My very first experience of blogging came a few months ago.

It was when ELT trainer and author, Lindsay Clandfield, invited me to do a 'guest spot' on teaching young learners on his blog 'Six things - A miscellany of English language'. Lindsay's blog is a varied collection of interesting, surprising and often amusing things about teaching and learning. The only proviso is that every posting comes in a list of six. 

Given my love of literature and storytelling, it's probably no surprise that I chose to write about my six favourite illustrated story books to use with children. The reason for reproducing my original posting on Lindsay's blog and list here is that, following the discussion we have had so far with contributions from so many different countries and cultures, it would be wonderful to hear about your favourite story books too! 

Here's what I wrote:

In more than 25 years of teaching, I’ve used many different picture books with children aged 3 – 12 and have a precious collection of well-thumbed favourites. In the 1980s, picture books closest to my heart included classics such as The Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle), Where’s Spot? (Eric Hill), Meg and Mog (Helen Nicoll & Jan Pienkowski) as well as more challenging titles such as Where the wild things are (Maurice Sendak) and Gorilla (Anthony Browne). I still love these books and have found it an almost impossible task to reduce my collection of favourites to a list of six. I’ve therefore decided to choose six picture books which i) I’ve used recently and ii) have produced the most enthusiastic responses in the groups of children that I’ve shared them with. They are in no particular order as follows:

1 Giraffes can’t dance  (Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees)

This picture book in rhyming verses tells of Gerald the giraffe’s anguish at being mocked by all the other animals for his lack of dancing skills at the Jungle Dance.

We follow Gerald’s touching learning journey from his loss of self-esteem to becoming the object of admiration of all the animals. In terms of significant issues, the story touches on believing in yourself and discovering your own personal strengths. Two features are the strong beat of the rhyming verses which makes the language highly memorable, and the expressive illustrations of Gerald both when he’s sad and as he entrances the animals with his elegant dancing at the end of the story.

2 I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato (Lauren Child)

In I will not ever NEVER eat a tomato Charlie plays a series of imaginative and amusing tricks on his little sister, Lola, who is a very fussy eater, to get her to eat her dinner. The story is predominantly told using direct speech from Charlie’s point of view. Charlie and Lola are drawn in bold lines with large eyes and expressive mouths that clearly convey their every feeling. Lauren Child also uses a combination of photos, collage and computer-generated backgrounds, as well as a variety of fonts and sizes in the text. These add to the appeal and humour and emphasise how Lola really hates eating vegetables. This story is ideal as part of a unit of work on food and, if children enjoy Charlie and Lola, there are many more stories in the series as well.

3 Mr Wolf’s week (Colin Hawkins)

The appeal of Mr Wolf’s week seems to lie in the fact that it is an ordinary, everyday story about the routine of a normal, inoffensive wolf, in contrast to the villainous character children associate with traditional stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood. For language classes, the story helpfully focusses on lexical sets typically found in children’s coursebooks: days of the week, weather, clothes and everyday actions. The charm of the story lies in the delightful pictures of Mr Wolf and the simplicity of the repeated language pattern for each day: Monday is … (weather). Mr Wolf puts on his … (clothes) and …. (what he does). This also makes it an ideal model for children’s own attempts at writing a story. 

4 Something Else (Kathryn Cave & Chris Riddell)

Something Else is a moving story about differences, and the agony and isolation of being an outsider. Something Else wants to be like the other creatures but they won’t accept him. Then one day a strange creature comes to Something Else’s house and wants to be friends. Something Else almost rejects him but is reminded of his own experience just in time. Embedded in this beautifully illustrated and apparently simple story are themes of racism and intolerance. Whenever I share this story with children in upper primary, I never fail to be impressed by their mature response and ability to talk openly about issues that adults often shy away from. Something Else makes me think how often we underestimate children, and also that picture books should not only be for them.

5 Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)

Dear Zoo is a classic ‘flap’ picture book that never fails to appeal to very young learners. If possible, it’s best to use the ‘big book’ version which makes it easy to see with large groups and more fun to open the ‘flaps’. The concept of writing to the zoo to ask for a pet is brilliantly simple, and the repetitive language pattern, combined with different size coloured boxes and animals on each double spread, engages the rapt attention of little ones, even those with the shortest concentration spans. As the different animals on each page get sent back to the zoo because they are not suitable, the animal on the last page of the story is ‘perfect’.

