Monday, November 20, 2017

The Power of the Picture Book: Kristen Picone

Memories of the Heart

A picture book for some is just that...a book with pictures. Something for babies and young kids to enjoy. But for many of us, a picture book is so much more. A work of art, a delightful marriage between text and image, something to pour over and savor. Picture books provide memories. As Megan Dowd Lambert says in Reading Picture Books With Children (2015), “...I know that we carry picture books about with us, not just as physical objects in our hands with pages that we turn, but as remembered experiences with stories and art, and with each other.”  Through picture books, we can see ourselves, learn about the world outside of ourselves, and revel in the work of talented artists. Reading a picture book should be an experience...a memory.

I have used picture books in my classroom since I first began teaching in 2001, but, more recently, picture books have become the foundation--the heart, the soul--of our classroom community.  We reach for them when we need comfort, they help us celebrate diversity, they make us laugh, they make us cry, they help us feel seen and gain new perspectives. In every way, picture books guide our learning journey. Whether the picture books we read are part of reading or writing lessons, our Mock Caldecott Unit, or read simply for the joy of sharing a book together, the books create an experience...a memory.

Many of my 5th graders come to me thinking that picture books are not for them anymore.  They think they have outgrown them. We start our year talking about our reading lives, and I share how proud I am of my always-growing picture book collection. I let them know that I buy these books for me, because there is no age-limit on a picture book, and that my favorite thing to do is share them.  On the first day of school this year, when I told my students that we read 180 picture books last year, they looked at me wide-eyed and someone said, “Let’s read 181!”  Between #classroombookaday, Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, content-area lessons, Mock Caldecott, and Battle of the Picture books, the students in room 214 will experience over 200 picture books.  And each book will be an experience...will provide a memory of the heart.

In Disrupting Thinking (2017), Kylene Beers and Bob Probst remind us WHY we read (and write): “If we aren’t reading and writing so that we can grow, so that we can discover, so that we can change - change our thinking, change ourselves, perhaps help change the world - then those skills will be for naught.”  When Kurt asked me to write this post, I kept reflecting on these words and thinking, Have these picture book experiences resonated with my students? Have they changed their thinking, changed them, in any way?  The only way to find out was to ask the kids!  What follows are the responses from students that I taught last school year.  What shocked me most were the similarities in their reflections, considering the only prompt I gave them was to write a few sentences around the theme “the power of the picture book.”  Here are their experiences...their memories:

To me, picture books are important because they can bring you into a different world. Some people think that picture books are for babies, but what they don’t realize is that there are a lot of deep messages that children will get when they explore the picture book universe. Picture books can make a topic that is hard to understand, easier to understand. For example, the book The Youngest Marcher, by Cynthia Levinson is a book about a child protester that got arrested during the Civil Rights Movement. While that might be a hard topic for a child to think about, the picture book made it clear and understandable. Picture books are smaller than novels, but you know what they say...good things come in small packages! - Jeremy

Picture books may not be big in size, however, they are huge in meaning. A lot of picture books have great lessons. One example is The Story of Fish and Snail, by Deborah Freedman. This book is about taking risks and trying something new. Fish is ready to leave their book, but Snail is not sure if she wants to step outside her comfort zone. Snail finally decides to leave their book and loves it. You get this giant message from one tiny book.  Some people don’t even realize how powerful picture books are. This shows there is a lot of power in a picture book. I love reading picture books because they have very powerful messages. - Kelly

The best thing about a picture book is that all ages can enjoy it. Younger children may like the pictures, while older people will understand the theme better. This is the case in Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great, by Bob Shea. Little kids will love the pictures, particularly the scene when Goat puts the plunger on his head, or when Unicorn makes it rain cupcakes. Older kids and adults can understand that there is more than one theme, including that other people may realize and admire your talents, even if you don’t. - Sierra

Picture books are powerful. They describe life lessons and teach you things you did not know. For example, Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the World’s Most Fearless Scientist, by Jess Keating, and Swimming With Sharks, by Heather Lang taught me about Eugenie Clark and showed that sharks are fascinating and the women can be anything they want to be. - Sean

You are NEVER too old for picture books. Picture books are very powerful because each of them has a special message that’s hidden between the lines.  They can stick with you for the rest of your life, whether you realize it or not.  For example, one of my favorite picture books is We’re All Wonders, by RJ Palacio, because this book has beautiful illustrations along with amazing writing. This book’s message is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, which may be a little cliche, but is very true. That’s only one example out of dozens of picture books that have stuck with me in a positive way. So just remember, no matter how old or young you are, or how silly or educational the book is, you are never too old for picture books. - Holly

Picture books are meant for anyone and age. Even though it seems like they are just for younger children, older children or even adults can take a lot out of them.  Younger children look at the pictures to understand the story. Older children and adults understand what the author is trying to teach you when they correlate the picture with the story. My favorite picture books are the Elephant and Piggie books, by Mo Willems.  They are entertaining for younger children by including large, colorful pictures to tell the story but to older children they can learn about friendship, caring, and acceptance. With the power of picture books there are many life lessons to learn no matter what age you are. - Sophia

