Book Reviews and More

Hi! This blog is for my classes at Texas Woman's University.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Using Picture Books with Teens and Tweens

Hi everyone,

  I thought you might enjoy reading an article I wrote about using picture books with tweens and teens in the library and the classroom. Picture books are versatile learning tools - take advantage!

Capture their Attention:
Engaging Tweens and Teens with Picture Books
by McCourt Thomas

            Recently a colleague was sharing her excitement over the book The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers.
            “I enjoyed it so much, I read it to the middle schoolers. I think they got the jokes even more than the younger kids. They laughed more than the Kindergarteners,” she said.
            The world of picture books may have a reputation for being the bread and butter of preschool and early elementary storytime, but don’t sell this eclectic genre short. Picture books can be cleverly slipped into lessons for tweens and teens to enhance and enliven both library and classroom lessons.
            High-quality picture books, like any good literature, contain rich vocabulary and well-crafted sentences and stories” (Carr et al 146). Picture books cover a range of topics, and the simpler text formats and illustrations will capture the attention of tweens and teens. Many kids in this age group are easily overwhelmed by heavy text, so for them, introducing a subject with a picture book can be an effective way to ease into a lesson.
            For example, let’s say you are giving a lesson about writing and reference tools. A librarian standing in front of a class talking about the usefulness of a thesaurus might cause students’ minds to wander. But if you introduce the topic by using the new picture book The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus written by Jen Bryant and filled with colorful collages by Melissa Sweet, you can quickly grab the students’ attention.
            Educator Keith Schoch runs the blog “Teach with Picture Books” ( On the blog, Schoch encourages educators to mine the opportunities that picture books can offer. When it comes to reference projects, Schoch recommends starting out with picture books on the subject. “A student seeking background on the Sioux tribe, for example, might express reluctance to wade through a difficult nonfiction text, encyclopedia entry, or web site meant for more mature readers. This same student, however, could access similar information through three or four picture books whose illustrations would aid in deciphering and extending difficult terms and concepts. Now armed with a general understanding of the topic, he might now be more willing to check out that difficult nonfiction text, encyclopedia entry, or web site which seemed so onerous earlier” (Schoch). 
            Let’s say a classroom of seventh graders comes to the library to look for biographies for a required report. The library is stocked with great biographies at their reading level, but the kids seem to skim over title after title, unsure whom to pick. This is where picture books can help. Pick a few picture book biographies to pique their interest. Perhaps Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham’s The Extraordinary Mark Twain (according to Susy) or What to Do About Alice? will get their attention. For sports lovers, let them meet Young Pelé: Soccer’s First Star through Lesa Cline-Ransome and James Ransome. Budding scientists might want to discover along with Snowflake Bentley by Jaqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian or Jane Goodell in Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell. Of course, once you’ve captured their attention, make sure you have biographies available for checkout at the students’ grade and reading level.
            Recognition months are also great opportunities to build in a picture book lesson. For Black History Month, take a look at Let Them Play by Margot Theis Raven and Chris Ellison. Many students have played on Little League or other sports teams, and learning about the prejudice faced by these children will make a lasting impression. Another picture book that uses sports to tell about a period of history is Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki and Dom Lee. This story about Japanese internment camps highlights an aspect of American history about which many students may be previously unaware. 
            Issues with friendships, self-esteem, bullying, and social media are frequent areas of concern with tweens and teens. While they may tune out an adult’s well-meaning talk about these topics, a picture book might be an effective alternative to get a conversation started. Try Enemy Pie by Derek Munson and Tara Calahan King, A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon, or The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill and Laura Huliska-Beith. Be on the look out for newer picture books that they might not have heard when they were younger, such as The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig and Patrice Barton or The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein. Classic texts can add a touch of nostalgia that helps the kids warm up to the idea of listening to picture books, such as The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss or The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson.
