105 Ways to Give a Book

Reading Aloud: Picture Books Rule!

For today’s topic for Share a Story – Shape a Future, I’m going to let you in on my secret of great read-aloud success: Reading Picture Books until the kids actually roll their eyes and walk away.

Now they may roll their eyes and yet sit down. Why? Because they want to read these books, but are afraid that they’re too old. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an excited kid pulling out picture books at the library only to hear a parent yell, “Those are baby books! Look for a real book to read.” When I can intervene, I share that I love picture books myself and one is never too old to enjoy them. And then I whack the parent on the head with Knuffle Bunny Too.

It’s great to also read longer books to children, though I do believe that there are parents who use books that are too big with kids that are too young. But there’s room for both types of books, and they each add different elements to reading growth. Picture Books offer short stories and/or concepts that help kids build their comprehension skills. They offer practice in finding connections to other books or their own lives. Picture Books have become a source of some amazing artwork, a subject that receives little attention in schools. They reinforce the concepts of good storytelling or voice or imagery. And if the book happens to be bad at storytelling, voice, or imagery, then that’s a good lesson for why one book works better than another.

When I read a book to a class, I take questions or responses at the end. At the beginning of kindergarten, most of the kids only reply that they liked the book. I gently push back with questions. What part? Why? How did it connect? Which book did you like better? By the end of that year, some will be ready to answer these questions, and with each grade it’s a few more kids. By third grade, I had my pinnacle moment when a boy connected the book Clancy the Courageous Cow — where the Belted Galloways can’t eat in the same field as the bossy Herefords — to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement. My work there was done.

Picture books offer the perfect opportunity, in a classroom or one-on-one, to practice comprehension and connection, to experience art and imagery, to learn analysis and comparison. My own experience shows that the kids are only getting good at these skills in third grade (and that was a gifted class), but people are pushing these books out by first grade. It’s especially bad when parents become obsessed with the Reading Game, where one’s self-worth or the self-worth of one’s child is determined by his impressive Reading Level. (Don’t play this game. There are no winners.)

Picture Books come in many forms, and there’s something for everybody. There are ones that are more directed to toddlers, preschoolers, or school-age kids. There are Picture Books that are collections of poems or biographies or informational books. There are fairy tale and folk tale and religious picture books. There are amazing new books and timeless classics. Make them part of your read-aloud sessions, and if the kids eventually roll their eyes and walk away, enjoy them yourself.

Find more posts on reading aloud at Share a Story – Shape a Future and today’s host, Book Chook.


BookChook said...

You made some great points here, Pam. I've seen kids turned away from reading because of having book choices foisted upon them, and it breaks my heart.

But you cheered me up immensely with that lovely mental image of Knuffle Bunny as a head-flattener!

Kristen M. said...

I absolutely agree ... picture books are awesome! Ours will stay on the shelves until Z wants to pass them on to his kids. I can still remember picking some up for a quick read when I was a teen -- enjoying the nostalgia and innocence of it all. Thanks to MY mom for keeping the picture books on the shelves too.

Boni Ashburn said...

Excellent post, Pam! One of my favorite read-aloud experiences EVER was reading a stack of picture books to a fifth grade class. They were old enough to "get" the multi-layered humor that a younger audience misses in a book like Piggie Pie. They were old enough to be excitedly nostalgic about favorite PBs from a few years before (that cracked me up!). It was like watching little bells going off in their heads as they saw things they hadn't seen at a younger age. They couldn't get enough and didn't want me to stop. It was sad to know they actually "missed" picture books when they are so readily available! Continuing to read picture books and listening to them being read through the pre-teen years is something I encourage every chance I get.

Lynn said...

Thank you for the interesting commentary, and for the reminder not to push. I kind of struggle with this already sometimes at only 15 months (do I just get more word
books or can't he enjoy Mo Willems with me yet?). I try to present a variety of different books and then follow his lead. Many of his favorites are for older kids, but he also loves his chunky little baby books.
Libraries are amazing things. :)

Jen Robinson said...

Excellent points all, Pam! As a frequent gifter of books, I think I'm often guilty of moving up to chapter books too quickly. I'm going to remember your post.

Did you see that Donalyn Miller talked today about starting off the school year by having her 6th graders bring in their favorite picture books?

Terry Doherty said...

Oh, my. You risked a Willems on the thick skull of a parental unit? Seriously, I appreciate the reminder that rushing a child to read more words on a page can do more harm than good. You've given me something else to consider when I'm reviewing picture books.

Candace Ryan said...

Thanks for helping with the myth-busting that picture books are for "babies."

