I’m 55 years old, and I like picture books. When I check out a stack of picture books from our terrific local library, my favorite circulation clerk shakes her head and says, “Gary. We really need to do something about your reading level.” Picture books have always been an important part of reading with our kids at home, and I keep up with new picture book recommendations through Goodreads, Twitter, and some reliable book bloggers.
And this year, on a whim, I read a picture book with a sophomore class on a Monday in the middle of the school year. Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back was an immediate hit with that tough crowd. The next week I brought Ame Dyckman’s Boy + Bot. Another hit. Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham? Oh, yeah.
So we launched Picture Book Monday as an on-going endeavor. My classes read self-selected books for the first ten minutes of each class period, but on Mondays we now augment that with a picture book!
Reading picture books out loud in front of a room of high school students led me to a new appreciation for librarians and elementary school teachers who have mastered the fine art of reading upside down while simultaneously walking around and turning pages. They make it look easy. I make it look like a Nickelodeon “Double Dare” physical challenge.
Other titles that worked well this year include This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein, Doug Unplugged by Dan Yacarino, Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss, Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, and anything by Mo Willems. (For an Elephant and Piggie book, a generous student/aspiring teacher read Piggie while I read the Elephant parts.) Next year I will definitely include Stuck by Oliver Jeffers and Tom Angleberger’s Crankee Doodle.
I chose a few duds too, but that might be more due to how and when I presented them. I won’t say the titles here because it’s not the book’s fault or the author’s fault if I used those books badly.
I also avoid knock-out books, those that seem designed as bedtime stories to lull children to sleep. We don’t need any of that lulling in my class, thank you very much.
Most picture books take about five minutes to read out loud, and I’ve found it to be an excellent time investment. So why is using picture books in a high school English classroom a good idea? Here are four reasons. (Please add others as comments below!)
- It’s fun. I choose books that will hopefully make people smile or laugh. Fun has enormous positive implications for classroom atmosphere.
- Picture books sort of warm up the interpretive areas of students’ brains. Five minutes before my class these students were in Chemistry, Drivers Ed, or Calculus. Now I need them to be thinking creatively, symbolically, and linguistically. The relatively easy conceits and lessons of picture books help students flip over to that kind of thinking. As each picture book wraps up, I close it and say (with some animation), “What the heck was that even about?!?” And the answers come easily: “It’s about not giving up.” “You shouldn’t always expect happy endings.” “Use your imagination.”
- Many high school students have experienced growing away from books and reading. They loved books in elementary school, and then Readicide took over, and books became a chore. Picture books, along with self-selected reading, help these young readers re-connect to a time when books meant pleasure.
- A parent reading to a child beginning in infancy is perhaps the best way to launch a lifelong reader. I’d like to think that a teenager enjoying a picture book might be a future parent who will remember to share the joy of this genre with his or her children.
I will definitely continue Picture Book Monday next year, but I want to tweak it a little by syncing up my selections more deliberately with what we’re doing in class.
What other titles should I include? Thanks for any suggestions.