The power of the picture book is extraordinarily significant to children since they teach about lessons and morals. For example, Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson teaches kids a powerful anti-bullying and kindness message. Kids will learn to be respectful and courteous toward others and to not judge people by the way they look. Children can learn life lessons that will take them far in life. That is...the power of the picture book. - Ryan

There is so much power in picture books. So much power that kids don’t even know about. My favorite picture books ever are Explorers of the Wild and To the Sea, by Cale Atkinson.  They are my favorite picture books because in To the Sea, no one really saw Tim. But the whale, Sam, got lost and no one else noticed Sam, until Tim. I felt like Tim and Sam had an extremely powerful connection. In Explorers of the Wild, the boy and bear keep rotating pages. They both love to explore and find new things in the wild, but when bear and the boy separate their connection reaches so far, they realize they will always be together at heart. - Garrett

Many people think there is no need for picture books for older kids, but they have deeper messages and more of an impact on readers than people realize.  Picture books translate strong topics into a book that makes many messages easier for EVERYONE to understand. Others also think that they are made just for entertainment, which is true, but they also teach meaningful lessons using characters as examples. A book that teaches a lesson is The Story of Fish and Snail, by Deborah Freedman.  This book shows how Fish wants to explore while Snail is comfortable where he is and isn’t willing to try new things. Eventually, Snail becomes lonely and looks for Fish. He realizes he likes this new adventure. This teaches readers to try new things in life. As you can see, picture books really do have power and a deeper message behind the cover. We learned that in 5th grade after reading over 180 picture books!  - Bryan and Kyle

A picture book holds a lot of power.  It can hold a strong theme that can stick with you over a long period of time. It shows you in just a few short pages something that you might use in your life over 50 years later. An example of this is Be a Friend by Salina Yoon.  This book’s thematic statement is that you are never alone and there is always someone there for you. Picture books are very powerful and you are never too old for them. - Brooke

A favorite book of mine is Blue Chicken, by Deborah Freedman.  Even though we read it for “fun” we were still able to make connections and see life lessons.  I like picture books as a link to what else is to come and the variety of styles lets me learn in different ways. I would rather read a handful of picture books of different styles than a chapter book that doesn’t hook me. - Lauren

I really love picture books because they bring the story to life.  When I read If I Built a House, by Chris Van Deusen,  I could really see myself jumping into the ball pit from the trampoline.  After I finished the book I started to draw my own house and all the fun things I would put in it. - Thomas

A picture book is more than pictures and words on a page. It’s not just to look at the pictures and stare at it blankly. It’s a piece of art, it has a lesson, it has a meaning. It could lead you down your path in life. Take Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, for example. The main character, Chloe, had a new girl, Maya, come to her school. Chloe and her friends acted like Maya was a nobody. They laughed at her. They were bullies. One day, Maya’s seat was empty. That day, the teacher brought in a huge bowl of water for an activity about kindness. When someone dropped a pebble in the water, tiny waves rippled. The teacher said “Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.” When they dropped the pebble in, they had to say something kind. When it was Chloe’s turn, she couldn't say anything. All she thought about was how she treated the Maya. Days passed and Maya didn’t return and Chloe realized she wouldn’t have the chance to ever be kind to her. That right there is why you should always choose kind. That is why picture books are so much more powerful than just simply pictures and words on a page. “A picture book is a small door to the enormous world of the visual arts, and they’re often the first art a young person sees.” (Tomie dePaola) - Owen

These students read the books they mentioned over a year ago. They had no trouble drawing upon titles, remembering authors’ names, recalling the joy of sharing these books together, and thinking about the lessons learned.  In time, they may forget some of the details of the books they have read, but they will always remember how the book touched their minds and their hearts. One of my most important jobs as an educator is to open children’s minds to the power that picture books can have on all of us, young and old alike. I will forever be grateful for the countless picture book authors and illustrators that have provided us with these reading experiences...these memories of the heart.

As Kylene Beers and Bob Probst said, “We read to become more than we knew we wanted to be.”  Picture books have changed these children, they have changed me, and can change the world.


Kristen Picone is a self-proclaimed book nerd, always has been and always will be.  She teaches 5th grade ELA/SS in Kings Park, NY, in a classroom that is filled to the brim with MG novels and picture books.  Teaching is not just her job, it’s her passion! When she isn’t opening boxes of new books that have arrived on her doorstep, she can be found planning for the next nErDCampLI, or lost among her many TBR towers.  Reading picture books to kids of all ages is Kristen’s absolute favorite thing to do, particularly snuggling up and creating memories of the heart with her favorite book-loving 8 year old. She is incredibly grateful for her nerdy PLN, who have helped her learn and grow in ways she never imagined. Kristen can be found on Twitter at @Kpteach5 or through her class account at @KPStars5.  She often tweets book recommendations using the following hashtags: #nErDCampLI and #BookJourney.

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