Using Picturebooks in the Classroom

In an article primarily for teachers but full of useful suggestions for librarians and parents too, Mary Roche explores the unique ability of picturebooks to open up the world to children.

Irrespective of our age or experience, books can provide us with solace, escapism, information and inspiration. Michael Rosen asserts that they form our earliest experiences and can influence our future success as learners:

‘A book-oriented home environment, we argue, endows children with tools that are directly useful in learning at school: vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, understanding of the importance of evidence in argument and many others.’ (

Along with such cognitive benefits, books can also be sources of empathy, healing and support.

…reading books can be good for your mental health and your relationships with others… A 2011 study …showed that, when people read about an experience, they display stimulation within the same neurological regions as when they go through that experience themselves. We draw on the same brain networks when we’re reading stories and when we’re trying to guess at another person’s feelings. http://www. make-you-happier

We all need to be made to think and feel as we read. We need to have our knowledge extended, our horizons broadened, our experiences expanded, our empathy built and our vocabulary developed. We can do all of that alone, certainly, but discussing books together engages us at a much higher-level and exposes us to ways of thinking that solo reading might not. Children who live in book-rich environments

are lucky, but many do not, so schools can play a huge role in mitigating this deficit. It follows then that classrooms need to be resourced with good reading material to cater for diverse readers.

For several decades of my teaching career I engaged children in discussion around picturebooks, using an approach I called ‘Critical Thinking and Book Talk’ (Roche 2010). Much of my research is described and explained in Developing Children’s Critical Thinking through Picturebooks (Roche 2015). Throughout that book I argue that picturebooks can be useful at all levels of education: they should not be relegated to the junior classes.

Sophisticated picturebooks are far more than mere illustrated texts. Good picturebooks are a marriage of image and text and there is no redundant line or word as author and illustrator narrate together. Good picturebooks provide gaps for the reader to fill, in text and images alike. They never reveal all. They call on high levels of comprehension and meaning making via the images and pictures and they are sufficiently open-ended so that each of us can bring our own prior knowledge to the process of making sense. Shared, they can provide food for thought long after the reading event itself has finished. I argue throughout my book that picturebooks can provide much needed opportunities for thinking, talking and criticality to pre-literate and literate children. They are of immense value in the home, but arguably even more valuable in school where they can help teachers address that deficit in being read to and talked with, that is experienced by many children.

In classrooms, picturebooks lend themselves easily to cross-

curricular topics. For example, the following books all relate to the topic of relationships: Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend; Yates’ Frank and Teddy Make Friends; Hills’ Duck, Duck Goose; Jeffers’ The Way Back Home; Gravett’s Wolf Won’t Bite; Willis’ Mole’s Sunrise; Cave and Riddell’s Something Else; Fox and Vivas’ Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge; On Sudden Hill by Sarah and Davies: textless books like Lehman’s The Red Book, Becker’s The Journey, Tan’s The Arrival, and The Rules of Summer.

Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017 3

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