Promoting Literacy through Picture Books
As I’ve said over and over in this blog, picture books are NOT just for little ones. I consider picture books so important, I feel compelled to promote them at least once a year. So, here’s this years’ pitch…
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 to 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…
Here are a few suggestions as to how to use picture books to enhance your child’s (and your own) enjoyment.
When making connections, readers tie what they read to personal experiences or to other reading, in order to enhance their understanding of themselves, other books, and life itself. This is something enthusiastic and experienced readers do automatically. They read something and think, “Oh, this makes me think of when I …”
For example, in Ezra Jack Keats’ A Whistle for Willie (my favorite Keats book), Peter tries and tries to whistle. Any child can relate to such repeated attempts to master a skill.
When reading a book together, try modeling this by saying something like, “When I read that part, it made me think when I …” Or, “This makes me think of that book we read…”
As you read, you can pose questions about the story.
About the text
What will [a character] do next?
Where is [a character] going?
Who did that?
Why did [a character] do that?
Not so simple
I wonder why [a character] seems so sad?
What message is the author trying to give?
What is your personal opinion about this?
Do you like this character? Why?
Do you like the ending? How would you change it?
Why might this story be scary (funny, confusing…) to some kids? To some adults?
About the illustrations
What season is this? How can you tell?
How many ___ are there in this picture?
What picture might be on the next page?
Where is the___?
After reading: What is your favorite illustration? Why?
Not so simple
I wonder why the illustrator used such dark (bright, pale…) colors?
What do you think is the most important thing in this illustration? What makes it important?
How can you tell that car (girl, dog…) is going fast (feeling sad, is sleeping…)?
Caution: We adults tend to overdo the questions. The last thing we want is to make reading together at home seem like a chore. Be aware of your child’s reactions to your questions. Remember, our goal is to show that reading is fun.
Encourage your child to ask his own questions. Try asking your child to think of teacher-type questions for you. Pretending to be the teacher can be great fun and encourages a different type of thinking.
What does your family like to do when you are reading picture books together? Write it in the Comments box!