6 Lost and Found (Oliver Jeffers)

Lost and Found is a touching story about a penguin and the boy who helps him. Behind its apparent simplicity resonate themes of loneliness, friendship and the value of kindness. As the boy and the penguin set off to the South Pole, their tiny boat contrasts with the vastness of the blue and green-toned sea and the waves as big as mountains. Many children worry when the boy realises his mistake in leaving the penguin at the South Pole, and their reunion hug on the penultimate page needs no words. This is a picture book children will ask you to read again for sheer pleasure and, in my view, it’s best to let the magical words and illustrations speak for themselves.

I'm really looking forward to hearing about your favourite story books to use with children now too! Please feel free to write about one or more - it's entirely up to you - and in as much detail as you like in order to convey to others why the book(s) is/are so special. My hope is that by the end we will have the most fantastic collaborative list of story book recommendations. Please do join in and share!



Hello from snowy Warsaw. I read all the favourites and I love them all . Let me add some more. My students, in different schools have always had one favourite book that was a winner every month and every year (we vote for favourite books) - "That' My Dad" by Ralph Steadman. That is not my favourite so let me add up to the same topic as I have always been a kind of my daddy's daughter:My Dad - by Charles Fuge,My Dad - by Anthony Browne,Knock Knock Who's There? by Sally Grindley and Anthony Browne Just Like My Dad by David Melling (Just Like My Mum - is not that good).These books are wonderful , a perfect match of pictures + words = real picture books = REALBOOKS

Hi SandieGreat to see you here! Thank you so much also for your rich contribution and for describing in such detail these three favourite story books and the reasons for their appeal. I certainly find myself carried along by everything you say!I completely agree with you that Hooray for fish is a wonderful book and 'exuberantly illustrated' is the perfect way to describe it. It reminds me of a teacher education course I did once where people were asked to share their favourite story books and what they did with them. There was a teacher on the course, who taught German as well as English, and she brought in to show us the most fabulous picture books that the children had made themselves in German inspired by the story. Although the children knew very little German, the creativity of the artwork done with finger paints and poster paints was amazing - and inspiring! I haven't seen the DVD but will definitely check out the Youtube version soon - and many thanks for giving us the link.I'm so glad you also chose to write about Goodnight Gorilla especially as this is one of the stories you're using in your PhD research. Although it's a book I'm familiar with, I've never actually used it with any of my classes which is something I always feel is the 'proof of the pudding', as it were! However, I remember I was fascinated by your excellent talk at IATEFL last year in which you described the way children co-constructed meaning from the illustrations as you 'read' the story to them and how all the extra details in the illustrations were so keenly observed and picked up on by the children with each repeated telling. Although I've never thought about it before, from your description I wonder if Goodnight Gorilla has also been subjected to Freudian analysis in the academic literature on children's picture books in the way that, for example, Maurice Sendak's Where the wild things are has been. I also wonder - and would need to look at the book again as unfortunately I don't have a copy myself - whether the fact that the farmer's wife won't allow the animals to stay is giving any kind of hidden gender message. Thank you also for the lovely third choice of the counting book - a great book to build on maths concepts - and glad I won't need to check the number of snails on the last page!  

Hi ShelaghThank you so much for taking time from the UK ELT Research project to join the discussion on storytelling - would love to visit your blog shortly and hear about the work you're doing and I'm sure it will be of great interest to many of us.What a wonderful description of the Elmer the Elephant story! I'm so glad Elmer has staked his claim to being in this list of favourites! Elmer's patchwork colours are so appealing (and in fact as I'm sure you know there's a whole Elmer industry of mugs, table cloths, paper plates in his patchwork brand!). As you so aptly describe and suggest, the story is delightfully touching in the way it deals with diversity and I think children always love the idea that any grey elephant might just possibly be Elmer on Elmer day!Many thanks also for describing the 'half and half' technique when telling/reading a story - really useful to know about as it's often the case that the actual text of a story is slightly beyond the children's level of comprehension but by glossing the more difficult bits, it can still be accessible.The experience of helping children making their won Elmers sounds wonderful and can just imagine the colourful, creative results!

Dear AnnetaLovely to have you with us - and thank you so much for joining in all the way from snowy Warsaw!Great to hear about all these picture books on the theme of 'Dad'. I find it really interesting that you've chosen two books by Anthony Browne who is yet another one of my all time favourite children's author/illustrators. His illustrations are so powerful in their expressive realism and I've also found them to be a wonderful vehicle to develop children's visual awareness of the way pictures interact with the text in a story book - as you so rightly say 'a perfect match of pictures + words'.Many thanks again for writing - and keep warm in those sub-zero temperatures!  

