Yesterday a new student wandered into our classroom with his parent and younger siblings; locker drop off was happening in preparation for the first day of school. As I looked up something for him, I heard them excitedly talk about the books in our room. “Here’s that one that you wanted to read…Oh, do you remember this series….” And then they saw the picture books. After all, they are hard to miss. Right away the comments came, “Oh, I loved this one…” “Have you seen this one, that looks fun…” And so forth and I smiled ever so wide, because picture books once again have proven to be a way to connect in our classroom.
But how do you pick the right ones for your classroom? How do you know which ones to get? I make lists, as do many others, but how do I even know which to put on the list? I thought a few helpful tips may be in order.
I am connected. I am a proud member of the Nerdy Book Club and through Twitter I am connected to many picture book loving people; teachers, librarians, parents, and all of the other amazing people out there. I follow hashtags like #Titletalk, #pb10for10 and #nerdybookclub to stay in the know. And I tweet out asking for recommendations all of the time.
I keep a written list handy. I have a journal book with me at all times, and while I often add books to my wishlist on Amazon, I like having the list in my bag. I am always adding to it and will cross out as I either purchase or reject. This also makes it easy for me to recommend books to others that they may not know about.
I read them beforehand, most of the time. Many times we will wander to the nearest book store so that I can browse the books before purchasing them. How do I know that this will be a great one for our room, well there are few things I look for…
Do I react to it in any way? A picture book doesn’t always have to have a deep message for me to react to it; was it funny, did it make me think, did it leave me with questions? All of these are things that I look for.
Is it easy to follow? Sometimes it takes more than one read to really get a book and while I love those books too, most of the time, I am looking for a book that my students will get rather quickly. At least most of them. However, I do purchase picture books to use with smaller groups that have layers we can peel away.
Is the language accessible? Yes, I teach 7th graders but their reading development levels ranges from 2nd grade to high school, so can all students access the text or will I need to “translate” it?
What purpose does it have? I often look for picture books that can be used as community builders, self connections, or conversation starters. We also use them as mentor texts as we develop as readers and writers throughout the year. But I also look for picture books that will make my students laugh, make them reconnect with being a little kid again, or help them get out of a bad mood. I try to get a balance of all of these types of books in the hands of students.
Will we read it more than once? Because I buy most of the picture books in my classroom, I look for enduring books that we will return to again and again. Different things make books repeat reads; the illustrations, the phrasing, the story. Bottom-line: it is a gut feeling most of the time.
Do we have other works by the author? My students feel closely connected to the picture book authors and illustrators whose books we love so I try to expand our favorite collections as often as possible. Some of our favorites are Mo Willems, Peter H. Reynolds, Ame Dyckman, Jon Klassen, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
Sometimes I just take a chance on a book. Sometimes I have no rhyme or reason for what I bring in other than a small feeling that some kid at some point will connect with it. I never know which picture book my students will love, so sometimes I just sit back and let them explore and then pay closely attention. Then I go out and get more of those.
And, of course, I cannot write a post discussing picture books without sharing a few of my new favorites or ones that I cannot wait to get.
Laugh out loud funny, The Pretty, Pretty Bunny by Dave Horowitz is in my first day pile for kids to choose from.
The Promise by Nicola Davies is a beautiful tale of making a difference. This would also be great for a science classroom.
I cannot wait to get Finding Winnie – The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick. I wonder how many students will love this tale of the real Winnie the Pooh.
Why do I have a feeling that Elwood Bigfoot: Wanted: Birdie Friends by Jill Esbaum will become a favorite of my students?
Picture books are a part of our tapestry and something that I am proud we use in our middle school. I hope being vocal about the benefit of using picture books with older students will help others take the jump. I got to discuss more of this in this article here.
If you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. The 2nd edition and actual book-book (not just e-book!) comes out September 22nd from Routledge.