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 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

Cognitive Elements in Picture Books

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Disclaimer: I have not been paid to write this blog. I was not paid to speak on this subject either.

As promised in my last blog, today we are taking a slight detour from reviewing art books.

A few weeks ago, I spoke to my local writing group (of which I am a member) on ‘Adding Cognitive Elements in Picture Books’. I am hugely passionate about this subject. As some of you know, when I am not moonlighting as an illustrator and picture book writer, I teach children with learning disabilities.

So, what is the purpose of cognitive elements in picture books?

Most children love learning, and with good planning, an illustrator or writer can teach a child while they are being entertained with a good book.

Some children have cognitive deficits, e.g. The inability to see that a shape is still the same shape, even if it is rotated or flipped (visual-spatial difficulties); or to match or discern patterns or designs (visual discrimination); etc. Deficits invariably cause difficulties in academic studies.

Other children, though not limited by a cognitive deficit, have never been exposed to cognitive activities, and as a result, also struggle with academic exercises.

It is vital that children play with puzzles, strategic and logic-based games. These develop problem solving skills and mathematical ability. Simplistically, these activities are generally thought of as right-brain tasks.

It is just as important the children read. Reading books develops all language skills and linguistic tasks are regarded as a left-brain activity.

I know that ‘right-brain and left-brain’ categorisation is too simplistic, but for the sake of explaining why cognitive elements need to be added to books, I felt this was the most straight-forward route to take.

Picture books can be created which develop both groups of skills and also encourage memory development in young children.

Examples of picture books that develop cognitive skills.

Language:

  1. Sequencing – Sequencing fits ‘hand-in-hand’ with memory development (sequencing is remembering the story, events, etc. in the RIGHT order). Sequencing is foundational in many traditional fairy tales and folk stories, e.g. ‘The Ginger Bread Boy’, ‘The Three Little Pigs’, ‘The Little Red Hen’, ‘There’s A Hole in My Bucket’, ‘Who Killed Cock Robin’, ‘Chicken Little’ (‘Chicken Licken’), ‘The Enormous Turnip’, etc.

    There are also lovely, contemporary books with strong story and illustration sequencing like: ‘Sydney and the Whalebird’, ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’, ‘My Grandfather’s Coat’, ‘Adele and Simon’, etc.

    Searching, discerning and verbalising subplots in illustrations is also fundamental in developing comprehension and inference skills. (Donovan Bixley’s books are great for this).

  2. Wordless Books are one of the best ways to help children develop strong sequencing ability. Wordless books also build an understanding of inference and comprehension skills. Some of my favourite wordless books include: ‘The Red Book’, ‘Tuesday’ (but actually any David Weisner book is terrific!), ‘Journey’, ‘Quest’, ‘Return’, ‘The Lazy Friend’, ‘Dog on a Train’, etc.
  3. Rhyming (identifying and generating sounds at the ends of words) – Rhyming is a critical and integral part of learning. I think it is a great pity that some publishers have decided that rhyming and alliteration is passé, as rhyme competence is the building block for language development necessary for reading and spelling. Nowadays, most children do not know a single Nursery Rhyme. Learning Nursery Rhymes builds language comprehension and memory skills. Many children who are not exposed to Nursery Rhymes struggle to learn to read and spell, as their cognitive language development is retarded. I see the result of this neglect every day, and the process for remediation takes a very long time. To help develop rhyming ability in children, read Nursery Rhymes and rhyming stories like those by Dr. Seuss, Julia Donaldson and Lynley Dodd, etc. which often become family favourites.

    If you are a writer keen on writing a rhyming story, please try to avoid rhyming words that only rhyme colloquially. For example, in New Zealand, hair is often pronounced here, and so readers from other countries would be puzzled if they read a story with Kiwi hair rhyming with fear. Those words will not rhyme for them.

  4. Alliteration (identifying and generating sounds at the beginning of words) – alliteration is used in Nursery Rhymes and Tongue Twisters (eg. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers; She sells sea shells on the sea-shore; etc). This skill is essential for reading and especially spelling.
  5. Concise speech – there is an increase in ‘speech impediments, which leads to spelling struggles – ‘th’ (as in ‘these’) is pronounced ‘v’ or ‘d’; ‘th’ (as in ‘thing’) is pronounced ‘f’ – learning Nursery Rhymes or tongue twisters can help remedy these speech faults.
  6. Phonological awareness – there is a dire need for good picture books teaching children the CORRECT sounds for alphabet letters. It is no good having albatross or ape for the basic, short ‘a’ sound. A good word for teaching basic, short ‘a’ would be ant. The entire word is phonetic. Alphabet books needs to be expanded to teach short and long sounds and the examples need to be correct. If you are interested in authoring an alphabet book, avoid words with vowel diagraphs at the being of words (like oar, ear) and also avoid following a vowel with a consonant that alters the sound of the vowel (like albatross or ark). Personally, I would love to see books teaching sounds including consonant diagraphs like ‘th’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, etc.
  7. Vocabulary extension – books like Gemma O’Neill’s ‘Monty’s Magnificent Mane’ is brilliant for vocabulary extension. Interesting adjectives and verbs are employed throughout the story. Enlarged font invites the reader to expand vocal tone or volume to create emphasis. Most kids lap up stories like this. They are so much fun to read and make the whole reading experience satisfactory for the adult reader, as well as the child. Generally, children who are read to, learn to read more easily. They learn more quickly, since they are not just learning from set readers (which expand word knowledge by only a few new words per book) but also from picture and story books, which are not required to abide by strict introductions for new words.

