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, April 28, 2014

Just like Jasper - watch out for the mice!

Two years ago I completed my PhD research, which investigated picturebook illustrations, children's literary response and language development in a foreign language. It was a wonderful journey of discovery and I miss being in PhD mode terribly. Normal life is far too busy and I have been unable to keep up this blog for example. 

Why am I waffling on about all this? Well, while I was doing my PhD I began this blog and I featured over a hundred picturebooks in the posts I wrote regularly between 2010 and 2013. Two of those titles were part of my field work, Good Night Gorilla and Rosie's Walk. But I haven't written about the third picturebook, Just Like Jasper - I now need to do so that I can refer to the picturebook occasionally in chapters where I mention my research. Interested readers can just click on the blog post link and 'Hey presto!' they can see the book. 

Front cover
So, Just like Jasper is a cute little picturebook, written by Mick Inkpen and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and first published in 1989. Here is a review: "Brilliant primary colours mark each scene and the book as a whole has a sense of excited movement to extend the simple joke of humanizing a cat's thoughts but not its appearance". (Growing Point, November, 1989, p. 5249.

The front cover of Just like Jasper introduces us to Jasper, sitting on the floor, winding up a clockwork mouse, two other mice on the floor at his feet. He is smiling at the beholder. This is a variation of the illustration on opening 4. The title font is a stark contrast to Jasper's black and white watercolour illustration and words sit as though jiggling above his head: the letters are unaligned and multi-coloured and countoured by a fine undulating line, which makes them look like they are moving. Young children are drawn to these letters and enjoy calling out those that belong to their own names. 

Back cover
The back cover contains a replica of the illustration on double spread 10, showing Jasper with a Jack-in-a-box. This is accompanied by a short written description of the story.

page 3
Page 4
There are some interesting peritextual features, with cameo prologue illustrations which are crucial to our understanding and help readers access the narrative. They explain how Jasper acquired his coin - it came in an envelope, possibly along with a birthday card. The copyright page, usually at the front of a picturebook is at the back, and also shows us an illustration, which serves as a closing to the story. I'll show you at the end of my blog post!

What's interesting about this picturebook is how the children noticed all sorts of things in the illustrations, which I didn't as I was selecting it. Those mice on the front cover, played havoc with my storytelling sessions, as they were hidden in the illustrations and I hadn't noticed them. The children did though!  

Opening 02
In opening 02, the words tell us, "What will he buy?" and the illustrations show us the toys that are available in the toyshop, including the toy cat Jasper eventually buys. But it is only upon re-readings that we realize these are the toys which are shown in the following pages. The children really enjoy this page as they begin to recount what Jasper will play with and what he will eventually buy. They recognize what will be inside the boxes - identifying the clockwork mice and Jack-in-a-box boxes and the box, on the top shelf, which holds the toy cat, Just like Jasper

The body of the book covers twelve double spreads. Each opening, bar two, follows the visual pattern of the verso containing the verbal text and a part of the illustration, with the recto containing just illustration. The illustrations are in watercolour with pencil contours; Nick Butterworth uses bold, saturated colours, and places the illustrations against a white background, using muted shadows to anchor the figures and objects to a non-existent ground. The setting is that of a toyshop, but we see no shop, as such, just shelves and toys.
Jasper is anthropomorphic - an animal behaving like a human - though he does not speak, his motivations and actions are human-like. An unknown other is the narrator, not just narrating, but in dialogue with the beholder, asking questions and leading them through the illustrations. These questions come rhythmically, and encourage a reactive response, looking and pointing, then labelling or a shaking of the head and a chorus of "No!".

Opening 03
Each question relates to the toy in the illustration, so on opening 03 the question "Will he chose a ball?" sits above an illustration of a basket of balls and opposite an illustration of Jasper throwing a large ball. These questions are never answered: instead upon each page turn we are asked another question and shown Jasper interacting with yet another toy. Until, the end of course - like any good story! 

In opening 04 the words ask us, "Or perhaps a clockwork mouse?" and the illustrations show us Jasper on his knees winding up a mouse, the other mice scattered around him. Through the illustrations we are shown that clockwork mice move, but that they need to be wound up. This illustration also gives us a clue as to how all the mice appear in the subsequent spreads. 
Opening 04
And so the questions continue:
A noisy drum?
Or some bubbles?
Would he like a car?
Or maybe a doll?
Or a robot?
Will he choose a Jack-in-a-box?

In each of these illustrations mice are hiding and Jasper is interacting in one way or another with the toys, deciding if it really is what he wants to buy. In opening 7 he is on the car ... see the mouse?

Opening 07
Here in opening 8 he is dancing with a doll. Children loved this illustration and several compared it to Cinderella dancing with her prince. Can you see the mouse?

Opening 8
Opening 9 is comical, with Jasper using the robot to help him collect some of the wound up mice. 

Opening 09

In opening 11, the questions are finally answered, both in the visual and the verbal - we see a pile of discarded toys and can read, "No. Jasper doesn't want any of these." 

Opening 11
We could say that the illustrations were repetitive in nature, due to the way they repeatedly show the answer to the questions. But the questions themselves are not repetitive as each uses a different grammatical pattern. So children find them difficult to imitate and pick up. 

But what has Jasper chosen? Can anyone guess? The box Jasper is stretching up to take off the shelf has little paw prints on it. 

Opening 12
Ahh, how cute is that?  "It's a little cat. Just Like Jasper!". 

And as I promised, the copyright page completes our visual narrative ... Jasper is playing with his new toy. 

Copyright page
I chose this picturebooks because it was topically appropriate, it featured toys, and children had returned from their Christmas break having had a holiday full of toys.  But I also chose it because it suited my research - Just like Jasper does not contain a repetitive verbal text, and its illustrations don't show much more than the words tell, except for the profusion of mice.

For any one wanting to use this picturebook in an ELT class of pre-primary children, don't forget that toys are dear to children's hearts and they will want to share lots of stories about the toys they have; they will notice those mice, and they will enjoy creating their own narratives around those peritextual features showing Jasper and the envelope in preparation for the story itself. Don't go into your class thinking you know the story inside this picturebook.  The children will have their own interpretations and and will enjoy sharing them.