I have written about picture books a lot over the course of my blog. I have no shame in admitting I love them. I love to use them in my class, I love to read them to my nieces and nephews and I love to read them after a long day. There is something about both the simplicity and the powerful messages they contain that just pull me in. They give that permission to be a kid again. To sit down for just 10 minutes and take in a great story.
The other day a friend of mine mentioned that she was told that she was “not allowed” to use picture books with her high school students. It was a sad reminder that picture books are not viewed as quality literature by many. I decided today to write about why picture books are not only quality literature but they are powerful. When used correctly they can help us teach concepts, themes, writing structure and so many other Language Arts related skills. But to me most importantly, in a time where kids are over-scheduled, when junior high students are already worried about grades, with anxiety that they might not get into a good college if they don’t spend all their time on school and sports and clubs, when they just need a reminder that it is ok to not be so serious all the time, that we can enjoy a great story and enjoy the artistry that the illustrator provides.
The person that says picture books are not sophisticated enough for a high school student, do not tell a strong enough story, has clearly never read That Squeak by Carolyn Beck. A story of loss, misjudgments and ultimately friendship. I could take the words of that story, type them up and hand them out as a “short story” The purpose of eliminating picture books would be met, however, so much would be lost if we removed the beautiful pictures and we would also lose an opportunity to look at the illustrator’s choices and analyze why they did what they did, how the style matches the text and so on.
I utilize books like, I am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer with haunting illustrations by Gillian Newland, to address sensitive topics in a different way. The impact of seeing some of the scenes in images added to the reverence in the room as we learned more about an experience in residential schools. But picture books cover so many different topics with a grace and care that is unique to the medium. If we are looking at poverty like in Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts or the impact of cruelty and the need for kindness addressed in a favourite of mine, Wilfred by Ryan Higgins. The possibilities are near endless when utilizing picture books in the classroom.
I am a believer in Notice and Note by Kylene Beers and Robert Probst. Picture books are spectacular tools to practice those skills. Pernille Ripp blogs about it here among other places. I love using Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki for both NOtice and Note and Book-Head-Heart, another Kylene and Robert framework. My junior high students find the work more enjoyable than they have with shorter stories or novels. We use all three but picture books provide so many unique stories that my students can all enjoy.
In the end, the biggest reason for me is just to take that moment to appreciate the messages in picture books in a way that is accessible to many. A grade 7 student can venture down to a kindergarten room and work with a text that the Kindergarten student can enjoy but the older student can also benefit from in so many ways. I would like to believe that is equally true as we enter the high school setting.
Picture Books are like the fabled Fountain of Youth. They give us permission to be a kid again. To laugh, to learn and to grow with a text that we can go back to again and again. My students just finished their reading autobiographies and many listed picture books from their childhood because the impact was real. Why would we limit our students’ chances at growth? To experience joyful literacy work just because we think they are “too old” for a picture book. Why is everyone rushing to grow up and why has the light-hearted (at times) nature of picture books taken on a bad name as we move students through their school years. My students can learn just as much about the world and the power of forgiveness reading Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu as they will from any short story. The wisdom that is in the book and the moments that can be observed are countless.
I love picture books and so do many of my students. When we get them out to work they see it as a treat. They laugh at Albie Newton, they adore Perfectly Norman and they go back time and again to the stories of Peter Reynolds because…well Peter Reynolds is a genius.
If you have not taken the dive into the deep sea of great that Picture Books are in all classrooms you should rectify that. Take a chance, I even have a few suggestions.