Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 10: Tubby the Tuba

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

I grew up in the days of cassette tapes. CDs were a novelty in my early teens. As a child, I suffered from chronic asthma which kept me in bed for extended periods.  My mother did her best to keep me entertained. One of my greatest joys was listening to a vast collection of cassette tapes – nursery rhymes, stories, music, etc. One of my favourites was Danny Kaye narrating ‘Tubby the Tuba’.

I was so excited to find Tubby in book form, and bought it to entertain my sister’s children and use with my students.

Tubby the Tuba

Written by Paul Tripp

Illustrated by Henry Cole

Published by Dutton Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Young Readers Group, Penguin Group, 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

The illustrations appear to be mixed media.

This fiction book is perfect for children aged 3 to 8, but brings much nostalgic joy to this adult too. The book is accompanied by a CD and is narrated by the author, Paul Tripp. The music was composed by George Kleinsinger. The melodious soundtrack was performed by the Radio Orchestra of Bratislava, Slovakia, and was conducted by Stephen Gunzenhauser.

Summary:

Tubby, a tuba, feels sad as he never plays a pretty melody with the orchestra. He just ‘oompahs’ a rhythm.

The History Behind ‘Tubby the Tuba’:

According to Wikipedia, the Tubby song traces its origins back to World War II, following the attack on Pearl Harbor. After Paul Tripp and George Kleinsinger performed their first musical piece, the tuba player quipped: “You know, tubas can sing, too.” With this in mind, Tripp wrote the tale of a tuba who found a melody to play, and the pair then made a song out of it. It was not until the war ended that they finally had a hit with “Tubby”.

Lessons to be learnt from this fantastic book:

  1. Auditory Discrimination – When children listen to the recording, while reading along in the book, they will hear the different sounds and tones of some of the different instruments of the orchestra. If the children listen to the recording several times, prompt them to try to name the instruments playing. They will learn to differentiate the sounds and also to remember them. When they listen to other orchestral/classical music, they may then be able to recall the sound of the instrument and correctly identify it in other pieces of music. It is important that children develop auditory discrimination – it is vital for learning spelling and reading (encoding and decoding words).
  2. Musical Appreciation – Many children are not exposed to orchestral or classical music nowadays. Using a book like ‘Tubby the Tuba’ can be a great way to introduce children to a musical genre with which they are not familiar.
  3. Vocabulary Development – As the sounds of the musical instruments are introduced, so are the names of the instruments, as well as other musical terms and words associated with orchestral music, like: scales, melody, conductor, baton, etc. The book also contains lovely words like quivered, indignation, audience, rehearsal, disgrace, snickered, etc.
  4. Personal Conviction – This story is a great way to help children when discussing how they should maintain personal convictions (standing up for themselves) and how to manage situations when they are being belittled by others.

For writers:

  • Text Is Very Active – This story is a good example of ‘showing not telling’. There is dialogue, but very little description.
  • Advanced Vocabulary – Use words required to best tell the story, but always use them in context. The illustrator can assist with the explanation through the illustrations.
  • Onomatopoeia – Onomatopoeia is another device for helping to ‘tune-in’ children’s ears to sounds (phonemes). They often like to mimic the sounds too. Paul Tripp used sounds like: shhhhhh, oompah, tinkled, hooted, bug-gup, ahem, etc. Onomatopoeia words sound like the sounds they make. Onomatopoeia also helps maintain attention to the story. Children love sound effects. If the paired reader can read ‘with feeling’, the sound effects entice the children to listen more carefully.

For illustrators:

  • Bold Outlines – All characters in the foreground have bold black outlines, whereas the background settings have either much finer black outlines or just a pencilled outline. It is easy for the readers to determine the focal point.
  • Dynamic Characters –Character expression and body language is the focus of the illustrations. Colours are kept clean and simple and there is no distracting texture. The story is about characters and so are the illustrations. Background and setting is minimal too.

About the writer:

Paul Tripp lived from February 20, 1911 to August 29, 2002. He was an American children’s musician, author, songwriter, and television and film actor. He collaborated with a fellow composer, George Kleinsinger. Tripp was the creator of the 1945 “Tubby the Tuba”, a piece of classical music for children that has become his best-known work. He authored several books, including Rabbi Santa Claus and Diary of a Leaf.

About the illustrator:

Henry Cole is a self-trained American illustrator. He has illustrated over one hundred picture books.

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing as I go along), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!

Links to the other Tubby stories:

https://archive.org/details/78_the-further-adventure-of-tubby-the-tuba-part-2_ray-middleton-russ-case-and-his-or_gbia0062489/01+-+The+Further+Adventure+of+Tubby+the+Tuba+-++-+Ray+Middleton.flac

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster

Episode 9: Raymund and the Fear Monster

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

Usually a book’s cover illustration attracts my attention – however, I wanted to read this picture book after reading the author’s blog: https://www.meganhigginson.com/follow-the-progress-of-raymund-and-the-fear-monster.html.

