Over the 20 years that I’ve been working as a Reading Specialist, I came to rely on the power of a good picture book for many of my lessons. They are considered – in many cases – to be “mentor texts” and teachers use them to introduce historic periods about to be studied or, often, to exemplify literary devices like simile or inference or, in writing, good use of dialogue or a great opening to a story. They are short; they are historically accurate; they have illustrations to help visualize the point; they are about all topics to motivate, and they are more high level in quality than most people know.
Picture Books – the high quality and high leveled ones – are my passion. My basement is filled with shelves of them. I buy them new; I buy them used; I buy in bookstores and online. I love my picture books and everyone knows how I feel. I have taught classes for teachers on how to use them. I have created and facilitated workshops at schools, and I was accepted with a colleague to be a presenter at a prestigious literary conference in New York City.
PICTURE BOOKS ARE NOT JUST FOR LITTLE KIDS!!! In fact, if you follow my Blog, you can see from my Lexile chart that most of them are marketed to kids who are too young and unskilled to understand them. Young children are just learning about the world and we cannot expect them to have what we educators call “background knowledge” – the background information needed to understand references and nuances in stories. The vocabulary is often not yet known by young readers and the hidden meaning and life lessons are often not recognized by children who are not “worldly” enough yet to “get it.” For example, I once purchased a book about the writers of the U.S. Constitution. I could read the words but I did not have enough historic and bibliographic information to understand the little back stories about these men and the times in which they lived to understand the significance of their actions in this book. I did not have the necessary background knowledge. Sadly, I returned the book.
Schools now push and push and push some more to make kids start reading the almighty chapter book in kindergarten and first grade. OMG! Since these books are often too long and too difficult for them, many children struggle and are then “identified” and labeled as struggling readers with a reading disability or learning disability. For goodness sakes, let’s just give them a little time to learn what they need first – phonics, how to figure out unknown words, a growing vocabulary, background knowledge, and the stamina to get through a long chapter book. By the way you can build valuable background for your children by going to museums and visiting all kinds of places from zoos and libraries to arboretums.
So! Here we are as parents wanting our kids to “keep up” with classmates. Reading is a developmental skill much like talking in full sentences, becoming potty trained, and walking. They all do it at their own speed. Of course, some children unfortunately have legitimate learning disabilities and that is something a parent, doctor, and school needs to be on top of early for the proper intervention and academic growth.
My answer to all things educational is PICTURE BOOKS! Yup … here I go again. It is my strong belief that they are not being used to their full potential. They are not just cute little stories (although some are just fun to listen to and read alone). But the real meat and potatoes of learning to be smart-thinking readers is to have some adult (hmmmm, you as the parent will do great here) read stories from good high-level picture books aloud to your kids in a special way. When you read and then stop to point out interesting parts, talk about hidden meaning and how you found it, clarify new and tricky words, and figure out the lesson to take out into the world, it is called Interactive Reading. Parents need to do more of it and schools need to train teachers how to do it properly so we become the MODELS of how good readers sound and what they think about and wonder about and ask questions about when they read. The more kids hear stories read in this way, the better they will become at trying it on their own when they read. That is what we want them to do – become smart-thinking readers – because reading requires a lot of thinking and much more than simply reciting a bunch of words. You, as the parent, has more power than you know to help your child become a better reader – read them picture books in the Interactive way.
I am going to attach 2 copies of a sort of script to show you what I mean. I call them Read-aloud Guides or Grab ‘n Go Guides. I will use 2 books for younger kids, Dragons Love Tacos, and Mighty, Mighty Construction Site, to show you what I mean. These any many more will be included in my upcoming book. I will let you know when it is published. In my next blog post, I will include a few examples of how to read to older kids in this way.
Here is how to use the guides:
- Get a copy of the picture book.
- Read it yourself, using the Guide, and mark places you want to stop and talk with post-it notes inside the book.
- Read it casually with your child, stopping to talk where you put the post-its. Keep it light and casual. You want to enlist your child in the talking expressing his/her own opinions. We want them to be thinking. Let them ask questions and talk about what they wonder about.
- After reading, decide together which activities you child would like to do.
That is all I am going to say for now about the poor misunderstood picture book. Please try reading these books to your kids using the guides. They are easy to find either to buy in a bookstore or online to add to your home library or to rent from the public library. Do not use audio books here because the illustrations are not as easy to enjoy and it is difficult to use the post-it notes. You will notice that you child will start rereading the stories to you and they will start to wonder, question, and think about them the same way you did. You were a great reading model!
I would love to hear how these work for you. Please feel free to send me any questions or comments. “Happy Reading!”