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Picture books & issues

Picture books are a wonderful resource to explain or begin discussions about difficult subjects. Last week’s post was about the personal experience my family had with OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) that lead to the book, Mr. Worry: A story about OCD.  In writing, Mr. Worry, I hoped it would be a resource for families and schools. It is rewarding when I hear from a family and they tell me that upon reading the book, their child was relieved to know they were not the only one or that they read the book to a classroom and their child’s peers are now more understanding.

I cant stopI hear similar stories about I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette Syndrome.  Tourette syndrome is another disorder that is not well understood and often, poorly portrayed in the media. Children with Tourette Syndrome are not intentionally making sounds or movements. When I talk with students about Tourette’s, I ask them if they’ve ever had a mosquito bite. Of course, all the hands go up! Mosquito bites itch. I ask them what happens when they try NOT to scratch it? That’s right, eventually you have to scratch it. That is Tourette’s. Just because a child doesn’t always have tics, doesn’t mean they are doing them intentionally. They have to do them.

I received an email from a gentleman that had Tourette Syndrome, but was not diagnosed until, as an adult, he read my picture book. He recognized himself in it and sought a diagnosis. He wonders how his life might have been if he’d had the help as a child.

At times children are frustrating to parents and teachers, but sometimes we need to step back, remove the emotions and look objectively for what might be the cause of their behavior. They deserve this because we are the adults and they were entrusted to our care.

Build a library of books that can be used to start discussion and build empathy for others. You’ll find many publisher’s lists include wonderful picture books about issues children may deal with. Here’s a link to the line of books at Albert Whitman-Issues .

Tourette Association of America

Picture a Classroom of Word Collectors

0806181636_HDRI like to encourage students to be word collectors. Words are easy to collect from everyday conversations, music, TV shows, books, magazines, comics or any place language is seen or heard. When you become intentional about collecting words vocabulary grows. While a large vocabulary helps a student’s writing, it also helps their ability to express themselves in conversation. Being able to communicate effectively increases self-confidence.

One of the things I love about picture books is that rich vocabulary and more complex sentence structure can be used because the book is usually read to the child. The person reading the book can explain words or nuances that the child does not understand. This helps a child’s vocabulary and their use and understanding of language grow.

All students, even older ones, can benefit from reading picture books. Send them on a quest to fill a journal with words collected from various sources, including picture books. Challenge them to:

  • look up words they don’t know
  • use words from their journal in their writing
  • share a favorite word with the class
  • Write a word from each student on the board-How many can be used in one silly sentence?

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds (Orchard Books, 2018) would be a wonderful book to use to introduce this idea. In the book Jerome collects words instead of the normal things people collect.  He collects words he sees, hears and reads. One day, as he carries a pile of scrapbooks filled with words, he stumbles and words come flying out. He sees new combinations of words. He strings them together to make poems and songs. To communicate with others he uses his simple powerful words such as: I understand, I’m sorry, thank you and you matter. One day he releases his collection and is happy as he watches other children start collecting them.

Collecting words isn’t just for students. Start your own list. I find I read more carefully, listen more intently when I’m on the quest to find new and interesting words!




Reading Aloud & Language Development

Children are designed to listen to language. By listening they learn to talk.

Never to old for a picture book!

I have fond memories of being read to as a child and of reading to my children. There is a warmth in that shared experience that I can still feel. That alone is reason enough to read aloud with children, but language development is an equally important reason.

Children are designed to listen to language. By listening they learn to talk. This listening begins in the womb. A 1980 study by DeCasper and Fifer showed that babies were listening in the womb.  In the study, mothers-to-be read aloud a story every day during the last six weeks of pregnancy. Some read The Cat in the Hat and others read The King, the Mice and the Cheese. Two days after birth, the infants were tested to see whether they found the story that they’d heard in the womb more soothing than the other story. They did. The infants who had heard The Cat in the Hat preferred it to The King, and vice versa—even when the story was read by someone other than their mother.

After the womb, reading aloud continues to be a wonderful way to enhance language development and enrich vocabularies. There have been numerous studies in recent years showing the positive effect reading aloud has on development of a child’s cognitive skills, language, attention span and memory.  These studies have shown differences in academic performance and vocabularies, but a recent study also showed differences in the actual brain activity of children living in a literacy friendly environment. It showed that the more you read to a child the more you help neurons grow in areas of the brain involved in understanding words, concepts and memory.

