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January 2023 on PEPELT is dedicated to Anthony Browne, an author illustrator who began his career as a medical artist and then as a greetings card illustrator … imagine! Today he is one of the most well-known picturebook illustrators of all time, who has influenced generations of readers, literary mediators and picturebook researchers. He won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2000, the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal twice and was Children’s Laureate from 2009 – 2011.

His work is hugely distinctive, and often features gorillas or chimpanzees. His first picturebook was ‘Through the Magic Mirror’ (Hamish Hamilton, 1976) and he has published just over 50 picturebooks in his almost 50-year career. Some of my favourites are ‘Bear hunt’ (Hamish Hamilton, 1979), ‘Gorilla’ (Julia McRae 1983), ‘Piggybook’ (Julia McRae, 1986), ‘Zoo’ (Julia McRae, 1992) and ‘Voices in the park’ (Doubleday, 1998). One of his latest endeavours is ‘Ernest the elephant’ (Walker Books, 2021) which is based on his first idea for a picturebook in the 1970’s.

His Willy series [e.g. ‘Willy the wimp’ (Julia McRae, 1984), ‘Willy the champ’ (Julia McRae, 1985), ‘Willy and Hugh’ (Julia McRae, 1991, ‘Willy the dreamer’ (Julia McRae, 1997)], is about a chimpanzee in a gorilla’s world. Browne says that he uses gorillas and chimpanzees in his picturebooks as ‘our genetic makeup is almost identical, our desires and instincts are the same, and we don’t even look all that different … the humanization of apes in my book is partly an attempt to blur the divide … the universality of the simian characters ensures that all children can identify with them (Browne, 2011: 99).

In the picturebook I have chosen to share with you, ‘Silly Billy’ (Walker Books, 2006), Browne explains that originally ‘Silly Billy’ was to be part of the Willy series, but his editor felt that the message would be stronger if it were not ‘just another Willy book’ (Browne, 2011: 207), and so the main character is a small boy, who is much like Willy except he is human! Browne created this picturebook after a visit to Mexico. He was given a set of worry dolls, which he then gave to his mother who was the biggest worrier he knew. However, just as in ‘Silly Billy,’ the worry dolls worked for a short while, until she began to worry about … the worry dolls. The solution of course was to make worry dolls for the worry dolls! This worked for Billy in the story, Browne never mentions if it helped his mum! Browne writes, ’I wanted the message of this book not to be that people shouldn’t worry at all. Everybody worries, but it is only the kindest amongst us who are able to channel their worries into concerns for other people’ (2011: 209).

The colours in ‘Silly Billy’ are influenced by his trips to South America – orange, blue, green, red and yellow – and he cleverly uses a combination of colour and black and white illustrations to distinguish between reality and fiction i.e. illustrations of Billy’s worries of hats, shoes, clouds, rain and giant birds are in black and white. It is a beautiful picturebook.

‘Silly Billy’ is perfect for the upper primary classroom, and I’m sharing a blog post I wrote about this picturebook just over a decade ago. It was prompted by a presentation I attended at a teachers’ conference, by a teacher called Stephanie Pereira. My post describes the picturebook and the ideas Stephanie shared. I hope you enjoy (re)reading it, and (re)discovering Anthony Browne during the month of January through PEPELT!

Anthony Browne (2011) ‘A life in picture books with the Children’s Laureate’. Doubleday.

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To continue our January 2023 month dedicated to Anthony Browne, I (Gail) have chosen to write about ‘Through the Magic Mirror’ (Hamish Hamilton, 1976) which, as Sandie mentioned in her post of 9 January, was his first picturebook. I have the Picture Puffins paperback edition of 1995 which has a white cover. The more recent edition published by Walker Books in 2010 has a blue cover and notice the differences on the cover illustrations.

The story features Toby who is fed up and bored. He sees himself in a mirror, but something looks very strange, for he sees his back reflected, rather than his front. This image was inspired by Magritte’s 1937 ‘Not to Be Reproduced’. Toby puts out his hand to touch the mirror and walks right through it! He enters a strange world where everything is altered. ‘He was out in the street. It seemed like the same old street, but was it?’ How many surreal details can you see in opening 4?

