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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Yes to Picture Books!

A teacher friend lamented the scolding she received from a colleague for using picture books with fourth graders. What! I exclaimed. That cannot be true. Sadly, there are unenlightened souls who believe picture books equates to babyish books. I beg to differ.

Pat Bauer told me last night she has a list for her middle school students about why it is important to read picture books. That prompted me to compile my own thoughts. I read picture books every day! I look forward to opening new ones and revisiting favorites. My reasons for reading and using them are in no particular order of importance.

They encourage visual literacy. Think of comparing fairy tale versions like Little Red Riding Hood retold by James Marshall, Jerry Pinkney, and Trina Schart Hyman.

They offer an introduction to topics and time periods. David LaRochelle's The Best Pet of All opens up a perfect writing topic. Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone takes readers to the early 1900s and offers a unique glimpse of young life.

They foster understanding of literary elements like character, plot, theme, setting, irony, conflict, and resolution. Sisters Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens-Crummel are masters of this. My favorite is Cook-a-Doodle-Doo.

They promote strong vocabulary. Boxes for Katje by Candace Fleming, in addition to teaching about Holland in World War II, is filled with wonderful words: gritty, luxury, savored, gulped, dabbing, heartfelt, bitter, sparingly, whooped.

They provide examples of traits and characteristics valued by human beings: acceptance, compassion, empathy, honesty, sharing, and understanding. Derek Munson's Enemy Pie demonstrates all those qualities with tact and gentle humor.

They demonstrate the interdependence of text and illustrations. David Small does this so well in Imogene's Antlers!

They present a common reference point when trying to learn about something in greater depth. Karen Hesse's The Cats in Krasinski Square presents a view of Warsaw in World War II that is unknown to many readers.

They give readers and listeners the opportunity to laugh, ponder, and reflect. Mem Fox's Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge captivated me as a college student for this reason; it was the first picture book I received as an adult.

They spawn inquiry learning. Debra Frasier's The Incredible Water Show prompts readers to learn about our water cycle.

They show life's problems and challenges and ways to work through them. My boys loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day. Thank goodness for Bread and Jam for Frances to nudge them along to other foods.

They draw readers and listeners together in a shared experience. So many ideas for the ultimate birthday cake have come from Bunny Cakes by Rosemary Wells, not to mention a curiosity about red-hot marshmallow squirters.

They link us with our past and grant windows to the future. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey takes me back to my hometown library and makes me think of sharing it - and picking blueberries - with children in my future.

They supply us with language that becomes part of our daily lives. "Wham! Bang! Thump!" from The Bear Under the Stairs comes to mind in our household.

They give us opportunities to meet characters who are a bit like us. For me, Julie Jersild Roth's Knitting Nell is one of those characters.

Most of all, picture books - or everybody books as we call them at school - bring pleasure.


  1. I second all of the above...but particularly the last. Picture books are just so utterly satisfying to hold, to drink in, to close at the end with a sigh.

  2. I also agree with your list, and especially the last item. There are picture books that never fail to delight me, such as the Ahlberg's EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM. And you can find some of the best, most beautiful writing EVER in picture books (OWL MOON or Joyce Sidman's poetry books). EVERYBODY books indeed!