Picture books are for everyone! That was the message from a panel of five children’s authors and illustrators at Politics and Prose (an independent bookstore in Washington, DC) who participated in the Third Annual Picture Book Panel: Too Good to Miss – Picture Books for Older Readers. They all talked about the importance of using picture books in primary grades and middle school.
Christopher Myers, author and illustrator of Wings, said that picture books were important because they tell the story in multiple modes. The pictures make the book more accessible. And, Jacqueline Woodson, author of Each Kindness, suggested that children’s books should be interwoven with other books in a bookstore. In others words, picture books do not have to only be available in the children’s section.
The primary takeaway for me was that teachers should be using picture books at all grade levels and across the different disciplines. I recognize that for many teachers this could be a growth area – but one that students would be very excited to see incorporated into their learning.
Informational Picture Books
I mostly use picture books as a way to introduce a new or challenging topic or an important person we are going to study in a more in-depth manner. I use them in reading, social studies, and science and math classes. The picture books I use are considered informational picture books.
Kathleen T. Isaacs, author of Picturing the World: Informational Picture Books for Children, says,
“an informational picture book is a book both intended and experienced as one that conveys information through a marriage of text and pictures. This information is factual and up to date. It can be documents, and it has been presented appropriately for child readers or listeners ages 3 to 10.”
She also outlines four elements to choosing a good informational picture book. Be mindful of:
- Subject and Child Appeal: Find books that children want to read….”be guided by the child’s own interests.”
- How the Story is Told: The book must be written with “passion and enthusiasm that leave the reader with a sense of adventure and excitement. It has a clear, logical organization…The story should be told with interesting language appropriate to the child’s language level.”
- How the Story is Pictured: Illustrations should “match the subject and tone, convey the story and/or add additional information…should be well-created….vary in size and placement on the page (to) keep the reader’s interest.”
- Accuracy, Sources, and Additional Tools: Facts and chronology must be correct and verifiable. Informational picture books may have to “simplify ideas, omit events that seem irrelevant to their particular focus or inappropriate for the audience, but the narrative as a whole should not be misleading.” Listing sources and additional resources where students can go to learn more about a topic are welcomed. Finally, maps, timelines, page numbers, and indexes are welcome additions.
Ferris Wheels, Settlement Houses, Rosenwald Schools, and Snowflakes
This year I am teaching reading to students in grades 1 to 4. Here are some of the informational picture books we have read together.
My second graders read The House that Jane Built written by Tanya Lee Stone and illustrated by Kathryn Brown. Then, they read Mr. Ferris and His Wheel written by Kathryn Gibbs Davis and illustrated by Gilbert Ford. While reading these books, they asked to create a timeline so they could see when these people lived.
My first graders had lots of questions about schools for African-American children while reading Dear Mr. Rosenwald written by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Gregory Christie. They took great delight in the curiosity of Snowflake Bentley written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and illustrated by Mary Azarian as Bentley photographed the uniqueness of a snowflake. And, when they saw that second grade had created a timeline, they asked to make one too!
Resources to Get Growing
Here are some resources that will help you introduce informational picture books to your students and integrate them in your reading workshop as well as science, social studies, art, and other content area classes.
- Picturing the World: Informational Picture Books for Children by Kathleen T. Isaacs
- Linking Picture Book Biographies to National Content Standards by Liz Deskins and Christina H. Dorr
Articles on the Web
- Picture Books by Theme by Maria Salvadore – Reading Rockets
- Child Illustrators: Making Meaning Through Visual Art in Picture Books by Alicia Villarreal, Sylvia Minton, and Miriam Martinez – The Reading Teacher
- For my daughter, Pete the Cat is a she by Jennie Yabroff – The Washington Post
- The Apartheid of Children’s Literature by Christopher Myers – The New York Times
- Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books? by Walter Dean Myers – The New York Times
- What Teachers Need to Know About the “New” Nonfiction by Sharon Ruth Gill – Reading Rockets
Websites for More Information about Picture Books