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Episode 6: ‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ (Gemma O’Neill)


To encourage parents and teachers to read to children (and to educate picture book writers and illustrators about including cognitive elements in their work). The act of reading out loud is not enough. When reading a picture book, or even a middle grade book, we are given a fantastic opportunity to develop an interactive experience with our children.

What is an interactive experience?

This interactive experience does not require any devices. It does require constant interfacing between the adult and the child/children.

When reading to children, you want to deliver the book in a manner that invites the children to participate as active listeners and engages responses from them that grow their minds.

Passive listening is all very well, but the story is soon over, and an opportunity has been lost to use ‘story time’ as a guided exploration of another world, or some subject. I totally understand how often the bedtime story has to be delivered promptly and that there is no time for discussion. I firmly believe however, when possible, an extended period devoted to reading and delving into the text, benefits the child, and is enjoyed by both the adult and the child.

As an illustrator, the cover illustration draws my attention. If the cover is appealing, then I will peek inside and see what treasure I can uncover between the pages.

So, what are we reading today?

Oh Dear, Geoffrey

Written and Illustrated by Gemma O’Neill

Published by Templar Publishing in 2013.

The illustrations appear to be collage and mixed media (possibly digital). There is no information in the book, so I cannot be certain.

This book will appeal to toddlers, but many older children will also delight in it.


Geoffrey is a young, clumsy giraffe whose efforts to make friends, with his fellow animals, goes awry. Until he realises that he was looking for friendship in the wrong places.

The cognitive insights for this book:

Social messages – Sometimes we cannot be friends with everyone, but there will be someone out there who is just right for us. We just need to keep looking. The monkeys and birds reach out to Geoffrey, who is miserable at this point in the story. We can encourage our children to watch out for those who are lonely or needing a friend. This story can also be a comfort to those of us who are lamentably clumsy! I recommend this book for anyone who associates with Dyspraxic children. It can be extremely isolating if you feel that your clumsiness will get in the way of socialising, sport, games, etc.

Vocabulary development – Gemma uses delightful words like: buckly, stumbles, bumbles, tangled, twitter, etc. These words are explained through the context of the story. They are often bolstered by synonyms, and the actions, both in text and illustrations, reinforce the definition of the more advanced vocabulary. Because so many synonyms are used, this introduces children to the world of using alternative vocabulary for simple, basic words. Often young children delight in using ‘grown-up’ language while conversing.

General knowledge – Different animal species are introduced in the story. Most children are fascinated by animals. Animal stories have a universal appeal, and this story will be popular for many years to come.

Reading with expression – The text is arranged in bite-size pieces, so the reader can relish the rhythm it creates. Emphasis and volume can be employed when the text is enlarged. Reading with emphasis helps children maintain concentration as they are receiving auditory stimulation. It brings the story to life.

For the illustrators:

Illustration format – Since giraffes are such tall creatures, most illustrators would probably select portrait orientation for their illustrations. Geoffrey is only fully seen once (the final illustration). Gemma O’Neill has opted to zoom in and focus on particular features, like the head, legs, etc. Illustrators should not feel that they need to draw the entire character, especially when pace and tension may be improved by showing less.

Dynamic illustrations – Gemma only illustrates background when it is essential to the story. She always grounds the characters (they are not walking on air!). This is a smart move, as the foreground of every illustration is packed with detail and texture.

Animation – At no time are the characters static. Their faces are expressive, and their actions explode off the pages.

Colour palette – Is earthy, with the only deviations being the turquoise birds and pink flamingos. This scheme ensures cohesion throughout the book, and is only interrupted by surprising pops of these other colours.

For the writers:

Gemma O’Neill takes advantage of every page she can – the publisher’s details are printed on the back cover.  

The text is not laid out in traditional blocks. It is symbiotically arranged with the images. The font size also is enlarged to add emphasis.

About the writer-illustrator:

Gemma O’Neill is an illustrator from Northern Ireland. She illustrates books, has her own greetings cards range and creates artwork commissions.

‘Oh Dear, Geoffrey’ can be purchased from:

For those of you who are new to my blog, I write a month blog, alternating between illustration-themed blogs, and picture book reviews with cognitive insights for parents, teachers, picture book writers and illustrators.

Please join me this time next month for another an illustration blog about my current picture book project.

Happy reading!

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