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, July 24, 2012

The fish who could wish

Front cover
I thought I'd stick with illustrator Korky Paul for this next post and share a picturebook I have had on my shelf for ages.  It's always nice to go back to books and rediscover them, and this is what I did with The fish who could wish. Written by John Bush.  Written in rhyme...
"In the deep blue sea,
In the deep of the blue,
Swam a fish who could wish,
And each wish would come true.
He wishes for a castle.
He wished for a car.
But one day he wished
Just  a little too far... "
It is a silly story, but one with a message. 
The front cover shows us the special fish, bright orange in contrast to the slightly opaque fish in the background. He's looking quite a ease... a line of bubbles leading us to his thought, the title of this book - when we return to the cover after reading the story we will smile at the reference to the past, The fish who could wish!  
The bubbles appear through out the visual narrative, linking the fish and his wishes...
The endpapers also show the fish, his bubbles floating up and off the spread ...
Front end papers
The title page shows our fish as though he is telling his story, his fin held high. 
Title page
There was once ...
Opening 1
Always orange and brighter than anything else on the page we see the fish about to wish.  The underworld is luscious with shipwrecks and lots of envious fish. Opening 1 is interesting as the illustration has three white borders, but goes right to the top edge.  
Opening 2
The following spreads contain the fish's wish within a framed illustration, broken only by his bubble. I interpret this as a description of his wish ... the fish is remembering all the fun he had! He wished for a castle, a car, for a horse and a Spanish guitar ... in each illustration the fish is seen in his splendour, the other fish looking more than miffed! 
Opening 4
Our fish wished he could ski and that he could fly.  The illustrations show a proud fish doing just that, lovely undersea blue-green colours in contrast to our bright orange fish. 
Opening 6
Opening 6 is fun, with the fish literally flying around the world, space ships for company.  The calm underwater scene at the bottom of the recto page shows him remembering what he had been able to do. 
Opening 9
Opening 9 is one of my favourite spreads, the fish confidently turning into all sorts of shapes, and below he looks flippantly up at the illustration... it was so easy!
Opening 10
Opening 10 shows the culmination of our fish's silliness,  wearing smart clothes and silk ties ... and he is portrayed on the verso page rather bashfully, as though he admits he really was a bit extravagant.  
Opening 11
Korky Paul prepares us visually for the terrible ending, we read in the verbal text ... "he wished the silliest wish" - we see him swimming away from the wonderful things he had wished for in his life and you will notice that he is in the illustration, no longer looking back at his experience. His wish bubbles are floating upwards and out of the page, going nowhere ...
Opening 12
"That silly fish wishes he could be like all the other fish ..." and sure enough no more bubbles, no more wishes and the shoal of fish around him realise immediately ... and so does our bright orange fish, ooops!  
And we turn the page again to see the same endpapers we saw at the beginning, the fish who could wish!


Scholastic have a short series of activities which focus on the skill of developing self-awareness through the act of wishing.  It's devised for smaller children, but the process of reflecting on what the fish did and talking about it is suitable for older children.  
The theme of wishing is an exciting one, especially when the children realise that wishes are limitless and they can have some fun describing and writing about them.  Even better when wishes become directed to resolving problems in the world.

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