It’s Picture Book Monday (in High School)

i-want-my-hat-backI’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!)

  1. It’s fun. I choose books that will hopefully make people smile or laugh. Fun has enormous positive implications for classroom atmosphere.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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21 Responses to It’s Picture Book Monday (in High School)

  1. Gary, you should create a Google Doc and post it here so we can all benefit from your research as to what books work best! Thanks for sharing – I love reading picture books to 7th graders, too – so fun when they crane their neck to see the pictures as I walk around the room!


  2. Kathleen R says:

    I used picture books when teaching poetry too. There are a lot of rhyme scheme, onomatopoeia, imagery, fig Lang, etc etc. I have even had my students do presentations on the literary features of a chosen picture book. They love it! It is less serious…sometimes. They feel more confident in their analysis because they think….it is just a kid’s book not Keats. And I think that it is important to see symbol and read symbol. Because I teach in an international school we have also done this multilingually. A student can pick out rhyme scheme and sound devices without knowing what it says, and it highlights for kids the sound, not just the meaning. Ok, I’ll stop gushing now.


  3. cricketmuse says:

    As a librarian at heart teaching freshmen and AP Senior Lit English I can totally relate to reading picture books. They showcase all the necessary aspects of literature in 32 pages: plot, rising action, climax, resolution thrown in with selected choice terms such as irony, paradox, symbolism, onomatopeia. It’s great stuff!
    This title might prove difficult to find: Where Are You, Little Zack? by Judith Ross Enderle but it is hilarious as it combines Where’s Waldo aspect (finding the fish) with counting and alliteration as duck travel to New York try to find their errant brother Zack. . It’s a fave of mine.


  4. amylovesya says:

    Omg! How did I not know you did this, and how can I get my seniors on board! Please guide me to implement this in my classes because it sounds so tremendously fun. ALWAYS learning from you, Gary! Always.


  5. Nancy Van Erp @IfNotUsThnWho says:

    I adjunct for Saint Mary’s University of MN’s M.Ed. in Teaching & Learning Program and we use picture books all the time with our graduate learners. It’s SO IMPORTANT to read aloud for so many reasons. Have you read Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook? It’s delivers that message very well and, in my opinion, should be required reading for every teacher and parent… Anyway… A few of the many picture books we use: Silver Packages (at holiday time: kind acts live on), The Tin Forest (planting a dream), 601 Maple Street (community/relationships matter), The Paperboy (connections to their journey through the program). Picture books are simultaneously abundant with delight and EVERY other emotion while also serving as profound opportunities for higher-level-thought and metaphor making.

    LOVED this post, thanks Gary. Love the idea that Joy suggested too. A Google Doc with a column for metaphorical connections or a brief description might be helpful. I can create too, just say the word. Thanks all!


  6. Glenda Funk says:

    I’m not a big picture book fan myself. Most just don’t appeal to me, and I often feel as though I have wasted my time when I finish one that doesn’t satisfy. That said, a few have stood out: “The Dark” by Lemony Snicket is FABULOUS. I also like “Extra Yarn” and “Each Kindness,” which actually has a considerable amount of text.

    I do keep some picture books in my classroom library and am looking for more that have strong plots and enough text for speech students to use for interpretation assignments as I’m a big believer in kids learning how to read well orally.

    Still, when I see long lists of picture books that adults have tallied up, I have thoughts similar to those of the librarian you mention.


  7. Sheila Saccomanno says:

    I love the pictures books for the art work. So many talented artists put their mark on picture books. When we were cleaning things up, I refused to give away the picture books. Not only am I keeping them for hopefully future grandchildren, but I get a lift out of still reading “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Polar Express”, “The Giving Tree”, “Outside Over There”, “Flotsam”, “Vivaldi”, “The Great Paper Caper”, “The Little Prince”.


  8. Great post, Gary! I love this idea. I did it a few times with my readers, and they loved it. I was surprised how many of them had not read (or heard of) classics like The Giving Tree or Where the Wild Things Are. They loved Hat Back. I would also recommend any of the Olivia books. Those have a very straightforward message with a nice touch of humor. Extra Yarn is brilliant, too. Can’t go wrong with Mo Willems (lesser known titles like Amanda and her Alligator and Edwina the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct are good fun). I agree with Joy that a Google Doc would be a great way to share titles with others. Always great stuff!


  9. Khayes620 says:

    I start every school year with More Than Anything Else. It is about Booker T Washington wanting to learn to read.


