June 28, 2011

I Believe in Picture Books

I have many MANY passions in teaching and in life, but one of the biggest of these is picture books.  I read them constantly to my class, browse them at the book store, and there have been several occassions when I have found myself wandering into the picture book section of the library and standing in the (low, child-sized) stacks reading Eve Bunting or Patricia Polacco (and, let's be honest, occasionally shedding a tear or two...).  I teach big kids, 5th graders to be exact, but I read picture books to my students anyways.  Here's why...

Top 5 Reasons I Believe in the Power of Picture Books

~Picture books  teach important lessons and help my kids think BEYOND the obvious.
I love sharing a book with the kids that they have read before in an earlier grade and asking them to look at the story with a new perspective.  They may remember hearing the story as a first or second grader, but it is amazing to see the wheels turn in their heads as they think about complex topics like tone, theme, and character motives.  Also, while it's my job to teach kids to read and write and add and multiply, it's also part of my job to prepare my students for LIFE.  That definitely goes beyond the core curriculum.  When we need to tackle an important issue like gossip or bullying or caring for the Earth, a picture book goes a long way to start the discussion and to get their wheels turning.  Some of our most powerful conversations were after reading texts like The Giving Tree and The Lorax.

~Picture books help my kids LOVE READING.
Picture books can be just plain fun.  Silly, sweet, or serious, picture books might be the hook you need to grab kids who might otherwise not be reading.  Of course they are not the ONLY hook out there, but visiting favorite picture books can be a safe way to get kids STARTED on their reading journey.  Also, by sharing picture books with ALL of my students, it helps reluctant and emergent readers feel comfortable reading them when they might otherwise have been embarrassed to be seen with a picture book.  Reading picture books to the class sends the message that they are NOT babyish; they are for EVERYBODY to enjoy.

~Picture books make big, complex ideas like history and world issues accessible to kids.
I am constantly in search of picture books that pair with science and social studies units to intersperse with our text book reading.  They do a great job of helping kids understand the content at their level, especially if the characters in the book are also children.  I also find that the kids tend to more easily remember the content they learned in the picture book than the text book, and use that story to make connections to the topic of study.  Plus, they're a nice change of pace!

~Picture books help students grow as writers.
I love using picture books as mentor texts during my writing workshop.  Sharing part of a picture book gives students a quick example of "good writing" that can spark their own creative writing processes.  While chapter books can of course make great mentor texts, I find that the picture book is less intimidating.  They are short and accessible, but still model the writing techniques we work on with our students like description, dialogue, onomatopoeia, point of view, and many other things.  I have found so much success in using picture books in writing workshop, and our picture book mini-lessons have been some of the students' favorites.

~Picture books keep my kids KIDS.
My students all act like they are 10 going on 18, which is probably NOT the best thing for kids.  During the school day, I look for little ways I can keep them from growing up too fast--ways I can keep them KIDS.  Gathering on the carpet and listening to a picture book is one of my favorite ways.  For those 10-15 minutes, they are not thinking about MTV or Jersey Shore or Grand Theft Auto or whatever other inappropriate media they spend time with outside of school.  They are just kids, taking in, processing, and (most importantly) enjoying a story.

This is the first in a series of posts I am working on about using picture books in the intermediate classroom.  I would love to hear suggestions of favorite picture books that you use in your classrooms.  Thanks!


  1. Amen to the last point! I still played with dolls when I was in 5th grade so it's hard to believe how "old" the 5th graders try to act.

  2. In the past three years I have used "Tacky the Penguin", "Charlie the Caterpillar" and "Have you Filled a Bucket Today?" with my 4th and 5th grade students. At first look they think these books are baby-ish...but I can't count the number of times these "tough" kids will ask me if they can read one of those books during SSR after I've read it.

    I love Tacky the most because he's so odd yet he saves the day. We are big proponents of Thinking Maps and I often use Tacky the Penguin to help introduce and review our maps during the first weeks of school. It's quite interesting to see how the children's perceptions of Tacky change when we look at him as "weird or odd" and then as a "hero" for saving the other penguins.

  3. These are all FANTASTIC points about picture books - they are my passion too!! :)

  4. I love reading picture books to my students as well (grades 4 and 5). There are so many good ones that students just enjoy hearing. One of the ones that lead into a great series of lessons was "Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street." There is a great lesson at http://writingfix.com/Picture_Book_Prompts/90thStreet1.htm . WritingFix has a great selection of mentor text lessons to try out so look around!



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