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, March 05, 2013

Professor Puffendorf's Secret Potions

Front cover
Readers of this blog will recognise Korky Paul's illustrations, he has a style that sticks out a mile.  He's probably most well known for his Winnie the Witch books.  This particular title was published in 1992, reviews describe it as, a "deliciously wacky book exhibits all the best qualities of British outrageousness just this side of Monty Python". It can be bought in a special ELT edition with activities by Jane Cadwallader. I'm not in favour of adapted versions of picturebooks, I'd rather you bought the original. The original words are by Robin Tzannes, but it's the way the illustrations work upon them that makes this such a wonderful picturebook. Nothing deep, just very funny... actually it is quite deep that the professor is a woman, I like that - and as you can see from the front cover, she wears black stockings and high-heeled boots and her white lab coat has frilly bits along the bottom!  You'll see she is a very cool dude!
If you look closely at this front cover, you'll notice that there is also rodent-thing in a cage. The professor and her guinea-pig are not the only ones in this story, but the third character doesn't appear for a bit, you'll see why later. 
The endpapers in Korky Paul's books are usually drawn by children. These were illustrated by Seung Jun Lee, aged 9, from a primary school in Oxford. It's a fun idea to get kids to help illustrate your books. How proud Seung Jun Lee must be. 
Title page and copyright ...
Copyright and title page
Leaping across the spread is the rodent we saw on the front cover. He'll appear again in a bit! 
Opening 1
We are officially presented to our female professor and told about, and shown, her great inventions. "Unburnable toast", which she valiantly holds up to be burned. The seated participants munch away merrily at the proof. The Banana-matic and the Smell-o-phone are visible in the intricate drawings above their heads. It's a great spread and needs ot be revisited to pick up on all the visual information. 
Opening 2
Next comes her lab, where the story unfolds, another spread full of visual information, and it introduces us to her lazy, good for nothing assistant, Enzo. There's no mention of him in the verbal text, but he is there in the background, snoozing on the job. The next opening introduces us officially to Chip the guinea-pig. 
Opening 3
We are told he lives in the lab, we are shown that his cage is no prison, can you see the tube which allows him to get in and out as he pleases?  We are told he is friendly, bright and clever, and that his relationship with the professor is special.  We are shown he brought that watermelon from the title page into his cage, in fact if you turn back and check his movement lines continue from the title page.
It is only on the next opening that we are officially introduced to Enzo, "a lazy, grumbling fellow". 
Opening 4
His envy is evident in his words, "Look at the professor, just sitting at her desk, while I do all the work!" The illustrations show us that the professor is busily scribbling notes, as she looks at a multi-legged beastie under her microscope.  
The intrigue begins when we are told, and shown, that the professor is going out and leaving Enzo in charge.  She reminds him to turn off the Titanium Blender before he leaves. Enzo sits at the professor's desk with his feet up, eating her peppermints.  The visuals accompany the verbal text, using multiple panels, some framed, others that bleed to the very edges of the pages and others that sit as cameos under the verbal text. 
What does Enzo suddenly notice?  A TOP SECRET Cabinet (TOP SECRET is always written in bold capitals).  He finds the keys and the combinations and he opens the safe.  Inside there is "a colourful row of bottles filled with mysterious potions".
First he picked up "HAIR TODAY", you can imagine what this says it does! Not just thick hair, but red and curly. Enzo decides not to try it out as it might be poisonous, but then he has a "wicked idea ..."  The suspension points make us turn the page very quickly!  
Opening 8
"Try it on the guinea-pig first!"  That is wicked.  He does, and counts to five in the illustrations. More suspension points make us turn the page. Of course it worked and Chip's got a headful of frizzy orange hair! So Enzo decides to steal the potion, the illustration darkens as he does the terrible thing - he puts the bottle into his coat. 
As in any good story the same thing happens three times, The next bottle reads, "SWEET SONG", he tries it on Chip and ...
Opening 11
"It worked." The magical multi-coloured notes leave us no doubt, he can sing beautifully. The black background in the bottom right also leaves us no doubt, Enzo is up to no good... the third bottle of secret potions is still to come. This one says "BEST WISH" and Enzo imagines all the different things he could wish for:
Opening 12
He could be the boss, the mayor, the King even... but of course he decides first to test it on Chip. "Make a wish, boy ..." and "Chip swallowed the potion obediently as Enzo counted ..." 
Opening 14
In the illustrations I've shown you you can't see much of the black and white cat, but he's in most of the spreads and here he looks downright terrified!  Enzo is out of his whits, as he shakes the bars of Chip's cage, now his. "IT WORKED!" in relation to this delightful illustration is magical, does it refer to the potion working, or was it Chip's plan all along to become the professor's assistant?
Proffessor Puffendorf returns at this point, of course!  She sees the TOP SECRET cabinet open and realises immediately what has happened. "You're a very silly man" she sighs at Enzo.  But before salvaging the mess she invites Chip for tea and unburnable toast and a game of draughts!  As Chip leaves the lab, he turns off the Titanium Blender. 

This is a slightly longer picturebook, with 16 openings instead of 12.  Each spread is filled to the brim with things to read and look at and the humour is perfect for older primary kids.  Yes there is some challenging language in there, but the repetitive sequence of events will help prediction and the illustrations will help too. There's room for discussion about jobs we associate with women and loads of fun creating wild inventions along with instructions, and thinking about what we could wish for if we drank "BEST WISH"... I've no idea what Jane Cadwallader suggests you do with this picturebook, but you can buy her adapted version and activity book here.

Thanks to OUP for sending me this picturebook, I'd never have bought it for myself and it's been such fun discovering. 

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