books, picture books, writing, Writing Identity

A Few Picture Books to Teach Memoir

We are starting the year, and the creation of our writing portfolio, with a unit focused on memoir and personal essay. I am hoping that in this unit, the students will start to share parts of their writing identity through discussion of what makes them a writer or not, the erules of writing and which we need to break, as well as experimentation with writing based in their own lives.

I have been gathering memoirs and personal essays for a while now, trying to focus on stories that may enrich their understanding of how others see the world so that they in turn can focus on their own lives.

As always, our trusted picture books are part of the mentor text collection that will surround students as we embark into this work, so here are the ones I have pulled so far that focus on small moments and written in 1st person. While some of these are true memoirs, others are texts I can use as models despite them not being true stories.

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and edited by Sara Jane Boyers
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis

I will add more as I pull them, especially newer books to use. If you would like to see other lists of favorite books, go here.

9 thoughts on “A Few Picture Books to Teach Memoir”

  1. Fabulous list, Pernille…I’ve read several and will request the rest from my library. It’s wonderful to see more and more of these books coming that speak from the hearts of the authors/illustrators who create them to the hearts of the children who read them.

  2. Thanks for all the book recommendations! I teach a 9th grade Reading Engagement class at our alternative high school. I did classroombookaday with my group last year & for the most part it was successful. I’m going to try it again and am never sure which picture books to start with. Any suggestions? Like your tried & true? Because they are older, they tend to scoff at it at first, and then seem to come around, but the book selection is so important! Thanks!
    Cindy Schwind

  3. Thank you so much for the recommendations. I’ve got some balloon plans for sure! What remains to be seen is if I can read this aloud without weeping. Then again, my students are kind of used to my tears. I always tell them, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Robert Frost.

  4. This is an amazing list of books. I am wondering how you will tie in memoir and personal essay to the students while being trauma sensitive to those who don’t feel comfortable or confident in telling their stories?

    1. Great question! I don’t plan on forcing children into sharing stories they don’t want to share, we are grounded in choice throughout and examples will also include funny stories. Knowing there are many emotions tied in with writing overall, let alone within personal writing, this will be a delicate exploration guided by the students

      1. Thank you for your reply. I really struggle with this all. I want to be trauma sensitive in my teaching practice but I also feel, somewhat similar to your trigger warning post, that we sometimes make assumptions about what trauma may/may not be, and as a result I don’t want to be trying to be so aware I don’t then save space for kids to unburden themselves or be really raw and real. It feels like such a delicate balance. I love your wording, “a delicate exploration guided by the students”. Perfect!

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