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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Rationale for Picture Books

A first-time visitor emailed me to say that she loved the site, but couldn't see how she could sell the idea of picture books to her administrators. "Times are tight, and it seems they're only interested in putting money into textbooks and the rare set of novels. Any advice?"

Before advice, I offer sympathy. I know how you feel, trust me. But since you're seeking suggestions, the best I can give you is this: enlighten your principal (or whoever holds the purse strings in your school). Some principals were not teachers, and those who were may never have set foot into a classroom below the middle or high school level. Some administrators are also unfamiliar with the scope and diversity of picture books available today. You mention picture books to them, and they're thinking Clifford the Big Red Dog. (Not that I'm knocking Clifford; he is old school cool).

What administrators most need help understanding, however, is the role picture books can play in the upper grades. Are they simply an add-on, or will they truly enrich and advance the curriculum we're presently teaching?

The best answer to the question, "Why Picture Books?" is a resource I created called Picture Books Across the Curriculum. There you'll find fifteen reasons for using picture books, complete with citations and additional reference sites. You and your colleagues may be able to brainstorm even more.

I would recommend that you invite administrators to your room when using picture books; show them that nothing beats a picture book for establishing a common literary culture. Prior to reading the novel Number the Stars, for example, I share several picture books about World War II, the Holocaust, and Denmark's resistance to the Nazis to provide my students with sufficient age-appropriate background knowledge. Otherwise, they simply could not understand, nor fully appreciate, the novel's events and themes. See my Holocaust Picture Books post for more titles and teaching ideas.


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Anonymous said...

I am a principal and I value the use of explicit instruction using mentor text and picture books whenever possible. I am a firm believer if you provide students of all ages with experiences with rich language they will use those models in their own writing.

Anonymous said...

? Most administrators were teachers. I was. This is not a new idea to use picture books. Scholastic is an example of one publisher, that has severals reference books for using picture books~

Keith Schoch said...

I appreciate your comment. A couple teachers have emailed since this posting and said that their experience with administration has been quite different, and that their principals whole-heartedly support the use of picture books. I certainly didn't mean to bash principals as a group! I was simply trying to offer some reasons why they might be resistant to the idea. Don't forget that I made a suggestion to invite them into your classroom... That should suggest that I see principals as potential allies in the process.

Keith Schoch said...

To my 4:12 visitor, you're right... The vast majority of administrators were teachers. Just a few were guidance counselors, business administrators, or other non-teaching personnel before becoming administrators. Again, just trying to offer some possible reasons why school leadership may be resistant. And I absolutely realize that what I'm doing here is simply walking in the footsteps of those who came before me; I in no way lay claim to picture books as my discovered domain. But I do feel that few teacher education programs help teachers to understand the many uses they can make of picture books, at almost every level. The Scholastic books (and those by other publishers) are good, but new adherents to the "ways of the picture book" are more often won over by excellent teacher models, not the descriptions and prescriptions of teaching supplements. This humble little blog is designed to spread the word and offer just a few ideas. Thanks for keeping me honest!

Anonymous said...

Keith- just started reading your blog. Thank you so much! Your pages will know be a reference as I continue to work as a mentor and train brand new LA teachers. I have been using picture books for years in both my 5th and 6th grade classrooms. The students absolutely love them and are always excited when they see me pulling my chair to the center for what they refer to as "storytime"! They know there's a academic reason but they truly enjoy the stories as well! That is what I find most exciting. Kids at all ages still need to be read to and convincing others of that is often the hard part of the task in teaching reading. Thanks again!

Keith Schoch said...

Jenn: Glad you dig it! Would love to hear about some of your favorite books and how you use them.

Anonymous said...

I teach the holocaust and would like a list of picture books I could use with my middle school student.

Keith Schoch said...

Re the list of picture books for the Holocaust:

The Number on Grandfather's Arm (Adler) introduces the idea of the Holocaust.
The Butterfly (Polacco) describes one young girl's discovery that her family is hiding Jews.
The Cats in Krasinski Square (Hesse) describes how ordinary people did an extraordinary thing.
Star of Fear, Star of Hope (Hoestlandt) describes the confusion of children living through the period in which Jews were rounded up.
The Yellow Star: the Legend of King Christian X of Denmark (Deedy) retells the legend of the King of Denmark and his response to German persecution of the Jews.

These are the books I could readily think of; I would suggest using each of them at various times to build historical background and to put a human face on the dates and facts of this horrific time.