montys-magnificent-mane.jpg

Creative Thinking and Visual Awareness:

  1. Visual Spatial (the inability to see that a shape is still the same shape, even if it is rotated or flipped) – visual spatial concepts include shapes, puzzles, etc. Donovan Bixley’s ‘Looky Book’ has some really cool pages that cover visual-spatial activities. I feel there is a real need for more visual-spatial books for pre-schoolers and older children.Looky Book.JPGPlease let me know if you are interested in knowing more about helping children develop visual-spatial understanding. I am happy to expand on this theme and also to recommend fantastic resources.
  2. Number Concept – understanding the impact of numbers on life. Good examples of books that play with number concept are: ‘Where’s Wally’ (find 6 wizards, etc), search and find books (find 5 walruses), ‘Rats’ and ‘The Church Mice in Action’ (small children love to count – “Let us count the rats on this page!”), ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, etc. ‘Down in the Forest’ teaches basic counting, but also includes Kiwi flora and fauna and a rhyming story.
  3. Directionality (the ability to discern left and right, and to be able to determine where you are and where you need to go {orientation in space} and how to get there – maps and mazes are very useful to teaching this. These are some of my favourite books that contain maps, mazes, aerial views, cut-away buildings, etc.
  4. Visual Discrimination – the ability to understand what you see. Books like Donovan Bixley’s ‘Looky Book’, ‘Where’s Wally’, ‘Ballroom Bonanza’, etc. are great tools for helping children to learn to closely observe images.
  5. Visual Figure Ground – the ability to sift information, ignoring what is non-essential and focusing on what is necessary. High-density images like those in ‘Ballroom Bonanza’, search books and ‘Where’s Wally’ are good for teaching visual figure-ground.

     

  6. Comparison (teaching evaluation) – Goldilocks saw three bowls of porridge: a big bowl that was piping hot, a medium-sized bowl that was cold, and a small that was just right. Then Goldilocks saw three beds: One that was enormous and too hard, one that was too big and was far too soft, and one that was just the right size and felt perfect!

Memory:

  1. Nursery Rhymes – if you recite or sing nursery rhymes to children, they will learn them, without even realising it.
  2. Folk Tales and Fairy Tales – ask children questions about what they have read or been read.
  3. Repetitive phrases are easy to remember – E.g. ‘Little pig, little pig, let me in!”

“No! Not by the hairy of my chinny, chin, chin!”

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down!” or

“Grandmother, what big eyes you have!”“All the better so see you with, my child!”

Ask children to retell the story. You will quickly become aware if they have memory or sequencing issues if you do this. Many children struggle to retain what they hear. They may be able to remember the story whilst looking at the pictures, but will be incapable of recapping if the book is closed.

Little Red Riding Hood.JPG

General Knowledge: This can be conveyed to children in beautiful, interesting books like the Dorling Kindersley books, but creative layout and/or concepts can also be used in non-fiction books. Here are examples of some of my favourite general knowledge books:

Wisdom – Many years ago, I was told that wisdom means learning from other people’s mistakes before making them yourself. I have never forgotten that. Sometimes wisdom can be imparted through the passive means of a picture book. Here are two of my favourite children’s book which I have found impart wisdom in a very charming manner:

Metacognition – definition: being aware of one’s thinking.

Metacognition can be prompted using books that could include riddles, puzzles and clues. Examples of books like these are books like ‘The Ocean’.  I think creating books for metacognition will be a challenging and satisfying work for a writer or illustrator. Metacognition books should encourage a child to think for themselves, prompt thought and do not tell the child what to think. The book does, however, need to provide the answer and explanation in the end so that the child knows if he or she is right, or how to understand the ‘puzzle’ if they could not work it out.

The Ocean

This blog has turned out very long, and is rather a bombardment of information, so I hope it is clear enough for my readers. Please let me know if you would like some clarification of any of the topics above.

My lovely friend and fellow blogger, Hannah Davidson, suggested I post picture book reviews. I am planning to do so. I look forward to wearing an additional hat: art book and material reviews, picture book reviews, illustration journey updates, etc. In my picture book reviews, I plan to cover the cognitive, illustrative and writing aspects of the book. I am very much looking forward to getting to work on these.

Until next time…