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!

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books - Book Reviews

Episode 4: ‘Two Little Monkeys’ (Mem Fox) and ‘Blue Chameleon’ (Emily Gravett)

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.

We will be looking at two picture books in this blog.

Since my picture book collection is still in storage, while necessary house repairs take place, I visited our local library.

As an illustrator, the cover illustrations draw 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?

Two Little Monkeys

Written by Mem Fox

Illustrated by Jill Barton

Published by Puffin Books, Penguin Group, Australia, 2012

The illustrations appear to be done in pencil and watercolour.

This book will appeal to young children (toddlers).

It is a rhyming story, with a strong rhythm, which reminded me a lot of the old nursery rhyme, ‘Two Little Dickie Birds, sitting on a wall, one name Peter, the other name Paul.’

Because of the tight rhythm and neat rhyming, there is a natural cadence when the story is read. Reading picture books, structured in this manner, is fundamental for young brain development. Skills learnt reading books like ‘Two Little Monkeys’ include:

  1. Rhyme recognition and generation – do the words ‘Cheeky’ and ‘Chee’ rhyme? What else rhymes with ‘Cheeky’ and ‘Chee’?
  2. Rhythm development – the ability to clap or tap in time or even to generate new verses in accordance with the rhyming and rhythm patterns laid out in the story.
  3. Memory development – the story is catchy, due to the rhyme and rhythm, and some children will learn the story off by heart.
  4. Sequencing – memorising the story will help children learn to remember the story in order. “What comes after this line if the last word must rhyme with ‘tree’?”
  5. Vocabulary development – marvellous words like ‘prowling’, ‘scramble’, ‘tremble’, and ‘leap’ are used. Most two and three old year children love learning new, ‘big’ or ‘grown-up’ words, and they learn to use these through understanding the context of the story.

Additional lessons that can be learned from this story include:

  • Stranger danger message – Cheeky and Chee realise that there is someone approaching who does not have their best interests at heart, and from whom they flee. This story can be used by parents and teachers as a springboard for a discussion about this very serious subject.
  • Clues – If the children analyse the illustrations, they may find that danger lurks from the very first page. Children need to be made aware that vital information can be concealed on a page, and that they need to look for it.

For the aspiring illustrators, one major lesson stood out:

  • Limited colour palette – Jill Barton kept the colour palette very simple. She did not use every colour available. Cohesion between the illustrations is maintained throughout the entire book. The palette is very neutral, but beautiful, red berries are introduced for the exciting conclusion of the story.

Mem Fox has written many delightful children’s picture books and is Australian. Jill Barton has also illustrated numerous picture books and lives in the United Kingdom.

Blue Chameleon

Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett

Published by Two Hoots, Pan Macmillan, United Kingdom, 2010

The illustrations were created using pencil, watercolour and coloured pencils.

I love chameleons, so I could not pass by this picture book!

This story is perfect for young children. Although a quick read (the word count is only 51 words!), there is so much scope for discussion.

Emily Gravett introduces colour and texture to children in this story, and yet, the book is not about colour and texture. She cleverly utilises them to drive the simple, yet profound, storyline.

In short, Chameleon is lonely. He tries to make friends with a host of other creatures and solitary objects.

As we have all be raised to believe, chameleons change colour to camouflage with their surroundings, and this is what Chameleon does, but still he is lonely, until…DRUMROLL, please…he finally meets another chameleon!

The satisfactory ending in no way negates the need for me to point out that chameleons do not actually change colour to match their surroundings.

Apparently, according to my internet research, chameleons change colour as a response to mood, temperature, health, communication, and light.

Lessons to be learnt from this lovely book:

  1. Colour identification – kids love colour and this book is great way to check that they know their colours.
  2. Pattern and texture discussion – chat about the patterns and textures shown in the illustrations.
  3. Science – explain that chameleons do change colour, and but teach them when they actually do.
  4. Emotional and social lesson – that we are not alone. Even if we do not fit in with everyone else, there is someone out there who we will get along with. We just need to keep our eyes open.

For writers:

  • May this be a lesson to me and other verbose children’s authors, that picture books can be written with just 51 words!

For illustrators:

  • Keep illustrations super simple. Although Emily Gravett utilises props for her protagonist, she did not illustrate the background!

Recently I have been trying to blog twice a month, but time is not on my side, so I am returning to once-monthly blogs. I will be alternating months between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights. Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog, where I will be discussing my recent experience opening a Redbubble store, from which my illustrations can be purchased on a wide range of products.

Happy reading!