Dear CarolThank you for your kind words - I love Anthony Browne - just today we have done Rene Megritte and compared with some of the pictures in Anthony Browne's books. It is always so fascinating to observe how young children interact with art...Thank you for this lovely blog!

Dear AnnetaThank you so much for your kind words and for sharing what you have been doing with children today. What a fascinating experience to get children to compare some of Anthony Browne's illustrations with Rene Magritte. I'd love to have been there!Your message also raises the whole area of visual literacy, and giving children opportunities to understand and interpret art which is often a neglected aspect of children's education, especially the higher up primary they go. I have a whole series of picture books for developing visual awareness in works of art which I wonder if you may also know? They are called I spy ... in art by Lucy Micklethwait (Harper Collins) and the titles include animals, numbers, shapes, transport and an alphabet. When I use these books, I find it really interesting to observe the children's response as they search for e.g a rabbit in a Titian painting or a crab in a Picasso painting and respond to what they like and don't like about the different styles, colours, shapes, textures and how the paintings make them feel. It's impressive how quickly children cab develop an insightful and mature way of looking at and interpreting paintings, and with a refreshing openness that as adults we often lack. These books are fun to use by themselves simply for working on the different vocabulary areas and, with older children, they can also be great lead-ins to projects on particular artists. 

Dear Carol,I also love I Spy ... books - what I did with kids, a couple of years ago was preparing our I Spy books based on our Polish artists and it was a great experience. I would like you to have a look at pictures of animals by Jozef Wilkon - Polish illustrator of books for children, they are really nice (you can find them on the web). I am sure you will like them.

Dear AnnetaThank you so much for this. What a lovely idea to prepare your own I spy books based on Polish artists. With the Prado and Thyssen museums down the road from me here in Madrid, it makes me think it would be fantastic to do a similar thing based on Spanish artists too!When I was in Poland a couple of years ago, I went into a few bookshops and noticed the high quality and originality of illustrations in some children's books. Thank you  so much for recommending the animal pictures by Jozef Wilkon - I will definitely google him and take a look.

Ketchup on your Cornflakes and Shark in the Park by Nick Sharratt
I’m a great fan of Nick Sharratt’s work. I love his use of strong bright colours and quirky storylines with a little bit of anarchy thrown in to engage the slightly reluctant reader and perhaps to keep parents awake when reading bedtime stories! My favourite ever is probably Ketchup on your Cornflakes – a split page arrangement of pictures and clear text that allows the reader to create all kinds of ridiculous sentences – great for children just learning English and for older ones to have fun with. My other favourite is Shark in the Park. The first thing that seems to catch all audiences and readers is the rhyme structure of the book.  It sets the pace of the whole story as a rhythmical tale with unlikely outcomes. The clever use of the shark’s tail as a stylised play on Elvis Presley’s quiff of hair gives a ridiculous, laugh-out-loud (lol) twist to the end of the story!
Recently, I read a very interesting research paper, presenting and analysing data from adult English learners in Iran and the UK (Foster & Tavakoli 2009).  The study focused on the use of picture tasks in language testing.  The authors identified very clearly the additional processing load created with pictures which contain two or more simultaneous storylines – one in the foreground and others in the background.  This aspect of their study has made me think again about the two books I've mentioned. I realise that one of the reasons I find these books so good with young learners of English is because their clear, single storyline carries a less demanding processing load, making them more accessible to children in pre-school and early primary phases.  It’s not so easy to find suitable books this group of younger learners who may not yet have a very substantial vocabulary range, so I’m very pleased to be able to recommend Nick Sharratt’s books here!
Ref: Foster, P. & Tavakoli, P (2009) 'Native Speakers and Task Performance: Comparing Effects on Complexity, Fluency and Lexical Diversity". Language Learning, 59(4) 

From Janet Enever
Hi to Carol and to Anneta! Great to see an old friend from Poland appearing on this wonderful blog! Isn't it interesting to see how a really focused and serious topic generates contributions from so many sources. Well done Carol for setting this up!
Having lived in Poland for some years I just wanted to add my support for the fantastic artwork that I've seen coming out of Poland over the years. I recall that there has always been a strong tradition of Poster Art - particularly amongst the arts community based in Krakow. Perhaps this art style relates in some way to stimulating some super visual imagery in picture books? Not sure, but it seems possible.


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