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, November 14, 2013

Splat and a story about friendship

Sooty and the Splat book
I've chosen to write about Splat and the Cool School Tripa picturebook created by Rob Scotton. There are seven Splat the cat books, and a whole section of Rob Scotton's website is devoted to this furry black cat.  He's a character and his best friend is a mouse called Seymour. An unlikely friend in the animal world, but that's what makes a good story! 

Scotton's illustrations are a wonderful sort of life-like cartoon.  Splat really is hairy and so is Seymour. The illustrations ooze colour, texture and style. They sometimes cover whole pages, other times appear as cameo illustrations against stark white backgrounds, and other times, in frames as though part of a comic strip. The Splat books enable us all to experience the trails and tribulations of life and it's easy for the children we share these books with to make connections.
Front cover
The front cover gives us lot to talk about: we are shown the two main characters, Splat and his friend Seymour. Splat is wearing a school t-shirt and cuddling a penguin. Seymour is sitting on a yellow school bus, which is heading for the zoo.  Yellow buses are very american and I wonder how many children living outside the States would connect the bus to school. Seymour looks a little sad and Splat, quite the contrary, a very excited cat. Already we are being given lots of clues about what we will find inside the book. Where do you think Splat is going on his school trip? What are the clues that help us answer this question?
Close up of endpaper illustration

The endpapers are all white except for a small illustration in the top right hand corner of the recto page.  It's Seymour! He's skillfully flying a paper plane. I wonder why? 
Close up of illustration on copyright page

The copyright page has an illustration with Seymore in it too.  He's sitting sadly on a pile of books, Making stuff from paper and Flying for Dummies. Rob Scotton is giving us yet more clues about what's going to happen later in the book. 
Opening 1
The opening spread conveys Splat's excitement super well. A wide-eyed cat, surrounded by swimming penguins. The words tell us he is waking from his favourite dream, the pictures show us what that dream is. Splat is off to the zoo, did you guess correctly?
Opening 2
The next spread visually reinforces the friendship between Seymour and Splat. They wake up together and even have a bath together (Splat is no normal cat!).  The words tell us that Splat really is mad about penguins. There's humour in both texts: In the illustrations we giggle at Splat in his pjs! In the words we see poor Seymour being told yet again about the penguin traits Splat so admires. 
Opening 3
But in Opening 3, Splat remembers something his teacher told him, elephants are scared of mice, so Seymour can't come on the trip. Seymour is looking very disappointed.  Poor Seymour.  But he's no fool.  The last image there, on bottom recto shows us a very happy Seymour... "He had a plan." Can you guess what it is?
On the bus to the zoo, the cats from cat school are very excited. Their teacher asks them about their favourite animals and each gives an opionion. We know which animal Splat likes, don't we?
Opening 5, verso
Penguins!  If you look closely you can see he's drawn four penguins and each has a name, Percy, Pickles, Paul and Popsicle!
At the zoo Splat couldn't wait to see the penguins. He saw, giraffes, monkeys and elephants and just then... Seymour arrives, on a paper plane. But as in all good stories something terrible happens. 
Opening 8
Oh dear, Seymour crashed into the elephant. "'Uh-oh!' said Splat." Of course the elephant reacted loudly and wildly! "He was so frightened he trumpeted, ran away, and jumped over a wall." We are shown Splat in the foreground, thinking about the information his teacher had given him about elephants and mice - the elephants bottom is in view as it leaps into an animal enclosure to hide. Can you guess where the elephant hid?
When Splat arrived at the penguin enclosure, he found that that was where the elephant had hidden.  And he'd broken their pool in his rush to get away from Seymour. There were no penguins to be seen anywhere.  Splat was disappointed. But Seymour was even sadder. It was all his fault. The illustrations show both Splat and Seymour looking very forlorn.
But Seymour was a good friend and so he thought about what he could do. Seymour peeks into the penguin house, and that's when he had an idea. Can you guess what Seymour did?
Opening 11
"Follow me" said Seymour and the penguins did just that! Zig-zagging out of the zoo and bumping along on the top of the bus, back to cat school. Splat doesn't notice, he's so sad. 
Opening 12
Splat doesn't notice anything... The words tell us what Splat does, the pictures show us what happens. He plods home miserably, he eats his dinner glumly. And all the while the penguins are following him and somehow managing to climb up into the second floor of Splat's home. Can you see them in the window there?
Opening 13
As Splat watches TV, the penguins climb up the stairs, escorted by Seymour. Simple written descriptors are accompanied by very detailed illustrations. And yes, once in bed, Splat just couldn't sleep, he could hear noises from the bathroom, so, "He decided to investigate."  Can you guess what's there? There's more build up ...
Opening 14
With Hitchcock-like suspense, Splat opens the curtain! 
Opening 15
What fun! It's the penguins. And so it turns out to be a "Penguin Day after all."  Lucky Splat. And how nice of Seymour to make sure that Splat got to see the penguins after all. 
And ... it hasn't finished. Turn to the back endpapers, and hidden under the dust cover flap is an illustration of Seymour with the elephant at the zoo. 
Close up of bak endpaper illustration
Looks like elephant and mouse have made peace. 

The illustrations in this picturebooks enable lots of opportunities for discussion, prediction and interpretation. Children will notice all sorts of details and enjoy sharing their discoveries. It's a book that shows us what friendship can do. It's a silly book, but primary children will love it, and all of the other Splat books too. And if you want to make penguin connections, read Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers too... that's got a penguin in it!  And it's about freindship

This post is dedicated to a lovely group of teachers I'm working with on an online course run by the Ministry of Education in Portugal. They've just watched a webinar given by a colleague about using this picturebook for developing critical thinking in the primary classroom. So I thought I'd feature the book so they could see what it looks like, get to know it better and maybe consider using it with their students.

