Every picture...

17th September 2004 at 01:00
MADELINE. Ludwig Bemelmans. Scholastic, pound;7.99 (paperback)

Jackie Kirk explores the potential for boosting visual literacy in a classic picture book


Madeline, the eponymous heroine, sometimes departs from the order and uniformity of the "two straight lines" which she inhabits with her 11 peers in a girls' school in Paris. Under the guidance of Miss Clavel, the girls attend to their daily routines. Madeline is characterised by her adventurous spirit and her encounters with animals and bridges.The order of the line is particularly challenged when Madeline is rushed into hospital to have her appendix out; Miss Clavel gently disregards any plea from the other girls, "to have our appendix out, too!"

This first Madeline picture book by Ludwig Bemelmans was published in 1938 (1952 in the UK) and still has great appeal for both boys and girls. The rhyme in the text and the symmetrical quality in many of the illustrations - mostly half-tone (black, white and yellow) with some colour plates - echo the order of the girls' lives. The half-tone plates in particular contain humour, energy and emotion. Some illustrations refer to famous Paris sights, providing an interesting geographical setting.

How to use the story

English, art and geography: close examination of written and pictorial texts in Madeline, and the relationship between them, will encourage children at key stages 12 to evaluate character, event and setting and identify rhythm and rhyme. They can also "focus on meaning derived from the text as a whole" (KS1, En2, "Contextual understanding" 1l) or "make connections between different parts of a text" (KS2, En2, "Understanding texts" 2c). As with other picture books, an important link can be made with art, where pupils can focus, in particular, on the study of "visual elements" (KS12 "Knowledge and understanding" 4a). The suggestions that follow are based on my work with Year 3 pupils over three lessons and could be developed over a longer period or with other year groups.

In an introductory session before reading the story, encourage pupils to observe and discuss the front cover of the book to locate setting, characters, colours and Madeline's "naughty" or "cheeky" nature. Invite them to have an initial look through the book, commenting on anything they consider significant or interesting. This provides an opportunity to draw attention to the frequency of the half-tone illustrations and contrasting colour plates. Children are likely to notice the rhyming nature of the text in a first reading: my class responded enthusiastically to this.

Structure further work around their developing interests, providing opportunities for small group discussion (En1 "Speaking and Listening"). My class covered the following topics: * Use of colour: The advantages of some scenes being selected for the colour plates. There were suggestions that the zoo scene emphasised the "scary" nature of the tiger and that the flowers were "pretty" and made Madeline "very happy".

* How illustrations extend the written text, eg by qualifying "the good" and "the bad" and offering reasons why the girls in the story were "very sad".

The children also observed the cause of Miss Clavel's fear; Madeline should not have been walking on the bridge.

* The rhyming words within the text. One group enjoyed identifying these and voluntarily made comments about spelling patterns.

lGeographical setting: the cross-referencing of information from the front of the book to locate famous Parisian sights mentioned in the text. This activity could be developed further, into cross-curricular research, making use of non-fiction texts and ICT. Madeline relates particularly well to QCA geography unit 24, "Passport to the world".

More ideas

* We considered why the other 11 girls wanted their appendix out, too.

This could lead on to talking about friendships, the balance between group and individuality or (as my class discussed later) the nature of being in and out of line, making links with the use of symmetry and space in the illustrations. The symmetry of the two lines (and lives) provided a contrast to the hospital scene where they could play more freely. The question of whether the girls lined up in alphabetical order was also raised.

* Look at the typography towards the conclusion of Madeline, where the type decreases in size. My pupils suggested that you had to "whisper" and that it was "like going down the corridor".

* Ask children to write a letter from Madeline, a diary entry or a postcard from Paris.

* Rewarding issues for further discussion include religious symbolism, line, humour and recurring images such as doors and windows.

Jackie Kirk teaches Year 3 at Holmwood House, Lexden, Colchester, Essex and is studying for an MA in children's literature at Roehampton University

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