books, Literacy, Reading, students

Why Picture Books – 5 Reasons Why They Belong in Every Classroom

recite-1xt0pg (1)

I don’t remember when I fell out of love with picture books, but I do remember wondering why any teacher would invest any money in them if they were not teaching young kids.  After all, picture books are so expensive and there is not much to them.  No, I would rather invest my money in chapter books, that is where you get the most value.  So picture books?  Perhaps a few selected mentor texts in my 4th grade classroom.

I don’t remember when I fell back in love with picture books.  Perhaps it was the first time students laughed out loud with me at Chick and Pug.  Perhaps it was the first time students held their breath with me when I read out loud Pete & Pickles.  Perhaps when I cried while I read Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla. Perhaps it was when those kids that hated reading so much would ask if they could borrow some picture books so they could read to their little sister, and then tell me all about their night the very next day.  Whatever happened, I now know that picture books belong in every classroom, for every reader.  Here is why.

Picture books give us a common language.

I love how we can read a picture book and then refer back to it again and again as we weave our threads of community throughout the year.  The students remember it, they read it again, and the reminisce about reading it.  In a short amount of time we create a foundation for the students to bond through and a way for us to be a part of their world.  Even within my 45 minutes of instruction time, I know I can at least read a picture book out loud, most days.  And if you don’t teach English, read one once in a while, students need community in all classes, not just the literacy ones.

Picture books can teach us complex matters in a simple way.

When my students became curious about the great Malcolm X, I read them Malcolm Little.  When we spoke of the civil rights movement and the every day segregation that happened, I read them Ruth and the Green Book.  When they feel completely alone, I read them The Invisible Boy.  When we have to talk about what our actions do to others, we read aloud Each Kindness which with its less than perfect ending is a perfect mirror of what life is really like.  These books don’t offer all of the knowledge my students need, but they give us a chance to start the conversation.  There are so many curriculum picture books out there waiting for us to embrace them for the knowledge they give us, not written for the young reader but for mature kids that can take the information and do something with it.  Don’t leave your students out.

Picture books can make us feel successful when we have lost our way.

I often teach students who don’t think they will ever be a strong reader.  Who do not go home and read, who do not gravitate toward books, but instead spend them them flipping pages and waiting for the bell.  I hand these kids stacks of picture books.  I tell them to immerse themselves and come up when they are ready for more.  There is no judgment from other kids, nor jealousy.  Our picture books are waiting for anyone to read them.

Picture books relieve stress.

If a child is having a bad day, I can hand them a stack of Elephant and Piggie books and know that at some point a small smile will form.  I can hand them anything fantastical that is nothing like their real life and for a  moment they have a reprieve.  How often do our students get a chance to escape the stress of their lives and still work?  Picture books offer me that opportunity.

Picture books can make us believe that we can read well.

For the child who gave up a long time ago on reading.  For the child who does not believe that school is for them.  For the child who is angry, who is misplaced, who is lost; picture books can make the biggest difference.  I once taught a student so angry he scared the rest of the class, but if I could get a stack of picture books in his hands before it was too late, send him to a quiet place, he deescalated.  Picture books were not a threat, nor were they work.  They were an escape and something that made him feel successful.  If a child does not think they will ever read as well as the others, get them picture books, have them digest them slowly, see their progress and see them start to believe that they too can be readers, that they too can belong.  There is no shame in picture books, not when we embrace them fully as teachers.  Not when we make them a part of our classroom.  Remove the stigma so that students can find success within their pages, rather than feel there are no books for them out there.

PS:  To see some of new favorite picture books, go to the list part 1 and the list part 2.  You have been warned, they are amazing.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

33 thoughts on “Why Picture Books – 5 Reasons Why They Belong in Every Classroom”

  1. Thanks for reminding me, too! I used to use picture books all the time and lost my way. Happy to get back to sharing their magic. Thanks for sharing such fantastic recommendations,too.

  2. Thank you for this post. You have inspired me to incorporate picture books back into my instruction. I’ll be visiting the library tomorrow to peruse your recommendations.

  3. I often incorporated picture books into my middle school guidance lessons. The 6th, 7th, and 8th graders loved it and always asked to see the pictures again, and again. When I decided to write a counseling based book for families, I chose to make it a picture book. I showed it to my students who quickly wanted to check it out from the school’s library or win one as a prize. Even as adults, we often “feel at home” when we sit down with a beautifully illustrated picture book.

  4. I teach middle school language arts, and have decided this summer that I want to beef up my picture book collection, and use them frequently for read-alouds. Thanks for the great rationale and suggestions!

