I remember I was told to teach inference as a 4th grade teacher, it was one of the many skills students were supposed to develop in literacy, and I was a stickler for following the rules. So the first year I sat with my lesson plans, every word penciled out and guided my students through the lesson. We inferred because the book told us to. When a child asked me why they were learning this, I answered, “Because you will need it next year.” That successfully quieted the child, and I felt satisfied, I had been able to give them a reason for what we were doing and so they did it.
Yet, the act of inferring is so much bigger than “next year.” It is so much bigger than learning how to read text better. It is a life skill. One we need to navigate difficult situations. One we need to read other people. One we need to become better human beings that care about others. And so we infer, yes, but we also start to trust ourselves and our opinions, build confidence in our intuition and get more astute in our observations. And picture books are about one of the best ways we can teach it in our classrooms. So here are some of my favorite titles that I use.
I have to start with one of my favorites and the one I chose to start this year’s lessons with; I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Beloved by so many, the students laugh out loud, love to infer right away, even when you tell them not to and fall in love with the simple yet devilish story of who took the bear’s hat. Magic I tell you.
And I have to highlight the kind of sequel This Is Not My Hat also by Jon Klassen. I use this as a follow up book, to give my students another chance at visiting the magical world that seems to be Jon Klassen’s mind and they love it as much as the first one. I also love all of the theories of what happened to the little fish that my student concoct.
Boats for Papa is a new picture book by Jessixa Bagley that I immediately fell in love with. The story does not tell us where papa is, nor why the mother does what she does, leaving this open for interpretation by the students.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty is an emotional book that leaves the reader wondering where the father is. I love the emotional connection that my students can feel to this book, as well as what they conclude. This book will also provide us with a window into the lives of our students as they share their own experiences.
This amusing story of what really happened to a sandwich will allow you to peek into the minds of how deeply students understand textual clues, as well as how well they look for evidence. The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Beach is one that makes me giggle every time I read it aloud and then leads to heated discussions of what exactly did happen to that sandwich?
Another book that is great for deeper level conversations as students try to decide why that skunk keeps following the main character. I cannot wait to hear what my students will come up with, as well as what they would do in this situation if a skunk were to follow them home. I have many of Mac Barnett’s and Patrick McDonnell’s book and love having The Skunk as well
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan is one of those books you can turn to again and again because of the complexity within it. I have used it to teach Contrast & Contradictions and will now also use it for deeper inferences. What I love the most is that each child can truly have their own unique interpretation of what the entire book means and I don’t have enough books that allow us to do that.
Yes, I am biased when it comes to Amy Krouse Rosenthal,, she is after all the Global Read Aloud picture book author study this year. But Duck Rabbit is a great inference and discussion book. The simple text and witty illustrations means that every student is bound to have an opinion in the ongoing debate of whether that is a duck or a rabbit. I always keep my opinion to myself.
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole is a book that has shown up on a few lists from me. I think it is another book that deserves to be read with many different lenses. I love how the students have no words to guide them here but only their careful observations to figure out what actually happens in the story. That means that no matter their reading ability they can be a part of the conversation.
Another wordless picture book on this list is The Red Book by Barbara Lehman. Again, this levels the playing field for all students as they try to figure out what is happening in the story and have to be careful observers to support their conclusions. Plus, I just love the message this book sends.
Before I published this post, I asked on Twitter for people to share their favorites. Here are some crowd sourced ones as well.
Which ones did I miss?
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!) just came out!