fun robot language, "Affirmative" ... which is great for reading out loud! In true picturebook style the illustrations, here in opening 2, show us what actually happened, how they played. As we move through the book, we discover that by accident, Bot's power switch gets switched off, and the boy thinks he is sick, so he takes him home and ...
Opening 4
... looks after him! Here the words and pictures show and tell pretty much the same thing .  But we can also see that Boy likes robots - see the toy robot by his bed? It just so happens that Boy's parents open to the door to say goodnight and accidentally  turn Bot back on again. "What-is-wrong?" Bot asks the boy (great robot talk again!), who is fast asleep in bed. "Did-you-malfunction?" ... and yes you've guessed it, Bot takes the boy home ...
Opening 6
... and looks after him!  There's a lovely mirroring of actions shown in the illustrations, the sun is replaced by the moon, bright colours by darker ones. Bot feeds the boy oil and reads him an instruction manual.  Thankfully the inventor appears just as Bot was going to give Boy a new battery! "'Stop!' the inventor shouted. 'That is a boy!'" 
Opening 8
Boy says, "Bot! You are cured!" Bot says, "Boy! You-are-fixed!" and every one is happy.  The inventor takes Boy home.
Opening 9
Their two homes are so near, yet so far and so different, separated by that pine forest where they met at the beginning of the story.  At home they say good bye ... "Want-to-play-tomorrow?" asks Bot.  "Affirmative!" answers Boy!
Opening 11
Lovely spread here, full of multiple panels showing us just how they played.  Do you recognize the photo booth strip? (Do they still exist?) Our final verso shows the two friends hand in hand walking together in the pine forest, bringing us back to where the story started. 
Final verso
Love it! Great story for middle primary with space for talk around friendship. What do our friends look like? Why do we chose our friends? Does it matter if we are different? 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Where does your cat sleep?

Front cover
My cat just sleeps, by Joanne Partis is an OUP picturebook. They don't have a big collection, but this little title is a must! Why do some cats sleep all day? This particular cat sleeps all morning, all afternoon and all evening, and his owner just can't work it out. A simple but funny story, with a great twist at the end and some brilliant peritext. 
The front cover lets us know that this little cat really does just sleep, as you read the title, you have to emphasize that 'just'!  He's lying on his owner's back on the front cover and  lounging on the grass on the back cover. One sleepy cat. "I love my cat but I wish I knew why he is always so sleepy", says the little girl.
Back and front covers
The front endpapers are a delight and kids just love pointing and giggling, exclaiming at all the silly sleeping cats. Cat in a sink... cat in the cereal box... they just love it!
Front endpapers
Then the copyright and title pages, with a cool dedication.  A real bruiser of a cat - siamese and sleepy even in his photo! 
Copyright and title pages
Close up of dedication
When I showed this to some five-year olds, they weren't quite sure it was the cat in the book, but they thought it could be, and they soon began referring to him as Oscar.  The photo seemed to make the book so much more real, and those who had cats were keen to tell me all about them, especially if they were big and fat, like Oscar!
Our little girl looks fed up - this is also a good book for talking about emotions, by the way - her friends have "all got fun cats."
Opening 1
Guess what her cat does ... "My cat just sleeps."
Opening 2
We can give this bit of verbal text all the emphasis we want, but the humour lies in the illustrations.  She's genuinely surprised too! 
Then we get told that George's cat climbs trees, right to the very top of the highest trees. But ...
Opening 4
Yep, you've got it!  "My cat just sleeps." Children are beginning to pickup on this line already, they are mouthing the word "just" and copying my hand and body movements, as I try to demonstrate exasperation!  My favourite is the next sequence, Harry's cat digs up worms, big juicy pink worms.
Opening 6
But look, no matter how hard this little girl tries, and she really does, with pictures and everything, "My cat just sleeps." This time he sleeps in the flower pot.  He's quite a cat. One of the children pointed at the cat's ear, which is cut. He wondered how he had hurt it. Another child suggested we look at the photo in the front again, to see if the real Oscar has a cut ear. They peer hard and decide that, yes, it looks like his ear is a bit cut. They all agree that the illustrations must be Oscar. 
Back to the sleeping cat ...  The little girl laments that Molly's cat plays in the fish pond. 
Opening 8
We know what she's going to say next ... "My cat just sleeps."  Even though she tries to show him how to fish and everything!  
She wishes her cat was exciting and lists all the boring things he does like, "snooze... and yawn... and purr. He cuddles up on my lap, and he keeps my feet warm at night."  The illustrations are like thought bubbles showing us Oscar doing all these things. Ahhh, so in fact, "My cat does lots of things!"  We are shown a happy girl hugging a smiling cat, though he eyes are still closed! The background is a happy yellow too.  But she does wonder why he is always so sleepy. Can you guess where Oscar is going?
Opening 11
Opening 12
Hey!  Oscar dances all night long, no wonder he sleeps all day! Cool cat!  The kids loved it and went on to relate where their cats went at night, or at least were they thought they went! I have a cat, called Lui, who sleeps on my husband's feet all night, very boring. But it's possible that Vince, my other 'man' cat is a dancer, he certainly sleeps all day!  
But hey... don't stop, don't close the book.  THE BACK ENDPAPERS!
Back endpapers
More cats!  The kids squeal! And one notices that Oscar is there in his cat bed, can you see him?

Great story, perfect for sharing with kids up till about 8 years old I'd say. The pictures help you talk about cats (and pets generally), as well as the feelings we have around our animals.  The children I showed this book to told me what their animals did to make them happy, angry and sad. We shared some funny stories! It's wonderful when books provoke personal responses. 

And I almost forgot... thanks to the OUP professional development team for sending me this picturebook.