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  12. Lady Magpie says:

    My philosophy teacher in Year 12 read our class picture books. She read us, among other wonderful things, a book called “Tadpole’s Promise” by Jeanne Willis, and ever since then I have been collecting picture books. She is also one of the teachers that made me want to be a teacher… not least of all because she read us picture books!

    Adding to your wonderful list:
    *Little Baa Baa & Quirky turkey series by Mark and Rowan Sommerset (not dissimilar in humour to Willems or Klassen)
    *Monsieur Rat by Federica Mossetti (here is a quote to convince you: “It was the long and magnificent moustache of the prettiest she-rat in the world”)
    *Anything by Shaun Tan, but in particular “The Arrival”, “The Lost Thing” and “Eric” (these are all great if you’re doing any units touching on belonging, diversity or immigration)
    *Anything by Emily Gravett, but for its poetry “Orange Pear Apple Bear”
    *Fox by Margaret Wild (jealousy, friendship, betrayal, isolation, loyalty)
    *Anything by Nick Bland
    *”Way Home” by Libby Hathorn/Gregory Rogers (homelessness, urban environments, family)
    *Anything by Lynley Dodd (Hairy McClairy and company)
    *The Slightly Irregular Fire Engine by Donald Barthelme (this really does warrant a “what the heck was that about?!”)
    *”Back to School Tortoise” by Lucy M George (every teacher should read this. It should be part of pre-service training)


  13. Jaana says:

    Wow! I got here through an other blog that had a link to yours! I need to take notes on these books! Picture books are great for struggling readers; I have many of them in my Sheltered English 9. Thank you so much!


  14. Gary, I regularly use picture books as mentor texts in JH to teach a myriad of ELAR skills, however, I’ve never thought about using them simply for the joy of listening. In the time-crunch world in which we live/teach, this can be a powerful use of time. As such, I have added another Goodreads shelf specifically for these kinds of books.

    Here are a few titles not mentioned:
    The Widow’s Broom
    My Rotten Red-Headed Older Brother
    The Dot
    Duck! Rabbit!
    The Lion and the Mouse (wordless)
    Green Eggs and Ham
    The Velveteen Rabbit
    Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
    If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
    Love You Forever
    Chalk (wordless)
    Blue Chameleon
    Goodnight iPad
    It’s a Book
    The Ghost Eye Tree

    I would also like to add that in the spirit of “less is more,” that they might also be dusted off for double, or even triple duty as mentors after the first “Picture Book Monday” debut.

    Paul Hankins asks his HS students to craft a children’s book at the end of the year…this might serve as a natural springboard for that. You could round up all of the writing tricks exhibited in said books for the year, ask the kids to bring in their favorite(s) to share with class, and write their own. They could choose whether to write it digitally or through hard copy.

    Thanks for this post! I have been thinking about it quite a lot.


  15. Sarah says:

    I’m new to using picture books with my high school students, but I’m discovering how much all of us love it. My seniors really liked The Chicken Problem by Jennifer Oxley, Children Make Terrible Pets & You Will Be My Friend! by Peter Brown, Chester by Melanie Watt, and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems. I have more that I could add to the list, but this would be a long comment 🙂 Hopefully this school year I’ll find more students who love picture books and more picture books for us to love.


  16. Elisa K says:

    Because of Picture Book Mondays, my day becomes brighter during the beginning of a school week. The judgement of having high schoolers reading classics or young adult books infuriates me. I would proudly walk with a Harry Potter book in my hand throughout the hallways with no regrets. Embracing picture books back into my life makes laugh at all the corny jokes that authors make.
    This year, I want to read some classics from my childhood like Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, or Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson.
    Thanks Mr. Anderson!


  17. Melanie Carter says:

    “A Story for Bear” by Dennis Hasely might be a good one. It’s about the joy of reading and being read to. My daughter is in one of your classes – I can send it in with her if you want to take a look at it.


  18. Greg Hyzy says:

    “The Pig of Happiness” by Edward Monktan


  19. Kendall says:

    A Visitor for Bear by Bonnie Becker. I think the mouse needs a British accent, but I can’t do it. Also the other two or three bear books by Becker.

    James Harriot picture books. Moses the Kitten is my favorite but they are all good.


  20. grannyj1 says:

    I just happened on your wonderful blog. Here is a link to our Quebec English Language Website resource page for some excellent picture books being used in our secondary schools. The website is in the process of being revamped- but you can still get to this page.


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