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.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Good old Brown Bear ...

Picture Puffin Edition, 1995
Henry Holt & Cº Edition, 1970
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? written by Bill Martin Jr and illustrated by Eric Carle was first published in 1967. It's a classic and a picturebook I recommend to all teachers who aren't sure about using authentic literature, especially if they are working with pre-primary and early-primary learners. It's repetitive in nature, the illustrations support learners' understanding of the words, and of course it's a concept book enabling children to either learn or contextualise colours and animals as well as begin to pick up the English adjective + noun word order. I've argued in a number of places that though this is a good reason to use picturebooks, it's not the only reason and children remain fairly passive when they are shown this picturebook - passive in the sense that they don't have to think much - pictures show and words tell the same information. Don't get me wrong, it's a wonderful picturebook and one I wouldn't do without! 

The front of the book presents the bear and the back of the book shows us the old bear's bottom... he walks into the book and walks out. Don't forget to show this sequence to your learners. 

Back cover, Picture Puffin Edition
The endpapers are wonderful, and I always go back to these during retells, as they help children remember the sequence of the animals by associating them with the strips of colour Carle has used.  In the Picture Puffin edition the endpapers have been signed by Eric Carle, in the Henry Holt Edition, there is a red bird instead... 

Front endpapers Picture Puffin Edition
Front endpapers Henry Holt edition
Bring this to the children's attention, whichever your version is and talk about it. The title pages differ too. The Picture Puffin Edition looks like a kind of window and replicates the ripped paper technique Carle uses on the endpapers. 

Title page, Picture Puffin Edition. 
Title page, Henry Holt Edition




And so we begin our journey through this rhythmic sequence of colourful animals, each dictating which animal comes next. The sequence starts with the iconic brown bear ... In the Henry Holt Edition, the bear is facing left not right, I've always thought that odd, walking away from the story instead of into it.

Opening 1 Picture Puffin Edition
All through this book as readers we ask each animal they see, for example, "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?" and the animal responds, "I see a red bird." Upon each page turn we discover the announced animal. 

Opening 2, Picture Puffin Edition
Each animal appears bold and bright, huge on the page. The red bird is one of my favourites. Eric Carle has used different tones of red paper (which he has prepared himself I think) as well as colours derived from red. Children sometimes comment in their own language on this and we talk about the fact that purple is a mixture of red and blue and orange comes from yellow and red... 

Then comes the yellow duck, its long neck bent backwards to fit the page. Then the blue horse, its square back aligned with the top of the page. 

Opening 4, Picture Puffin Edition
No child seems to question this surreal horse, which I always find so comforting. I like the mixture of blues turning almost to green here too. Another of my favourite picturebooks by Eric Carle is The artist who painted the blue horse, and one I also share with my pre-primary learners. They always make the connection between these two horses. 

The blue horse announces he can see a green frog, then the frog announces a purpe cat.

Opening 6, Picture Puffin Edition
Purple cat in turn announces white dog. I like that the dog comes after the cat and not before and that it is the cat who brings him into the story. I wonder if this helps or hinders the children's ability to sequence the animals? 

The kinds of animals that Bill Martin Jr decided to include in this story don't fit into any one animal category. I like that too. There are pets, wild woodland animals and farm animals. Children are never expecting to see a sheep, but white dog announces a black sheep.

Opening 8, Picture Puffin Edition
As you can see from this illustration, the sheep is actually brown. Children often comment on this, and I explain that in real life black sheep actually have dark brown wool. I've noticed however that reprints of this book now have a black sheep and I often wonder whether this was because of market feedback. 

Black sheep announces a lovely big gold fish which I usually call 'orange fish' and then there's a nice surprise, for next we have a monkey, our token jungle animal!

Opening 10, Picture Puffin Edition
This monkey is not seen in full and though no child has ever commented, it's actually a turn in the visual narrative. The monkey is looking out at us and scratching his head ... what can he see?

Opening 11, Picture Puffin Edition
Why all the children of course!  I point to different faces and ask the children if they can see themselves. They always can as these faces are a multicultural set of smiling children all looking back at us readers.  

There's something commfortingly didactic about Martin Jr and Carle's book. The final spread is the result of the question, "Children, children, what do you see?" and helps young readers remember what it was they saw during this rhythmic, visual story. 

Opening 12, Picture Puffin Edition
Upon first seeing this page children often "Oohhh" in delight when they realise that they have to remember what they have seen. After several retells this becomes a page to chant out loud, each child chorusing in unison. It's a lovely way to end the book. 

I've chosen to give you the Picture Puffin Edition illustrations, because this edition is my favourite. The Henry Hold Edition has no monkey, instead there is a mother. And I have another edition which has a similar face, though slightly less scowly and she's a teacher.  If you want to read Eric Carle's blog post about this follow this link. The teacher illustration is pretty much like this one and as I have short hair and little round glasses and children always say it looks like me (even though my eyes are blue!).

Opening 10, Henry Holt Edition
Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? is a classic. There are loads of online resources to support using it in a pre-primary classroom and even for slightly older children, though I personally disagree with incorporating a picturebook of this picture-word simplicity with children over 6 or 7 years old, even if the activities are for older children.  As I said earlier, for teachers who have never used a picturebook, this is a great one to start with, so easy to tell with such big, bold illustrations.  The positive response from any group of young children will encourage teachers to have a go with other picturebook titles and that's definitely a plus!

I can't finish without sharing a reading by Eric Carle of this lovely book.  Filmed in 2007, when Brown Bear was 40 years old. It's a must. I hope that Eric Carle will still be around in 2017 to read it to everyone again. 




Eric Carle was 86 years old on June 25. Happy belated birthday Mr Carle and thanks for all your wonderful picturebooks.

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