Using Picture Books to Boost Literacy Skills

As I’ve said over and over in this blog, picture books are NOT just for little ones. Picture books are key to any literacy program (at home and at school). At least once a year, I just have to post about the many benefits of picture books for all ages. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you will probably recognize many of these points.

Since the last time I wrote about the glories of picture books, I have started a reading and writing club at a local after-school program. I show up with a bag full of picture books and we take turns reading them aloud. We then use them as sparks for our own writing. My group of 2nd – 6th graders are an inspiration to me and each other.
Picture books offer so many things to so many readers. Some of the benefits include:

They are fun. Picture book authors know how to deliver a great story in few words and lively language. The illustrations provide another layer of energy, wonderment and delight.

They are motivating. Pictures draw us in and make us want to read on. Books without pictures can do this, too, but not unless we’re already hooked on the power of books.

They are easy to follow. Picture books tend to have straightforward plots. If there are twists, the pictures usually lead you down the right path. These plots invite retelling. I can’t tell you how many times my students have acted out the plots from picture books just because they were simple and easy to recall and of course, fun.

They often introduce new vocabulary and expressions. Picture books seldom use restricted vocabulary, such as early readers use. The authors use whatever language and vocabulary they need to tell their stories and often let the illustrations illuminate the meaning.

They introduce a variety of writing styles, authors, and illustrators. This can provide models for young writers to try in their own stories. When teaching writing, I often used picture books as models.

They provide an excuse to stay close. Reading aloud a chapter book with no pictures can be done from the other side of the room. Picture books demand to be seen. Sitting close is the only way to go.

They provide windows to complex subjects and ideas. Well-written picture books can introduce, clarify, raise questions, challenge and spark interest in all kinds of subjects: science, history, philosophy, emotions, math, attitudes, cultures…
Picture books rock! Next week I’ll offer a few suggestions as to how to use picture books to enhance your child’s (and your own) reading and book enjoyment.

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