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.
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.