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We have arrived in June, the last of the PEPELT months for 21/22. Our theme this month is ‘Positivity’ and we’ve chosen some very interesting picturebooks.

Sandie will be talking about ‘Exclamation mark‘, written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Tom Litchenheld (Scholastic, 2013)

Kirkus reviews write: ‘Punctuation with pizzazz. (…) Funny and spirited (and secretly educational, but nobody will notice)’.

Sandie thinks it’s a great example of positivism … take a peak.

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To continue our June theme of positivity I (Gail) have selected ‘I Am Henry Finch’ by Alexis Deacon, illustrated by Viviane Schwarz and published by Walker Books in 2014. It won the Little Rebels Children’s Book Award in 2016 which recognises books that celebrate social justice and equality for children ages 0-12. ‘I Am Henry Finch’ has been described as a ground-breaking philosophy book as according to Kerry Mason of Letterbox Library it ‘deploys the simplest of graphics and text to ponder vast questions about our humanity. Viviane Schwarz’s blood red thumbprint finches get to the beating heart of our existence and Alexis Deacon’s minimalist, beautifully structured sentences are like a beginner’s course in existentialist thought. This is a book which respects and honours the youngest of readers, believing them capable and thirsty for philosophical thought’.

‘I Am Henry Finch’ is about a young finch called Henry who challenges his ordinary everyday life with his flock to discover his own individuality. One night he wakes up in the dark and the quiet and has a thought. ‘I AM HENRY FINCH, he thought. I THINK, he thought’. This is his moment of Cartesian realisation as he begins to think and learn about freedom, choice and individual existence. He decides to confront the Beast (drawn in blue-green) who regularly threatens the flock. But the Beast eats him and, once inside the Beast, Henry Finch begins to have negative thoughts. He thinks he is a fool and only someone’s dinner. However, he manages to overcome these thoughts by asking himself, ‘WHO AM I? he thought. AM I HENRY FINCH? I AM SOMETHING? I THINK. I AM, he thought’. He listens to the thoughts of the Beast and persuades him to eat plants from then on. (There is an illustration of the Beast on the back cover proudly presenting his family with a carrot!). He then orders the Beast to open his mouth and out flies Henry. He returns to his flock and encourages the other finches to think for themselves.

So, ‘I Am Henry Finch’ is also a story about change, as in the beginning none of the finches think their own thoughts, they just do what all the other finches do. In the end, they realise that they can have their own individual thoughts and adventures.

The verbal text includes repetition and questions, some of which is visually represented in speech and thought bubbles. There is also a mixture of upper and lowercase letters, the uppercase indicating speech and thoughts.

The emphasis on the importance of thinking for yourself and valuing individual identity is wonderfully depicted via the thumbprint illustrations of the red finches which convey the meaning that everyone is unique as everyone has a unique fingerprint. Black lines add details to the finches to depict wings, beaks, eyes, feet and feelings. Backgrounds are white until Henry is eaten by the Beast. They then change to white on black presenting a contrast between outside and inside. Henry’s thoughts are also presented in black speech bubbles next to the Beast’s thoughts.

Younger children could create their own fingerprint birds and older children could research ten facts about fingerprints and create a fingerprint facts poster.

‘I Am Henry Finch’ is a superb picturebook for helping children to recognise their own unique identity and that positive thinking can impact their lives. There is lots to think about and to discuss.

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In February I (Tatia) chose ‘Mable and the Mountain’, written and illustrated by Kim Hillyard for our theme on award winning picturebooks. For this month’s theme of positivity, I have decided to share another picturebook written and illustrated by her entitled ‘Gretel the Wonder Mammoth’, published by Ladybird in 2022.

‘Gretel the Wonder Mammoth’ is the story of a mammoth who has been hibernating inside an iceberg for a very long time. One morning, there is a loud CRACK and the last mammoth on earth breaks free from her icy shell. Everyone is excited to meet her. Gretel is strong, helpful, understanding and kind. She soon makes new friends but as she settles into her new life, Gretel starts to feel a little overwhelmed and even a bit lonely. She is, after all, the only Mammoth left on earth. She begins to wonder how she can live in a world where she does not belong anymore.

I chose this picturebook to use in pre-service teacher education as I often encounter student teachers who question where they belong. Especially when they are learning to teach English and are concerned about their own language proficiency. They often feel overwhelmed, anxious and doubtful. Like student teachers, especially post-Covid, Gretel tries to fix it herself, she spends time alone and prefers to say everything is ok when it is not. She realises that keeping up appearances is hard work and that being alone is making her feel worse. So, in the end, she asks for help. Her friends hear her cry for help, reassure her and soon Gretel starts to feel good again.

My favourite pages are the two pages that visualise emotions and which I think student teachers will be able to associate with as will their learners. This picturebook can give student teachers a boost, it will encourage them to discuss what makes them feel like Gretel and what help they may need before exploring how this picturebook could be used in the PELT classroom. I would hope to hear ideas centred on: vocabulary to express emotions; ideas to practise prepositions of place using the illustrations (picture dictation); ways of introducing / practising comparatives; creating a class-play with links to drama & music and writing a sequel. I believe as teacher educators and as teachers it is our responsibility to support the well-being of our learners and, choosing suitable and meaningful materials, undoubtedly plays a significant role in this. ‘Gretel the Wonder Mammoth’ is a very positive and encouraging picturebook to teach the reader to ask for help.

Best wishes and have a lovely summer. Tatia

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The last of our PEPELT films for June, following the theme of positivity, comes from Anneta Sadowska. She shares her thoughts and ideas on the picturebook, ‘Pass it on‘ by Sophy Henn (Puffin Books, 2016). Listen to her share what she did with her 11 year old students, how they responded to its message, and what she’s planning to do next year when she can spend more time on this colorful, beautifully structured creation. Enjoy!