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.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Who conquered who?

Front cover
The conquerors by David McKee has been on my 'to blog about' list for a while.  It's one of his later books, first published in 2004 - I think he's only published one more since (Denver, 2010).  It's typical of McKee's work, a modern day parable created with crayon filled ink-line drawings, and spreads covered with figures all looking the same until you peer closely and see that each is uniquely different. It's brilliant and fits alongside his other picturebooks about war and conflict: Three Monsters, Tusk Tusk, and Six men
My copy is paperback and a 2011 edition... as with all good picturebooks the front and back covers are one continuous illustration, the conquerors marching into the book. 
Front and back covers
The black background of the back cover gives the smiling soldiers an almost menacing look as they follow in lines behind a smiling general. All stocky, with pin legs, yet faces as individual as any, with hooked, bulbous or ski sloping noses!
The front end papers ...
Front endpapers
...show the conquering taking place, at least this what we can presume. A red cannon ball zooms across the spread, and smoke and fire covers any view of anything in particular. 
The title page and dedication are strikingly peaceful after all the bombing ...
Copyright and title pages
The large title hangs over an illustration of the General and his family, guarded by two soldiers, smiling out at the reader. They look too kind and nice to be conquerors! 
But our story begins by telling us that indeed they are...
Opening 1
The General ruled over a large country which had a strong army and a cannon. Every now and then he'd attack another country nearby, "'It's for their own good,' he said. 'So they can be like us.'"  Like us?  What are these people like? The women are blond and the men (and boys) wear scull caps.   
Opening 2

In the next opening we see the General ordering his troops to attack, the canon is shooting and the soldiers are marching towards a town, a middle Eastern town, blocks of white buildings with the occasional dome. The town's men are baldheaded, and its no coincidence that they are all wearing similar clothes, quite different from those we have seen worn by the people ruled by the General. The smoke and fire evokes the scene we saw on the front endpapers. 
And so the General has conquered all the countries except for one very small one, and he decides he might as well conquer that one too. The people wave their troops off with white hankies, smiling from the windows in their tall white apartment blocks.  But upon arrival the General is surprised. There was no resistance, they were greeted as if guests. The following pages show the General and his soldiers gradually being won over by this small country and its friendly people. 
Opening 4
In opening 4 we see that their homes, bungalow-like houses with tiles on the roofs, are different to any we've seen so far. They wear different clothes too, the men wear hats, but not scull caps, and the women wear Muslim headscarves and long robes.  You can see the soldiers feeling unsure as the people give them lodging. In the following spreads, we are shown the soldiers eat and drink with the people, share jokes, stories and songs. They play their games and listen to their stories. They watch the people preparing their food and enjoy eating it.  Then, because there was no resistance or trouble, the soldiers have nothing to do but help the people with their chores.   At this the General gets angry and sends the soldiers home replacing them with new ones...
Opening 7
In opening 7 we see the new soldiers arriving, pristine and serious, marching together in unison towards the small country.  The other soldiers are a muddle, they are talking to each other, laughing and jolly - one looks like he is in love, his eyes are closed and he is smiling to himself. Another is arriving late, his hand on his hat as though straightening it after being off duty.  Soon the General realises he doesn't need many soldiers in this small country, so he goes back home, leaving a few soldiers to keep an eye on things. The people watch smiling as the soldiers and their General march away. 
Opening 9
... and what do the soldiers do?  Take off their uniforms and happily join the people in their daily tasks.  We can see everyone greeting them and indeed the soldiers seem very happy about the whole business!
Back at home the General gets on with being a General.  But things were different. 
Opening 11
The little country is present in the food he smelt, the games he sees his people playing and the clothes they are beginning to wear.  And if we look at the illustration we can see images that resemble those we saw in earlier spreads: games, muslim headscarves and long dresses, hats with brims and different tunics and the General is smiling as he smells the delicious food they are cooking in the kitchen. "Ah! The spoils of war." he thinks... 
Opening 12
The final spread shows the General sitting on his son's bed, in mid song.  They both look happy and content and as we read the words we smile to ourselves, for the General can only remember the songs from the little country he conquered, and so these are the songs he sings. 
Not quite finished... 
Back endpapers
Those end papers bring our narrative to a peaceful end.  The sun is shining over a land no longer at war ... a conquered land.

Can the violent ways of conquerors be countered by unorthodox means?  Is it possible to win with non-violence and kindness?  What is the nature of colonisation?  How do we see the customs of others around us? There's so much to talk about after sharing this picturebook, that its simplicity is misleading.  

Another book about being conquered and colonised is Rabbits (Marsden & Tan), which I have blogged on here. Its visual narrative is aggressive in comparison to McKee's The Conquerors, yet we are left with similar questions. 

