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“Do You Speak Bug?” A Picture Book Read-aloud that Requires Some Extra Decoding

By Amy Vaccarella

A Close Reading of Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis with Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Graders

“A read-aloud! My favorite!” – JD, sixth grade.

In anticipation and preparation of the annual Caldecott Medal Awards, the students at the Miquon School are closely reading eleven recently published picture books; applying a critical eye towards illustration technique and style. Recently, we took a look at an innovative new picture book by Carson Ellis, called Du Iz Tak?


I open by letting students know that this book is written in a non-human language, which generates a lot of curious looks. We look at the cover closely. I ask the students what they think “Du Iz Tak?” means. They notice that there is a question mark at the end. “Some of the words look a lot like English. Maybe it means “Does it Talk?” “The moth is pointing to a plant growing, maybe it’s asking “What is it?”

We open to the first pages. A caterpillar is hanging from a tree branch saying “Tata!” Someone guesses that it might mean goodbye, and then we notice the caterpillar has cocooned on the next page. “Yes! It was saying goodbye!!” We dive in, the students are fully bemused and tickled by the silliness of the words coming out of my mouth. “Du iz tak? Ma ebadow unk plonk. Du kimma plonk? Ma nazoot,” the insects say to one another.

Slowly, the students start to notice word repetitions and patterns, punctuation and capitalization, context clues, and the veil lifts. They understand now that “furt” means “treehouse or fort,”  “ribble” means ladder, and “Su!” means “Yes” or “Yay.” Page by page, the illustrations are there to fill in the gaps for us. The students are decoding the text and following along with the story, when at first it seemed to be an impossible task.


With close reading comes rewards, as the students follow a set of eyes in the tall grass, which are attached to a very slowly moving slug. The slug wanders through the next four pages, and leaves a subtle mark. The cocoon opens towards the end, and it is truly exciting! We watch as the seasons change and complete a full cycle, and the next set of insects return to ask “Du Iz Tak?” again.


Here are some comments/reflections from students:

“I like all the little stories happening on every page, there’s more to look at than just the main story.”

“I have a pro and a con. The pro is that the illustrations really help to tell the story. The con is that it felt like we were on a bumpy road reading this, it was long and rough going. I just wanted it to be smooth.”

“A picture book should be re-readable, and this one definitely is.”

“I really like the detail level of this book.”

“I don’t like that there’s no detail in the background, and the artist never zooms in on the scenes. It would have been neat to see an up-close of the treehouse.”

“This book is definitely unique and I really had fun trying to figure out the words.”

“Where’s the glossary? Can we write to the author to get the translation?”

“I like that there’s no glossary. It’s fun to figure it out and there’s no right answer.”

On January 23, the Caldecott Medal award will be announced. Next week, Miquon students will get to vote for their favorite picture book of the year. Chances are Du Iz Tak? will be one of the winners!

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