Books contain a richer vocabulary and more varied sentence structure than children encounter in spoken language. So reading aloud lets children hear new words in new contexts. Picture books provide additional visual cues that help a child move new words from working memory to storage where they can retrieve it to use themselves.

So reading aloud helps with brain development, but it also promotes bonding and provides enjoyment.  According to Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook, “Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain.  You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.”

Trelease also urges parents and teachers to continue to read aloud even after children can read to themselves as this promotes reading for pleasure, which can be the difference in a child becoming a life time reader, not just a school reader.

So turn off those screens, pick up a good book and turn your children on to reading. Their brain and their future self will thank you!


Picture Books about Writing

Picture books about writing are a great tool for teachers to have in their classroom.


Teachers know that we all have different learning styles. They strive to have materials available for all the learners in their classroom.  Sometimes a visit from an outside speaker can spark something new in a student and so I enjoy when I’m invited to a school to talk with students about writing.  While my visit may jump start some creative writing, it’s helpful for teachers and students to have other materials to keep the momentum going.

Over the next few posts I’m going to talk about some picture books about writing that would be fun to have available to students of all ages! They are great examples of presenting information creatively. Even middle grade students will be inspired by these books and the pictures help those visual learners.

The publication dates range from 1995-2013, so some are no longer in print, but I did find them all in my local library.

From Pictures to Words: A Book about Making a Book, Janet Stevens, Holiday House, 1995

Synops0503181706b_HDRis: An illustrator shows her process for writing a story. The “characters” she sees in her head interact with her and each other, and help her write the story. These interactions are humorous. She starts with an image, then creates a problem for her characters. As an illustrator, she sees it in pictures first and then writes the words.

I like:

  • Seeing her “ideas” tell her to write a story about them
  • That her imagination is in color, but real world in black and white. That helps readers focus on the process.
  • That it shows her eliminating characters she likes for the sake of the story
  • Seeing the characters explain setting and plot
  • That she takes from real life experiences (mountains where she lives, camping she did), but shows how you change that to make a story.
  • Seeing her use sketches to figure out beginning, middle and end
  • The characters saying its’ boring to show the need for problems and tension.
  • How she uses a storyboard to map out story with images and then writes words.
  • That it show continued revision as she works with an editor

Arthur Writes a Story: Marc Brown, Little Brown & Co., 1996


Synopsis: Arthur’s assignment is to write a story. His teacher says to write about something important to him, so he writes about getting his dog Pal. But his sister says the story is boring and he should add elephants, so he does. As he shares his story with friends he changes it in the ways they suggest. Eventually his story is nothing like it started. His family thinks it’s confusing. He shares it with the class (by now it is a song and dance story) and they don’t like it. He says it started about his dog. His teacher asks to hear that story. Everyone likes it.

I like:

  • That is shows you shouldn’t let others influence you too much
  • Showing that story can start from what you know, your life
  • The different types of story touched on-humor, mystery, etc
  • It’s simplicity for younger students

I didn’t like that it seemed to say that if you are writing about something that really happened, you have to stick to the story. I like to tell students they can take an event or moment and let their imagination help them change it to a creative story. Fiction, of course!

Author: A True story: Helen Lester, Houghton Mifflin 1997

0503181657_HDRSynopsis: The author tells the story of writing from when she was small-writing grocery lists (illegible at the age of 3) till now. It shows her struggling as a child to think of ideas, getting stuck in the middle, and the difficulty of making changes teacher wants. She was frustrated! She became a teacher and loves to teach writing because it taps children’s imaginations! After 10 years a friend says she should write a children’s book. The book then talks about how writers work. It shows that hurdles are part of the process.

I like:

  • She was a mirror writer and has a good explanation of that
  • Shows how it is hard to think of ideas, make changes
  • Shows rejection and how, even though she feels bad, she writes again the next day.
  • Even though she is an author, she still struggles, gets frustrated, wonders why she does this
  • She keeps a box of fizzled thoughts and half-finished books and uses them for new ideas
  • Talks about revision and show some
  • Talks about writing anytime anywhere-writers are always thinking
  • Even though she’s an author, she’s human. She was sad at a book signing because famous authors had more people in line.
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