I am grateful Megan was willing share the immense time and effort that needs to be taken to create a picture book. I was also struck by the constantly needed message to help children overcome fear.

Raymund and the Fear Monster

Written by Megan Higginson

Illustrated by Ester De Boer

This self-published book was printed by Blue Brumby Books.

The illustrations were created with graphite and colour pencils.

Both the title and the cover illustration give a clear indication of the theme of the story. It is spooky, creepy, horrifying, thrilling and in the end, very satisfying.

This fiction book is perfect for children aged 6 to 8, though it will appeal to some younger and old children. It has a universal theme which will make it a useful tool for teachers and parents. It is longer than the average 32-page picture book, but is still an easy and engrossing read.

Summary:

Raymund and his fellow villagers are being terrified by a horrific monster. Who will defeat the monster?

Lessons to be learnt from this fantastic book:

  1. Courage – The over-arching theme of this book is ‘courage’ and that courage is a choice that anyone can make. Through the story, we come to understand how crippling fear becomes and how it affects everyone around us. At some point, every person needs to learn how to overcome fear. For every person, their journey will be different. The causes of fear are different for each person. For some, they fear public speaking. For others, spiders or mice can induce a panic attack. I get cold shudders just seeing a picture of a clown (and I am very afraid of rats and mice, and break into a cold sweat at the thought of speaking to strangers). For others will be fear of the unknown or of change. Some people are afraid of dogs, sharks, reptiles or birds. Some people of afraid of loud noises or being enclosed in a tight space.

Despite our fears, we can choose to be over-wrought by them, or to choose to be courageous.

 “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever, but the cautious do not live at all. From now on you’ll be traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be. The key is to allow yourself to make the journey.” Princess Diaries

There are other children’s books which deal with the themes of fear and courage, but I really liked this book, because it showed that very often our fears are either not real at all, or we have made them bigger than they actually are. When we are willing to face our fears, we often find that they are not as scary as we supposed.

I write this primarily to myself and hope that by reminding myself, I can encourage someone else too.

  • Observation Skills – Ester has created highly detailed illustrations, often with only the slightest hint of colour. Children can be encouraged to study the illustrations and search for all the details – the hidden animals, birds, insects, etc. Searching in a highly detailed scene for particular items is called ‘visual figure ground’. It teaches young brains how focus on a systematic search of important information and how to ignore unnecessary data. Doing this also improves ‘visual attention’ – the ability to persevere until they find what they are looking for. We can also ask children to observe changes, for example: looking for the signs of the monster’s evolution. They will compare what they have seen with new visual cues.
  • Vocabulary development – Although the language is age appropriate, Megan has utilised a wealth of interesting and advancing adverbs, verbs, adjectives and onomatopoeia. The use of these more advanced words in context, helps children to understand their meaning, even if they have not been previously acquainted with the words.
  • Cultural Awareness – Even though the story is based in a rural village in the Philippines, the theme is so universal that it can be understood by anyone from any culture. I love that the book introduces children in Australia (and hopefully, globally) to how some Filipinos live, and that they share some of the same childhood experiences, regardless of where they live. Children are children, not matter where they are.

For writers:

  • Text is presented in varying quantities – The text was broken up for emphasis – some pages contain a lot of text, other pages only a brief phrase.
  • Vocabulary – Deliberate use of words that can invoke feelings of fear. My youngest niece loves ‘scary’ movies and books. She loves this story, but I think for very sensitive children, this book can be a fun read if they are also in a supportive environment, and the adult reading partner is willing to mediate the concept of courage throughout the book and encourage the child to finish the story.
  • Font – Bold, and different font types have been used to add emphasis to particular words or phrases. This is effective and not necessarily a decision made by the writer. But it is still a concept to keep in mind when writing a picture book. Some illustrators can also hand letter, so may wish to include this feature in their illustrations.
  • Onomatopoeia – This tool helps bring the monster to life. Megan used onomatopoeia, which increased the richness and tension of the story: e.g. ‘Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Scraaaatch. Scraaaaaaatch. Scra-a-a-pe. Aaaarrrggh!

For illustrators:

  • Graphite illustrations – There is no need to spend a fortune on expensive media. Ester used fine-liners, graphite and coloured pencils to bring this story to life. Her images, in this book, are some of the most memorable picture book illustrations for me.
  • Dynamic composition and format – Ester created the illustrations the way a film-maker would. When she wants the monster to be his most intimidating, she utilises a close-up view in a full bleed, double-page spread. Sometimes she used small spot illustrations to show story progression.  Sometimes a street view format was used, but so were slightly elevated and full aerial views. Ester zooms in and she zooms out. The illustrations are exciting and effectively portray the emotions evoked in the story.
  • Colour palette – the colour palette is extremely limited, which helps all the illustrations to be extremely cohesive. As the sketches are so highly detailed, more colour-use would have negatively impacted the effectiveness of the illustrations.