  5. Picture books should never be left out. Some by authors Shaun Tan, Gary Crew and Margret Wild should only be for year 5 beyond. They explore emotions that only high art can express. Read The Arrival touching on the horror of ethnic cleansing or child exploitation. Be unnerved by the alien presence of an inanimate object in Crew’s Water Tower and unsettled by just what is going on in Wild’s woolves in the citeee. Also these boo!s are a great way of exposing students to art in ann accessible way. Love, love, love picture books. My favorite is still where the wild things are but Shaun Tan’s Arrival and The Lost Thing comes a close second

  6. Thank you for this interesting perspective. Picture books should always be accessible- not sure why people think they need to disappear come 3rd grade or so.

  7. I LOVE picture books. Good ones have so much to offer. They are short reads on life that can lift your spirits or teach you a lesson in one sitting. And the artwork is often quite beautiful. To me it’s CREATIVITY packed into 32 pages. I read so many to my children over the years. My daughter is now getting her masters degree in Children’s Book Illustration. Color me Tickled!!!!

  8. I love this! I’m a book illustrator (hopefully someday an author/illustrator of children’s books) and I love this reminder of why I do what I do – picture books are incredible, no matter the age.

    I’ve shared your article on my facebook page:

  9. Yep I fell out of love with them a decade ago and I am still ‘smarting’.

    You see… it is picture books that let me and my son down so devastatingly, it was picture books that knocked the wind out of my sails when I realised just how extensive the disregard for people with disabilities in our society is…

    I grew up a lover of books, all books, anything really, I was a reader. Enter my son (now 12) severe CP and a significant vision impairment and here were these books I used to love just mocking him, totally inaccessible for him, he could’t hold a book or turn a page – few publishers or authors made them available in an electronic or audio format or which might have allowed him to enjoy them independently.

    Most of the pictures are inaccessible, too complex, too stylized, too pale, too bold, too confusing compounded by the fact that “paper books don’t zoom”. Writers so often leaving the hook or the joke of the story to the illustration – so the story is often incomplete when relying on the words alone.

    I look forward to the day when illustrators and picture book authors care enough about their work they want everyone to enjoy it. Just imagine if picture books contained text descriptions of the images within (or available by scanning a QR code on that page) – how amazing it would be to listen to an illustrator or author describing their image for you to picture in your mind… I wish all picture books were available electronically, imagine if all children could enjoy picture books – not just those the authors/publishers deem worthy.

    I read to my son, but he always got my interpretation of the image, not his, not the illustrators. He never got to simply sit and explore books/images on his own. Thankfully with iPads we can take a shot of the image and throw it up on the tv screen, but again, it’s a work around – it’s far from ideal, it’s far from fair.

    How do you make picture books independently accessible for the vision impaired students (who don’t have braille as an option) in your class?

    I’m not back in love with them yet – they’ve much to do before i’ll “trust” them again. For now my son supports the writers who make their books available in audio format, where he can enjoy the rich language and imagery within complete stories by authors, narrators and publishers who respect him as someone “worthy of books”.

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. It has been rumbling around in my head since you left it, and all I can say is; you’re right. There is still much work to be done to make these accessible to all kids as they should be.

      1. Sorry for the ‘rumble’ but glad you let me know it’s appreciated. Maybe every teacher reading can check if their favourite picture books are available in different accessible formats and if they’re not, shoot an email to the publisher… I fear I am often a lone voice actually doing the asking.

  10. I taught elementary school 1st-6th grades for 15 years and found picture books useful at every single level. Now, as a stay at home mom and travel blogger, I still use picture books to help us learn about new destinations and complex issues like cultural or religious issues in a simple and easy to digest way. As a parent, you can’t help but love the additional ‘snuggle time’ no matter how old the kids get. When you say you are going to read they both snuggle up to listen. 🙂

    Parents can help readers with comfortable books from their own childhood or discover new characters and series with the kids. Picture books make it all stress free – for parents and for kids. Being read to really puts kids at ease and lets them relax since they aren’t doing the reading. This lets them listen even more which helps the teacher, or parent, lay down the foundation for future learning.

    I love lists of books by topic, too. I have a few on destinations and there are lots on pinterest. Just search whatever topic you are interested in sharing with your kids.

  11. I like what you said about using illustrated books to help explain complicated social issues in a way that kids can understand. My sister has been telling me about how she wants to make sure that her kids are aware of issues that are present in the world. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for picture books.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s