With the careful blending of word and image, I find picture books to be a satisfyingly sophisticated artform.

I'd like to hit any doubters over the head with Shaun Tan's THE RED TREE.

Anonymous said...

You're so right. Until I began writing for children I had ceased reading picture books. I was still reading chapter books and my subscription of Cricket magazine. I fell in love with reading & writing them. I've got 2 under contract.

I forgot how much they can teach & entertain you at any age.

The Differently-Abled Children's Author
J. Aday Kennedy

Jennifer said...

One of my library patrons informed me that she is reading Harry Potter to her 15-month old...seriously, I'm not kidding.

Anonymous said...

For a long time the book "Good Night Moon" was one of my sons favorite books and we read it to him everynight for nearly 3 years.

At different points in time (developmental stages?) he would notice different things in the pictures and ask questions about them.

Eventually he wanted us to stop reading it, said he was "bored". I find I miss it.

morninglight mama said...

Such a great post! I absolutely agree with you here-- while I find myself swelling with dangerous pride at my 8 year old's ever-growing reading level, I also see the joy that he still finds in reading picture books with me and his younger siblings. Just as parents so often think that they can stop reading aloud with their children once they learn how to read, this too is an important message to send!

scb said...

Fantastic post! I love picture books (I'm 52!) and I love to give them to children.

You make me want to go to the Public Library tomorrow, and drink in all the wonders in the children's library. (When the college library where I work stopped collecting picture books for our Education Library, those of us in Acquisitions who had eagerly pored through new shipments missed them terribly.)

Anonymous said...

Some travel glitches yesterday left me stranded on this "tour" and I am finishing up this morning before I take Day 4's tour! Thank you for a great article that helps validate my insatiable thirst to cruise the aisles of picture books in bookstores large and small.....from covers to endpapers to art to words when present...I love picture books!

tanita✿davis said...

Go Knuffle Bunny! Whack!
I'm not even a librarian, and I've heard a "that's a baby book, choose something else," whine. I may have even been guilty of it, trying to push my younger sibs to push themselves to read. No more. I fear the Wrath of the Knuffle Bunny.

Thanks for this.

Marjorie said...

What a fantastic post - thank you! I still like to read illustrated books, which usually means getting old editions of the classics! I bashed myself over the head (metaphorically!) a few years ago and managed to restrain myself from the But-you're-too-old for-that argument by realising that copious quantities of picture-books often added up to a far richer cornucopia of language than to be found in some (sadly, mostly school reading scheme) chapter books.

Christine said...

Great post!
From experience, I can say picture books are an extremely effective and fun way to teach onomotopoeia (Dr. Seuss), rising action, conflict, resolution ("Caps for Sale"), poetry (illustrated Robert Frost), history ("Baseball Saved Us"), and much more in the high school classroom.

Eva M said...

You're so right, no one is too old for picture books. We train our children's librarians to read picture books to every grade, including those jaded 5th graders, when they visit schools. "Yo! Yes?" by Chris Raschka works really well for older grades.

Danna Smith said...

I agree, picture books rule! A very insightful and funny take on the subject. I'm going to share your post with my blog readers and I'll never look at Knuffle Bunny the same way again!

Liz said...

I cannot recommend picture books highly enough. My own kids loved them and we read them forever. We had two new babies in our family in the past 7 months and each one of them got a whole boatload of picture books, all favorites of my kids when they were little. I look forward to gift-giving occasions, just so we can give those cute little babies more! I just found a new series to give the little guys, too -- I was at the doctor's office earlier this week and found a picture book on earaches. It's written by a pediatrician and it was very cute. SO I did a little looking online and found out she's written a whole series of books on kids' ailments. The latest is The Moose with Loose Poops -- you can guess what THAT book is about! I'm getting them, naturally! Such a cute relationship between the dad and little Miles. (And I'll be glad I'm not the one dealing with the loose poops, to boot!)

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more that parents (and even some teachers) seem to be in such a rush to transition their children from picture books to chapter books. They don't seem to understand how far picture books have come, and that they no longer are only for children who haven't started reading yet.

Many picture books offer museum quality illustrations and messages that are so beautiful that they can bring an adult to tears. They even have the power to help us to see a "big picture" that a chapter book often cannot.

Nonfiction picture books are also a wonderful resource that should be used more often by parents and teachers.

Jules at 7-Imp said...


Unknown said...

Those who proclaim PBs to be 'baby books' haven't seen high schoolers come into the children's room to read aloud favorite old PBs to each other -- one of my favorite moments of being a youth librarian.