About the writer:

Megan Higginson is an Australian author and illustrator of children’s books. She struggled with dyslexia as a child, but overcame it and became an avid reader.

https://www.meganhigginson.com/

About the illustrator:

Ester De Boer lives in Australia and is an obsessive illustrator of several children’s books.

http://www.esterdeboerillustration.com/

http://www.kids-bookreview.com/2018/09/meet-illustrator-ester-de-boer.html

 ‘Raymund and the Fear Monster’ can be purchased:

https://www.booktopia.com.au/raymund-and-the-fear-monster-megan-higginson/book/9780648338116.html

https://www.amazon.com/Raymund-Fear-Monster-Megan-Higginson/dp/064833810X

https://www.bookdepository.com/Raymund-Fear-Monster-Megan-Higginson/9780648338116

https://www.mightyape.co.nz/product/raymund-and-the-fear-monster-hardback/31891811

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing the journey and process as I go), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!

Illustration

Creating a Picture Book – Part 4 (My Picture Book Preparation)

With regards to my current picture book project:    

* My idea evolved from a character study I developed for a drawing course. I wanted to show my students that realism study + animation and/or caricaturisation = character. I liked a particular character I had illustrated and hoped he would inspire a story. He did. I am adapting that character illustration to better suit the story.                                                                                                                                                                                      

* I have spent several months thinking over this picture book idea. I have learnt it is best to do a lot of mental organisation before putting it on paper. My note and sketch preparation have been more targeted. The sketch process and story notes invariably introduce surprises that can change the direction of the book.                                                                                                                                                                          

* I am dedicating a sketchbook to this picture book process. It will contain all the preparatory work: manuscript development, idea notes and sketches, character development sketches, setting development sketches, storyboards, etc. I also bought a watercolour sketchbook to use for colour experiments. It will be easy for me to keep my work organised and taking up little space.

* I am excited to develop the other characters too. A couple of years ago, I did Nina Rycroft’s Skillshare course: Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes (http://ninarycroft.com/online-classes/ ). The course assignment was to use different shapes to develop a variety of faces. I never imagined how that assignment would inspire my illustrations in the future. I will be adapting some of those faces for characters in my story and creating new ones. I reviewed Nina’s Skillshare courses in a blog. You can read it here:  https://auntiebettyillustration.wordpress.com/2018/11/25/my-favourite-skillshare-teachers-part-one-nina-rycroft/

Join me in a month when we talk about how the picture book is going so far.

Until next time…

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 8: The Wonder Garden

THE PURPOSE OF THIS BLOG:

To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

The Wonder Garden

Illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams (it is a rare instance when the illustrator is credited before the writer)

Written by Jenny Broom

Conceived and commissioned by Rachel Williams

Published by Wide Eyed Editions, an imprint of Aurum Press, London, United Kingdom

The illustrations were created digitally.

This book’s cover cannot be passed over. The combination of the gold, luminous colours and highly detailed complexity made it impossible to miss it on the book stores shelf. I could not move past it when I saw it, and then bought it for my niece, who was recuperating after a nasty elbow fracture.

This non-fiction book is perfect for children aged 5 to 12 and contains an educational adventure that will attract the attention of the reader many, many times.

Summary:

The book reveals different habitats and the creatures that live in them.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Geography – The five habitats covered include: the Chihuahuan desert of Mexico, the Amazon rain forest, the Black Forest of Germany, The Himalayan mountains of Asia and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. There is no attempt of cover all geographical regions on our planet. It appears that the creators wished to unveil five very distinct regions instead. Each region is presented thus: a. A highly detailed double-page illustration of the region and its inhabitants (a veritable feast for the eyes and presents an opportunity to discuss what the child sees, or alternatively, the page can be skipped over until after you have read the regions information, when you return to the double page spread and ask the child to review what they remember from what was read). b. The information on each region includes tidbits on the terrain, climate, and conditions. The ecosystem is explained and children can learn about the relationships between plants and creatures and between the creatures themselves.
  2. Zoology – Various marine creatures, birds, animals, insects, amphibia, reptiles and arachnids are introduced in this book, sometimes only as a picture and label (a Google search can extend the learning experience here); and sometimes there is a brief review of the creature. The common English name is used but the Latin binomial name is also noted, which can give children an insight into the use of Latin in the English language and its ongoing use and necessity for classification.
  3. Vocabulary development – I applaud the writer for using appropriate language. Although most 5 year old children will not understand all the vocabulary, they will still enjoy the visual display the book provides, and if the reading adult is willing to define words, the children will unconsciously extend their vocabulary with useful, advanced vocabulary.
  4. Botany – Although plants species are illustrated, they are not usually represented in the text. Considering the size of the book, I guess it would have been prohibitively expensive and cumbersome to have included more plant information. The illustrations do an excellent job of conveying the plant atmosphere though.  

