I am happy to join today’s celebration of something I love so very much: PICTURE BOOKS! This celebration is thanks to Cathy at Reflect and Refine and Mandy at Enjoy and Embrace Learning. Thank you! This is their fifth year hosting this wonderful celebration.
I have taught with picture books for many years, the last ten as Library Media Specialist in a school serving Preschool- 8th grade. What is it about picture books? Well, here’s what I had to say about them as a guest on Kirby Larson’s blog last year, in my post, Growing Powerful Kid Readers: Picture Book Conversations.
Really, picture books are one of the most powerful teaching tools in any classroom. My task today is to share 10 picture books I couldn’t live without as an educator. Of course my list grew to mammoth proportions, but here are ten (plus a couple) of the very best.
1. Boxes for Katje, by Candace Fleming , illustrated by Stacey Dressen McQueen
Teaching children social conscience without preaching is tricky. This book nails it, and the first year I read it with kindergarteners, I saw a light dawning in them. The questions and discussions flowed. I love this books for many reasons. I love the just-right sentence length for young students, the warm safe feeling of community pulling together through hard times. I love the two main characters’ generosity of spirit, and the lessons in history, perspective and empathy which grow from this story. Put these good things together with vibrant artwork and you have one of my all-time favorites.
2. A Chair for My Mother, by Vera B. Williams
This has been a favorite read aloud during family and community units. A Caldecott Honor winner, it is a must-have for any elementary teacher. Why? Students love so many things about this book. The happy family unit of Mama, daughter and Grandmother proves a family can be any combination of people. Students love the familiarity and importance of the items the new neighbors contribute when the family moves to a new apartment after theirs burns. They love the jar, and following along in the story as it fills with coins. They really love how the chair travels home! The artwork pulls the reader into every scene, whether we’re close up or zoomed way out. The book is a beautiful portrait of family and a of a community serving others.
3. The Librarian of Basra: a True Story from Iraq, by Jeanette Winter
One can usually trust Jeanette Winter to tell a clear story about a real person that makes us want to learn more. The most powerful use of this book in the classroom was the year I read it to every grade from 3rd-8th. I shared a different book about libraries with the younger grades. We all of us – staff and students – reflected on the importance of libraries, and everyone shared. I captured every answer and my 7th graders collaged them all onto a fantastic paper wall which we left up in the library until some of the writing became too faded to read. It was beautiful and it brought every person in the school into the conversation. I purchased the graphic novel Alia’s Mission, Saving the Books of Iraq, by Mark Alan Stamaty as well, an important next step for some of my students.
4. Snow, by Yuri Shulevitz
This book won a Caldecott Honor, and several others. Grumpy adults disagree with the little boy’s prediction of “snow!”. Students love to look for the evidence that he’s right on each spread of this beautiful book. The suspense of looking for the snow heightens the experience, and it’s plain lovely to see that much engagement in a nearly-wordless picture book. (Note: I could have focused my ten favorites on wordless or nearly wordless picture books, like Flotsam, by David Wiesner, or Aaron Becker’s Journey, but those are for another picture book post).
5. The Hello, Goodbye Window, by Norton Juster, illustrated by Chris Raschka
This is a wonderful book to use in talking about family. Our school celebrates grandparents, and The Hello, Goodbye Window does, too, in this vibrant multi-generational delight. Illustrations seem to be splashed onto the page, with little detail but filled with life, warmth and gesture. This Caldecott Medal winner has earned its award, its rich spreads gracing the beautifully crafted story told by a child visiting her grandparents. The relationship between young and old is priceless, with humor and tenderness woven into every word. So many touch-points for children exist in this book, so many ways for them to explore their own place in the world through discussions about relationships and family traditions.
6. The Curious Garden, by Peter Brown
I love this book because of its whimsy, and that’s what draws students in. Once they’re captivated by the little boy and his mission, they stay to see it fulfilled, and the lesson within the story isn’t heavy-handed or obvious. One need only flip between the two-page spread at the beginning of the book and compare it with the same spread when the story is over for young readers to see for themselves the result of collaboration to make something better. This story was inspired by a real garden in New York City.
7. The Hallo-wiener, by Dav Pilkey
Very much a book to share at Halloween, the themes of this lovely tale transcend any holiday. It’s true that our main character loves Halloween more than almost anything, but even so, this book is about much more than the perfect costume, or the other dogs getting all the candy. All wrapped up in a hilarious cast of characters are lessons of courage, loyalty, ad friendship shining through. If you’re familiar at all with Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series, or other of his books full of potty humor and ridiculous puns and jokes, this is Pilkey for the younger set – with great themes running throughout.
8. Once Upon a Cool Motorcycle Dude, by Kevin O’Malley, illustrated by Kevin O’Malley, Scott Goto, and Carol Heyer
The story is kind of silly, but then, that’s the point. This book enjoyed the reputation of being the most circulated book in my school library for several years running. I used it as a way for students to compare illustrative styles (with three illustrators, that’s not hard), and since it is told as if it were a story written by classmates who don’t collaborate very well, the voices are fresh, and rather ridiculous, and leave plenty of opportunities for discussion about plot and setting in addition to the different graphic styles.
9. This is Not My Hat, by Jon Klassen
I’m sure thisbook is on other lists today. It’s the first Caldecott Medal book my students got to put the label on themselves, and for that reason it has a special place in my heart. The flawless timing from page to page keeps readers on the edge of their seats, and the facial expressions capture each mood perfectly. Most folks will find it difficult to sit through a read aloud fo this book with out gasping, ot laughing , or shouting a warning. It is a gem.
10. Superdog: The Heart of a Hero, by Caroline Buehner, illustrated by Mark Buehner
Maybe it’s because I myself was small, and everyone around me thought that it was all right to call me names or belittle me in other ways. That may be why I relate so well to Dex in this story. Beyond being the little guy, though, Dex knows what he wants, and he works hard to make it happen. The illustrations are bold as the dreams of this small dog, and students cheer when he really does save the day. The ending is very satisfying, but I’m not going to tell you what it is. You’ll have to read for your self.
So there are ten. My list of favorites is long. Look forward to some focused post featuring other picture books soon.