I firmly believe that picture books aren’t just for little kids. And also that they’re not just for Language Arts classrooms. As a teacher, I LOVED using picture books with a wide range of ages for a wide range of skills. Picture books are magical in so many ways and open the door to a multitude of possibilities! This post is especially for educators, but it’s also for parents, kid lit creators, and everyone else who works with children. Thanks to Carolee Dean for sharing the value of picture books and her many resources!
Not Just for Little Kids: Five Reasons to Use Picture Books with Older Students
by Carolee Dean, author and speech-language pathologist
I have always loved young adult novels. I’m the author of three titles: Comfort (Houghton Mifflin), Take Me There (Simon Pulse), and Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse), but I’ve also got a special place in my heart for picture books. In my work as a speech-language pathologist, I often use picture books with struggling readers of all ages. I’m so fond of picture books that I have highlighted several titles in my new educator’s resource, Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling (Brookes Publishing, 2021).
Story Frames centers on teaching students to think about stories the way authors think about stories. It weaves in a host of educational objectives like improving vocabulary, visualization skills, and comprehension. It integrates professional story plotting with the plot analysis educators traditionally use to discuss story structure with their students and provides fun and engaging activities for both creative and expository writing. See the list of 32 children’s books discussed in Story Frames including Beth Anderson’s An Inconvenient Alphabet: Ben Franklin and Noah Webster’s Spelling Revolution.
I discuss all sorts of children’s books in Story Frames, but I particularly highlight the attributes of using narrative non-fiction picture books in the classroom. They cover a wide range of topics related to history and science, and are definitely not just for little kids. Below I list five reasons for using picture books with older students:
- Picture books often follow the same narrative structure as novels. Because they are short, several picture books may be shared with a classroom in the same time frame it takes to read a single novel providing many and varied opportunities to talk about plot, main idea, theme, characterization and so on. Students often need multiple exposures to a concept before it sticks. Sharing shorter stories provides more touch points for these discussions.
- Picture books often explore adult topics. Not only are picture books more accessible to students, but because they are short, they provide for a more economical use of time. Books written for young audiences tackle tough subjects like the Tulsa Race Riot. Compare Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Riot Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford and illustrated by Floyd Cooper with adult non-fiction counterparts on the same topic such as The Burning: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan. The latter contains adult subject matter, so I give the example for comparison only.
- Many picture books have a similar or even higher Lexile than chapter books or novels. Lexiles analyze text complexity by looking at word frequency and sentence length among other measures, but these measures can be hard to quantify. Consider that the highly acclaimed The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway has a Lexile of 610L while the picture book, Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Boris Kulikov has a similar Lexile of 590L. Even more interesting, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal written by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie has a Lexile of 860L.
- Picture books can be used to supplement grade level non-fiction texts. In my book, Story Frames, an entire chapter is dedicated to using narrative non-fiction picture books to bridge the gap between stories and expository text. Consider introducing a topic like the Civil War with a picture book such as Tad Lincoln’s Restless Wriggle: Pandemonium and Patience in the President’s House by Beth Anderson and illustrated by S.D. Schindler or start a discussion about the effects of radiation poisoning and the atomic bomb by exploring Sadako written by Eleanor Coerr and illustrated by Ed Young. Then read non-fiction works on the same topic. It’s a great opportunity to compare and contrast text types. Understanding the features of different types of text improves comprehension because students have a structure within which to organize complicated information.
- Picture books may be used as a springboard for student writing. Encourage students to conduct research on a topic related to social studies or science and then write their own picture book on that topic. Picture books also provide an excellent opportunity to encourage memoir writing. Parents and teachers alike can use picture books to stimulate questions about personal experiences which help young people to build autobiographical memories and to write personal stories. For a free PDF activity on writing personal stories, visit the Teacher Resources page on my website. https://wordtravelliteracy.com/?page_id=57. The PDF includes a link to a video in which I discuss writing personal narratives with children’s authors Beth Anderson and Andrea Wang and illustrator Dow Phumiruk.
Still not convinced that picture books will work for your older students? Try one out and let me know how it goes on my Facebook page at Carolee Dean, Author. Also, until December 24, you can get 20% off of Story Frames for Teaching Literacy: Enhancing Student Learning Through the Power of Storytelling by using the code IDA 2021 at the virtual bookstore that Brookes created for the International Dyslexia Association Conference.
Finally, sign up for my newsletter to receive a free story writing template.