Monday, November 04, 2013

A feisty princess

Back in May I spent a wonderful week at Malmo University, Sweden. The weather was amazing and as the university is right alongside the river the students enjoyed basking in the early summer sun! 

I gave a talk about picturebooks and critical literacy. One of the picturebooks I shared was The paper bag princess written by Robert Munsch and Illustrated by Michael Martchenko.  It's a classic, published in 1980 and still a best seller. Because it plays around with the helpless princess and dragon thing and challenges stereotypes, it's particularly useful for getting children to think about what we take for granted as the norm. 

If you go to Robert Munsch's website, here, there's a lovely description of how he created the story. There's also a great reading of the story, which is so dramatic, it's well worth sharing with your group of children, just for the fun of it!
Front cover
I have a paperback, Scholastic, Little Hippo version, published in 1990. There are no endpapers or exciting peritextual bits.  I have no idea what the original version of this picturebook was like. The front cover is a repeat of an illustration on opening 4. It shows us two of the main characters, Princess Elizabeth and the dragon.  
Title page
The title page shows us, again, what Elizabeth looks like as a paper bag princess. Notice that she's smiling and doesn't seem at all worried at the idea of wearing a paper bag instead of a posh frock!

This picturebook has been designed so that each opening shows an illustration on recto and the text on verso.  I've only photographed the verso illustrations. 

Opening 1
The first opening is typical of all princess stories. A beautiful princess doting on a prince. The words tell us that she lives in a castle and has expensive princess clothes. They also tell us she is going to marry a prince called Ronald. The illustration shows a bored prince who doesn't look at all excited about the prospect of marrying a princess. 

Nothing is as it seems. "Unfortunately a dragon smashed her castle, burned all her clothes and carried off Prince Ronald."  There's a great illustration of Ronald being taken away, the dragons claws clutching at his breeches. 

Opening 3
What does Elizabeth do? She decides to get her Ronald back. This illustration on opening 3 shows her determination. "She looked everywhere for something to wear but the only thing that she could find that wasn't burnt was a paper bag."  No matter what, she would save her prince. Off she goes following the dragon's trail of "burnt forests and horses' bones."

Elizabeth found her dragon, in a cave with a large door. She knocked on the door and the dragon answered, "Well, a princess! I love to eat princesses, but I have already eaten a whole castle today. I am a very busy dragon. Come back tomorrow."

Opening 5
But Elizabeth didn't give up... She used her brains... "Is it true you are the smartest and fiercest dragon in the whole world?"  Just look at that cocksure dragon. "Is it true that you can burn up ten forests with your fiery breath?" asks Elizabeth. Of course the dragon replied "Yes" and "breathed out so much fire that he burnt up fifty forests." That was pretty amazing, then he burnt up one hundred forests and even though Elizabeth encouraged him to do it again, he "didn't even have enough fire left to cook a meatball."

Opening 8
Elizabeth just kept on asking ... "Dragon is it true that you can fly around the world in just ten seconds?" Of course the dragon replies "Yes!" and off he went. That's quick! Elizabeth was excited when he got back, "Fantastic, do it again." And so he did and was so tired when he got back that he just lay down on the ground and slept. Well who wouldn't be tired after going round the world twice in twenty seconds!

Opening 10

Elizabeth checked the dragon really was asleep, which included shouting in his ear, but he was so tired he didn't even move. But someone else did... can you see Prince Ronald at the window?  Waving wildly.

And what do you think Ronald did when she freed him from the dragon's cave?

Opening 11
He was the rudest prince ever. He said, "Elizabeth, you are a mess! You smell like ashes, your hair is all tangled and you are wearing a dirty old paperbag. Come back when you are dressed like a real princess."

Now what do you think about that?  What would you do if you were Elizabeth?  Most girls are absolutely certain they'd punch him in the nose!

Opening 12
Can you read what she said?  But you can certainly see what she did!  She said very firmly, "Ronald your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a toad." And of course they didn't get married!

In fact, in Robert Munsch's first draft he had Elizabeth punching Ronald's nose, but it looked too violent in the illustrations, so he changed it!  And in Canada Elizabeth calls Ronald a "Bum". That's an interesting cultural difference, we'd never say that in a picturebook in the UK!

So, a great little story to get upper primary kids thinking about stereotypes.  By way of getting them to ponder over princesses before you tell the story, how about asking them to think or write three words or expressions which they associate with “princess”. Can they think of any stories with princesses in?  I'll bet they name some of these disney ones...
Once you've told the story talk about feelings and get them to consider the following: 
How do you think Ronald feels …
…when he is carried off by the dragon?
…when Elizabeth opens the door to rescue him?
How do you think Elisabeth feels …
…when Ronald is carried off by the dragon?
…when she knocks on the dragon’s door?
…when Ronald tells her to come back when she looks like a real princess? 
…at the end of the story?

Just how many stories do they know about princesses like this story? By sharing and talking about picturebooks like this we are helping our students to disrupt the commonplace, interrogate multiple view-points and even touch on sociopolitical issues ... these are three of the four dimensions of  Critical Literacy according to Lewison, Flint & van Sluys.  The fourth is to take action and promote social justice.  That's not so easy in our classes, but less far away when we share these kinds of picturebooks.

LEWISON, M. FLINT, A.S. & VAN SLUYS, K. (2002) Taking on critical literacy: the journey of newcomers and novices. Language Arts Vol. 79, 5, pp. 382-392