A picturebook to make our students think, and hopefully talk about their thinking. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Picturebook peritext: the other bits - repost

Happy New Year! My first, long over due, blog post of 2013. Based on a post first written in July 2010, it is one of a sequence of blog posts I wrote when I first started blogging. It talks about picturebook peritext, still vastly misunderstood in ELT contexts, so I am creating a newer version, adapted, but with the basic information I shared back in 2010. Over the last two years I've written about over 90 picturebooks, and I almost always talk about "those other bits" - it seems odd to be reading (re-writing) this post, knowing now that I would find it difficult to talk or write about a picturebook without mentioning the peritext. In my original post I discussed a recently discovered picturebook Mythological Monsters, by Sara Fanelli.  In this new post I look more closely at this picturebook, which, sadly, is now only available through second-hand books stores.  

Picturebook peritext: the other bits - Mythological Monsters by Sara Fanelli
Children’s publishing uses illustrators, authors, editors and book designers to ensure all the different parts of a book - front and back covers, dust jackets, endpapers, half-title and title pages, copyright and dedication pages - are brought together with the pictures and the words to produce a unified end product, the picture book.  An object in itself, one we should be taking  more seriously in our ELT classes.

The covers of a picturebook help introduce us to the main characters and setting. They set the tone of the story, using colour and shape, and even the way the title is written is important.  The title of this picturebook is being eaten by Argus! 
When sharing a picturebook with our students, we can also point out that someone was responsible for making the picture book: there may be two names or just one.  Small children often show amazement when they understand that a picture is made by one person, someone who is clever enough to illustrate and write a book. I recently read an article by Martin Salisbury, who called the person who writes and illustrates 'an authorstrator'.  Some of these authorstrators design their own texts, creating their own hand-written fonts. Sarah Fanelli is an excellent example, the picturebook Mythological Monsters contains her own freehand font as well as some wonderful examples of collage illustration.  I've chosen this book to talk about 'the other bits' of a picturebook.  
Front cover
Front cover - that illustration of Argus, the monster with 100 eyes (and some of them need glasses!) is a great front cover, it's going to be a scary book!  Can you make out the arrows in white moving from left to right in the background? They are beckoning us to open the book.  
Back cover
Back cover - But if we first turn over to the back cover we will see colourful ink drawn outlines of all the monsters set against a background of fallen buildings. Do we recognise the monsters?  We can also read the reviews "A visual, eye-popping tour of the scariest Greek horrors." (The Times) - reviews can be shared with older students when first encountering a picturebook.  They can also be encouraged to write their own reviews which can be shared in a school magazine or blog or on child-made bookmarks.
Close up of first recto page
My edition is paperback and so it has a neat little page with a space for the book owner to write his name.  Here's a closeup of the illustration ... 
Endpapers - Open the book and you will see the endpapers, in hard-back editions serving the practical purpose of holding the pages to the cover.  In a paperback editions they are sometimes excluded, but not in this paperback!    In Fanelli's front endpapers we find those quirky ink drawings of monsters again, placed as though on a note book, and with spaces
for the reader to write the names of the monsters. Do we know these monsters? Do we write the names before we read or after?  
Endpapers in picturebooks come in various forms, sometimes illustrated, sometimes not. Even if an endpaper is blank, it could be so for a reason, so don't dismiss it. Illustrated endpapers almost always contain narrative clues.  Sara Fanelli's front endpapers are giving us clues to what we will find in the book, and challenging us before we've even started, to see if we know.   The back end papers are different.  She has created a kind of quiz, and her ink drawings appear alongside questions, to test how observant we have been, encouraging us to go back and see what we may have missed, or confirm what we already knew. The back left side endpaper gives us further information about the mythological creatures with a couple more comprehension questions thrown in for good measure.
Copyright / dedication page - Sara Fanelli has created a monster, though not from ancient Greece,  who wafts the copyright details in his firey breath, and a dog like creature barks out one of the dedications.  There's an Italian dedication upside down at the top of the page.  Do the children understand it?   You may want to tell them that Sara Fanelli is Italian and only came to the UK to make picture books when she was older. 
Title page - Then there's the title page with similar creatures breathing firey information, daring us to enter the book, or informing us in unFanelli like font that Walker Books and Subsidiaries London . Boston . Sydney . Auckland are the publishers. 


And all this before we've even started 'reading' the book. That's how important all those other bits of a picturebook are, and why we should never ignore them in our ELT classes.   
Mythological Monsters is perfect for a children who have had three or four years of English who will enjoy the visual and verbal jokes as well as the topic.  It's also an excellent title to use with teacher trainees, as it demonstrates how all the peritextual features can contribute to a narrative.  

Another of Fanelli's picturebooks which is suitable for use in ELT is My map book.  Maybe you've used other titles, if so send in a comment.

If you are interested in Sara Fanelli's work, she has an interesting website
Martin Salisbury 2008 The artist and the postmodern picturebook in Sipe, L. & Pantaleo, S. (Eds) Postmodern Picturebooks: play, parody and self-