For writers:

  • Information is presented in bite-size pieces.
  • Vocabulary – the words are selected for accuracy and education, not for age-appropriateness.
  • Font – bold, UPPERCASE font has been used to lend emphasis to particular words or phrases.
  • Onomatopoeia – Jenny Broom has evoked the sounds of these regions by employing onomatopoeia, eg. Eurasian Eagle-Owls rasp kveck-kveck and the Common Raven produces the tuneless prruk-prruk-prruk noise in the company of another raven, etc.

For illustrators:

  • Textural illustrations – the digital illustrations are extremely textural (an element often lacking in digital work). The texture creates depth and perspective in the illustrations and reminds me a lot of old wood-cut (engraved) print illustrations
  • Static composition – All of the story illustrations are created in a forward, street view. They are, however, shown up close, so that the reader feels as though they are participating in the scene, not just witnessing it. The full-bleed format also achieves this. More dynamic composition would be inappropriate, as the illustrations are so highly detailed that adding more composition complexity would confuse the eye. The more detailed the composition, the simpler the perspective needs to be. If the composition is simple, you can afford to go wild with dynamic perspective. The aim of the book was to convey information, not produce an action picture.
  • Limited illustration formats – Unusual in this age, the illustrator used only full-bleed double-page layouts. It suits the composition and perspective. I think that varying the format would have undermined the effectiveness of the underlying theme and presentation.
  • Colour palette – is extremely vibrant, but Kristjana Williams has a knack of knowing how bright something can be and skillfully uses very deep, dark shadows and very bright whites to maintain balance. Even using contemporary traditional media, it would be a challenge to achieve the same luminous, day-glow shades that can be utilised in digital work.

About the illustrator:

Multi-award winner Kristjana S. Williams was born in Iceland and lives and works in London. She studied graphic design and illustration at Central St Martins.

https://www.kristjanaswilliams.com/

About the writer:

                Jenny Broom lives and works in London. She studied at Slade before becoming an author and editor of children’s books. She is also the author of the acclaimed ‘Animalium’.

For those of you new to my blog, I blog about my illustration journey (I am working on a new picture book at the moment, so am sharing as I go along), and review picture books (to share how cognitive elements can be drawn from the book to educate the child, and also how writers and illustrators can incorporate these elements in their work).

At the moment, I am trying to produce one of each blog per month. Please join me again next month.

Happy reading!

Illustration

Creating a Picture Book – Part 2 (The Idea)

Since I am writing and illustrating my book, the blog will be written from the perspective of a picture book creator, not just that of a writer or illustrator.

You have an idea for a picture book, or maybe you don’t, but you want or need to write and illustrate a book.

Here is the process for becoming inspired and for working on the idea:

  1. Keep a notebook and/or a sketchbook handy – this is your idea library. Ideas fall into our laps from the strangest places: a conservation overheard between young children, a comical scene, something beautiful or fascinating, etc. Whenever you feel blocked or uninspired, your ‘idea library’ comes into play.
  2. Ideas cannot be forced. Even when you have an idea, sometimes it can take days or weeks to foment into a usable concept. I find concepts crystallise when I am walking the dog, showering, trying to sleep, trying to distract myself from brooding over my concept by reading a book, etc. Discussing your concept with a writing group can be helpful.
  3. Don’t try to produce a finished and perfect book at this point. Just note the ideas. Play around with them. Give the ideas a chance to speak for themselves – let them come to life by themselves.
  4. Don’t over contrive them. You want the scenario, characters and setting to be fresh and believable.
  5. Don’t fight change. Just because your initial concept appeals to you, does not mean that it must remain the same as it was initially. Concepts tends to evolve. Sometimes they taper down to something simpler, sometimes they develop complexity. I find my concepts often look very different in the end. There is a core of the original idea, but its end result is usually much better than its initial concept.
  6. Do your research and check your references. If your story is about elephants in the Okavango Delta, then read up about them and the location. Draw African elephants. Draw the Okavango landscape. These study sketches will not be in the picture book, but they will train your hands, eyes and creativity so that you can use what you learn to create the illustrations.

Join me next time for the third part of this blog series: Creating a Picture Book – Part 3 (What to Consider When Creating a Picture Book).

Until next time…