Monday, November 14, 2016

The Power of the Picture Book: Melissa Stewart

Why STEM Picture Books Are Perfect for Teaching Nonfiction Text Structure

Most of the nonfiction books published in recent years fall into two broad categories—picture book biographies and concept picture books. Concept picture books explore an abstract idea or process, and in many cases, offer a unique perspective or new way of seeing things. They are ideal for focusing on patterns and cycles in the natural world, animal behavior and adaptations, and math concepts. In short, they work well for elucidating STEM topics.

 Why do concept books work better than picture book biographies as mentor texts for teaching nonfiction text structures? Because almost all picture book biographies have the same structure  (chronological sequence), but concept books can feature any of the six major text structures now being taught in most schools (description, sequence, compare and contrast, question and answer, cause and effect, problem and solution). And some make clever use of a unique text structure that perfectly matches the book’s topic. Here are some examples.

Description: An Egg Is Quiet by Dianna Hutts Aston  (Chronicle, 2006), The Beetle Book by Steve Jenkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)

Sequence: No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart (Charlesbridge, 2013), How to Swallow a Pig by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2015)

Compare & Contrast: Neo Leo: The Ageless Ideas of Leonardo da Vinci by Gene Barretta (Holt, 2009), Born in the Wild: Baby Mammals and Their Parents by Lita Judge (Roaring Brook, 2014)

Cause & Effect: Feeling the Heat by Brenda Z. Guiberson (Holt, 2010), Frog in a Bog by John Himmelman (Charlesbridge, 2004).

Problem-Solution: A Place for Butterflies by Melissa Stewart (Peachtree, 2014), The Great MonkeyRescue: Saving the Golden Lion Tamarins by Sandra Markle (Millbrook Press, 2015)

Question and Answer: Hatch! by Roxie Munro (Two Lions, 2011), What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? (Houghton Mifflin, 2008) by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page

Unique: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman (Houghton Mifflin, 2011)

How can STEM picture books help students learn to (1) identify nonfiction text structures as they read and (2) experiment with nonfiction text structures as they write? Here’s a series of scaffolded activity ideas.

1.     After reading an assortment of the books listed above, work with students to identify their text structures. Then divide the class into small groups. Invite each group to read Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? by Melissa Stewart and identify the book’s text structure. (compare and contrast)

2.     Next, encourage each group to read A Place for Frogs by Melissa Stewart and identify the book’s text structure. Some students will probably classify it as cause and effect, while others may classify it as problem and solution. This is a great opportunity for a class discussion in which you guide students to see that a book can have more than one text structure.

3.      Ask half of the groups to look back at Frog or Toad? How Do You Know? and make a list of the kinds of information the author would have had to research to write the book. Ask the rest of the groups to do the same thing with A Place for Frogs. Encourage the groups to share and compare their lists. They will discover that even though both books are about frogs, there is very little overlapping information. This is a great opportunity to point out that text structure often dictates the kinds of information an author needs to collect as he/she does research. When a writer chooses a text structure early in the process, it can make the research process more focused and efficient.

4.      After reading No Monkeys, No Chocolate by Melissa Stewart aloud with your class, divide students into pairs and invite them to make a book map, so that they can get a stronger sense of the book’s cumulative sequence structure. Then encourage each child choose a two-page spread and rewrite the text with a cause and effect text structure. The children may wish to illustrate their writing.


      Melissa Stewart is the award-winning author of more than 180 nonfiction books for children, including No Monkeys, No Chocolate, Feathers: Not Just for Flying, and Under the Snow. She is the co-author of Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, K-2 and Perfect Pairs: Using Fiction & Nonfiction Picture Books to Teach Life Science, 3-5 (Stenhouse, 2014 and 2016). Melissa maintains the blog Celebrate Science ( and offers school visits and teacher in-service programs that focus on nonfiction writing, using children’s books to address curriculum standards, and creative ways to integrate science and language arts instruction.

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