As the story continues Toby discovers a world of opposites, for example, an invisible man, a dog taking a man for a walk, mice chasing a cat. Sometimes the verbal narrative synchronises with the visual narrative (see opening 8 ), and sometimes the pictures show more than the words. In opening 11 the verbal text reads ‘And the traffic seemed somehow different’ so each picture needs to be looked at carefully to fully interpret both the verbal and visual narratives. In opening 12 the verbal text reads ‘Across the road Toby saw a poster for the zoo. But what was happening?’ Opening 13 shows the animals following Toby. Obviously frightened, he runs as fast as he can in search of the mirror and steps back through it and is now able to see his own smiling face in the reflection, apparently no longer fed up after his surreal adventure. Browne explains that the book was a vehicle for some surrealist imagery he had devised for another book. He drew the pictures first and then wrote the verbal narrative in response to the pictures. The text is short and simple but the illustrations, inspired by Magritte, capture children’s imagination as they are full of visual humour.

The picturebook lends itself well to activities which develop children’s imagination, observation skills, creativity and language skills. For example, they can be invited to draw a picture of themselves walking through a magic mirror and drawing and explaining what they discover on the other side. They can also be invited to imagine and make the sounds they might hear on each page of the picturebook. Older children can analyse and sequence the narrative as per the headings: characters, setting, problem, solution and conclusion and discuss Toby’s feelings. Finally, ‘Through the Magic Mirror’ can be used to invite children to research René Magritte and spot the intertextual references to his work in Browne’s picturebook.

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I (Tatia) continue our January 2023 month dedicated to Anthony Browne, with ‘Bear’s Magic Pencil’ published in 2010 by Harper Collins. This publication is the outcome of a collaboration of Children’s Laureate Anthony Browne and the winners of a children’s drawing competition organised by the English newspaper, The Sun.

The story begins with a white bear, called Bear, walking through the forest, holding his magic pencil. On every page, an animal, a giant or a dragon appears, and, with his magic pencil, Bear draws his response to their question or a peculiar situation. His pencil creates the narrative path, both visually and verbally. If you are familiar with Browne’s work, the mention of a white bear will undoubtedly ring a bell. Indeed, this publication champions the white bear found in Browne’s ‘bear-series’ which comprises ‘Bear Hunt’ (1979), ‘Bear Goes to Town’ (1982), ‘The Little Bear Book’ (1988) and `A Bear-y Tale’ (1989).

I chose this picturebook as I feel it offers student teachers the opportunity to explore the contribution children’s visual work can make to PELT. In this picturebook, student teachers can discover how Browne chose elements from children’s drawings, cut them out and wove them into his work in a way that give children a voice to shape a new ‘Bear’ story. Student teachers can observe how the children’s drawings add not only to the visual but also the verbal story. In line with a younger reader, the text per pages is kept rather short (often less than 20 words) and incorporates examples of onomatopoeia such as “Whoosh!”, “Boing!” and “Splash!”, which offers children a wonderful opportunity to actively engage during the read-aloud.

One of the most exciting aspects of this picturebook is the page turn. The positioning of the page turns offers an excellent example of how they create suspense, cliff-hangers created by words and pictures which come together in such a way that as a reader, you simply must turn the page to discover what happens next. This picturebook will thus allow student teachers to analyse the pages and practise read-aloud and read-aloud talk (text-talk).

Finally, this picturebook offers an opportunity for student teachers to discuss the ELT opportunities the peritext can offer. Apart from the front and back covers, this picturebook includes a collage of children’s drawings as endpapers (despite being a paperback), the copyright page lists the young artists and their contributions, and a title page including Bear’s new friends. Teaching ideas surrounding describing and predicting, vocabulary related to colours, numbers and animals, spring to mind. The last spread sends a clear message, a call to action. Shocked after meeting a panda and learning that the natural habitat of animals was being destroyed, Bear organises a ‘Save the Animals party’. This last spread offers opportunities to build on – What else can children do? What happens next? Who is the gorilla? …

Thanks Tatia

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The last post for January, looking at our favourite Anthony Browne picturebooks, features the classroom experience of Anneta Sadowska in Poland. Anneta has chosen to talk about ‘Piggybook’ (Julia McRae Books, 1986). She talks us through three different teaching and learning experiences:

1) Focusing on language

2) Integrating personal and social education

3) Visual literacy

Make yourself comfortable and sit down to watch. It’s such an interesting recording and Anneta very clearly explains what she’s done and the children’s responses.

I talked to Anneta after and we wondered how some pig-related idioms in English are expressed in other languages e.g. ‘Have a piggy back’ in Polish is ‘Ride on a ram’. What is it in your languages?

If you don’t know the picturebook, you can check out the blog post I wrote in 2010:…/pigs-might-fly…

I hope you enjoy listening to Anneta and consider taking Piggybook into your classes if you haven’t already … and do share how it went.