Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back

In keeping with our June theme of positivity, what a positive day I (Gail) had yesterday as one of the judges for the competition, Autour d’un album (Around a picturebook), in the Hérault department in the South of France. This competition targets children from five to 11/12 years old who are learning a foreign language and is the initiative of Anne Igual, Head of the Centre Ressources Point Langues and Languages Adviser for the Département de l’Hérault. It has been running since 2012 but was cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic so it’s great that it has got off the ground again. The objective of the competition is for a class to create their own version of a picturebook ‘in the style of’ the original.

The picturebook selected this year was ‘Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back’ by Jory John and Liz Climo published by Dial Books in 2018 and is a story about an elephant who has an itch which he can’t reach. He asks for help from his animal friends but no one can relieve him. The story helps children understand how some can help and others can’t, and why, and how to ask for something politely. The elephant finally finds a solution but accidentally creates a new one!

Around 1500 children (65 classes) have taken part in the competition this year working in English, German, Spanish and Italian. The competition is also open to children learning Arabic, Chinese, Occitan, French as a second language, and sign language. There are three categories which classes can choose from: paper version with audio file, digital version or an animated version. The competition opened in January and the judging took place yesterday. Throughout the book-creation process, teachers are supported by pedagogical advisors which provides teachers with opportunities for professional development.

The judging panel was made up of teachers, pedagogical advisors, teacher educators, booksellers, librarians and me! More than 1200 pupils are also invited to vote by distance during the week of 13 – 17 June. There will be a grand ceremony on 27 June where prizes will be presented to winners by the ‘Directeur Académique Adjoint’ of the Hérault.

There were many creative and imaginative versions of ‘Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back?’ covering different themes from the environment, ‘Can Somebody Please Free My Fin?’ and ‘Can Somebody Please Take My Cloud?’, to disability, ‘The Elevator’. ‘Can Somebody Please Give Me Some Milk?’ features a cat who finds harissa in his milk and each time he asks an animal the question, ‘Do you have any milk please’, the question is asked in one of the languages spoken by the teacher and children of the class. This multilingual version includes English, French, Spanish, Dutch, Berber, Riffian, and Classical Arabic.

What made yesterday so positive for me was witnessing the commitment and investment from both children and teachers who produced such high-quality entries – all of this on top of a busy curriculum. Each entry is a whole-class effort and the children’s motivation for language learning and pride in their final product shone through via the originality of their book-making projects, the illustrations and recordings of the stories. The competition provides children with a real purpose for language practice with a strong focus on pronunciation and intonation and plenty of opportunities for cross-curricular learning such as art and design, IT and citizenship education.

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