But How Do You Really Teach With Picture Books?

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2 days into the year and already we have shared 5 picture books.  Today I read How to Read A Story by the amazing Kate Messner 5 times as we discussed what we love and hate about reading.  As we discussed what makes a great reading experience.  As I invited my students to come on over, one boy clapped his hands, “Story time!” he said.  And not in a sarcastic 7th grade too-cool-for-school kind of way, but in the way that little kids say  it; excited to hear the story.   Excited to share in this moment.  No one laughed at him, instead others joined in, murmuring their appreciation as well.  Story time began as we sat around the rocking chair.

So I read aloud, and we added one more book to our “How many picture books in a year” bulletin board and my students left feeling like there was absolutely nothing wrong with doing just this; sharing a picture book even though now they are in middle school and maybe too old for some things.

I am often asked why picture books?  Why spend the money on these seemingly simple books?  Do I really teach with them or is it just for fun?  And sure, sometimes it is just for fun, but most of the time?  Picture books are serious business in our classroom.

I don’t just buy picture books because they look fun.  A lot goes into the selection process.  These are sacred texts we are bringing in, ones that will build our community, inspire us, and make us better readers and writers.  That is something I take very seriously.

Selecting one to be read aloud is not done lightly either.  At the moment I am contemplating whether to use The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier or Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman as we get ready to discuss how we stop identifying ourselves as readers or writers tomorrow.  I use them as a way to bridge a conversation that otherwise might be hard for some of my students to start.  I use them as a way to access topics that sometimes my students cannot speak about because they are afraid of how others will react.  Yet, when a character in a picture book goes through a situation that resonates with them then it becomes a safe conversation for them to have as well.  You want to speak about loneliness in your classrooms?  Read The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig or To the Sea by Cale Atkinson.

I use picture books as mentor texts, guiding us as we hone our own craft as readers, writers, and speakers.  We read them once to find out the story, and then later I bring them back as we look at writers craft.  We use them to figure out how to tell our message in a powerful way, such as by studying the careful word choice of Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.  We use them for setting up plot while still leaving our reader in suspense such as the storytelling found in The Skunk by Mac Barnett.  We use them for when we are seemingly stuck for topics to write about and forget how extraordinary something simple can be such as the stories shared in Float by Daniel Miyares and Something Extraordinary by Ben Clanton.

Picture books are not just something we read, we write them ourselves in our epic nonfiction picture book project.  We study them.  We speak about them.   We get ideas and inspiration from them.  We carefully protect the time we have to read them.  They are the mentor texts we shape our instruction around.

They become part of the tapestry of our room and something the students search out for solace when they need to feel like they are readers again. As one child told me yesterday after I had shared our very first picture book, “Picture books make you remember your imagination again.”  And I knew that these kids got it.  That they knew that this wasn’t just me having some fun, but that picture books will teach us some of the largest lesson this year.  That picture books are not just for little kids and laughter.  They are for readers of all ages, and in particular, those who have gotten lost.

PS:  If you want to know which picture books, or at least a small sample of which I have in our room, see these lists.

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, but rumor has it that it is out on Kindle already!

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5 thoughts on “But How Do You Really Teach With Picture Books?

  1. Pernille, this is so well written and so true. I taught 4th grade for 35 years and each year added more picture books to enhance my curriculum. Now retired, I write picture books for children and am so aware of making sure I use strong verbs and literary devices so they can be used as mentor texts. Picture books are powerful! Good luck with your own writing. I hope you get a chance to look at my books someday! I’d be honored. carolgordonekster.com

  2. Pingback: Links I Loved Last Week: A Round-Up of Online Reading 9/6/15 | the dirigible plum

  3. Pingback: How I Use Picture Books in Our Middle School Classroom |

  4. Pingback: But How Do You Really Teach With Picture Books? – chattytcp

  5. This is so true. Last year I taught an art lesson with the story book: “The Noisy Paintbox” to a group of 6th graders. I thought they would hate it.However, THEY LOVED IT. I have never seen that group of students so engaged and QUIET for once. I taught this as one of the last lessons of the year and I will definitely try to integrate more picture books in my lessons next year!

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