Harnessing the Power of Picture Books in Middle School

Rundine Sims Bishop (1990) wrote, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of the worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.  When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Because books have the power and potential to allow their readers to experience and see so many layers of ourselves and our world, teachers must select and read a wide variety of literature with diverse perspectives. As Sue Christian Parsons pointed out at ILA 2015,” [teachers must] work diligently to ensure that the books in our classrooms shine brightly as mirrors and, for readers to see themselves readily in book around them.

I am defining diverse books as books that honor the complexity of life and people. At the same time, diverse books go beyond just diverse characters, settings, and experiences. Diverse books can also include a wide range of genres and types of text. Whereas picture books are prevalent in elementary classrooms, they also have a place in middle school classrooms.

Pictures books offer stimulating artwork, accessible language, a smaller amount of text than a novel for. Picture books can be used for read alouds, introducing a complex idea, whole class modeling, enrich vocabulary and word development, and even creative writing prompts.

I have used the Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a read aloud and creative writing prompt to kick off a mystery unit.

To introduce complex ideas of communism and socialism during our dystopian unit I read aloud Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin and pair it with Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell.

While students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warrior’s Don’s Cry I have read aloud Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Teammates by Peter Golenblock, and Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.

In my classroom have a bin filled with picture books and poetry anthologies about the Holocaust and Japanese Internment.

I kicked off Genius Hour this past year by reading aloud What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom and also The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

Picture books are accessible books for students of all ages. They offer layers of stories told through words and images. They should not be left behind when students move up from elementary school.

I would love to know how you are using picture books with your middle grade students. Please share your ideas for picture book text pairings and how you are using pictures books in your middle school classroom in the comments section of this blog.

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One thought on “Harnessing the Power of Picture Books in Middle School

  1. Joy Kirr says:

    Michele, a couple of MS teachers have posted on how they use picture books in the MS classroom, and I added their posts and picture books (along with others I use) to this document here: tinyurl.com/MSPictureBooks. I’m excited to use even more this year than last year! TY for the ideas you shared in this post, and enjoy your year!😀

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