            What do you do if you get some eye rolling when you pull out the picture books? Try some humorous books first. Fractured fairy tales remain a popular subject, being used in everything from television shows, young adult novels, and movies. Picture books have long dominated this clever twist on a familiar tale. So pull out John Scieszka and Lane Smith’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat’s Ninja Red Riding Hood, or for a more serious take, The Rough-Faced Girl by Rafe Martin and David Shannon. Don’t forget to pair these with versions of the original as well. Students will better understand the humor in the remakes if they know the traditional stories. A fractured fairy tale lesson is also great for introducing reading and writing components such as theme, setting, point of view, and voice. All of these discussions will help improve the students’ own writing, which can be especially important for older students who face numerous essays in their near future, through college applications, entrance exams, and standardized tests.
            Picture books can also be helpful in reaching students who may be learning the English language or are struggling readers. “Picture books in content subjects are especially helpful for less able readers and English as a Second Language learners, as well as visual learners. The reading and concept load is lighter than in a textbook or novel because there is less text and the illustrations carry part of the content, while offering unfamiliar vocabulary” (Carr et al. 147).
            In her qualitative case study into the use of picture books with high school students, educator Melissa Reiker discovered “that student engagement was clearly the most impacted area of interest in the entire study. The level of student engagement dramatically increased in every class during the time the picture books were read and discussed, and in some cases, the heightened student engagement continued throughout the unit and beyond its conclusion. The teachers and interns were unified and unequivocal in their belief that student engagement was positively affected by picture book use, and they all elicited surprise at the obvious impact on their students” (Reiker 38).      
            Librarians can work with classroom teachers to pair picture books with novels that the students are studying in class. If a class is reading Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, read Irena’s Jar of Secrets by Marcia Vaughn and Ron Mazellan to supplement it. Also, many authors have written both novels and picture books. If a class is reading National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, do an author study by reading her picture books Every Kindness or The Other Side, both illustrated by E. B. Lewis. Make a list of picture book pairings for novels and topics in the classroom and share it with teachers. Challenge yourself to think of a picture book to pair with each of your school’s required reading novels. If you are stuck on a title, the Internet is full of great librarian and educator web sites that advocate using picture books to supplement learning. Include professional books in your library on the subject as well, such as Big Ideas in Small Packages: Using Picture Books with Older Readers by Molly Pearson.
Publishers and authors also make teacher guides for many of their titles. While they may be geared toward younger grades for picture books, take a look and see if you can adapt them for older students. Use the information and your pairing suggestions to conduct a workshop for teachers about ways to use picture books in classrooms. Picture books are not only for English and History classes; they can also be used to supplement other core and elective classes, such as Math, Art, Music, Science, and Physical Education. Invite administrators to attend your workshop so they’ll understand and support the purchase of picture books for your library. If purchasing is a challenge, make use of the selections at the public library, or perhaps arrange to borrow some titles from an elementary library in your school system.
Middle school and high school can be a high-stress environment. The gathering together of students to listen to a story can also be a source of relaxation, reflection, and joy in an otherwise pressured day. The laughter of those middle schoolers while they listened to The Day the Crayons Quit may be reason enough to use picture books for older readers (but perhaps you could also sneak in a quick lesson about letter writing as well). Take on the challenge of including picture books in your tween and teen lesson plans; it is a mutually enjoyable way to capture their attention and enhance their learning environment.

Bryant, Jennifer, and Melissa Sweet. The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. New York: Eerdmans for Young Readers, 2014. Print.

Carr, Kathryn S., et al. "Not Just For The Primary Grades: A Bibliography Of Picture Books For Secondary Content Teachers." Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 45.2 (2001): 146-53. ERIC. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.

Daywalt, Drew, and Oliver Jeffers. The Day the Crayons Quit. New York: Philomel, 2013. Print.

Frank, Anne. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Globe Book, 1992. Print.

Huck, Charlotte S., et al. Children's Literature In The Elementary School. Fifth Edition. Madison, WI: Brown & Benchmark, 1993. Print.

Kerley, Barbara, and Ed Fotheringham. What to Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! New York: Scholastic, 2008. Print.

Kerley, Barbara, and Ed Fotheringham. The Extraordinary Mark Twain (according to Susy). New York: Scholastic, 2010. Print.

Leaf, Munro, and Robert Lawson. The Story of Ferdinand. New York: Viking, 1936. Print.

Little, Dawn. "Picture This! Teaching with Picture Books." Picture This Teaching with Picture Books. Web. 1 Dec. 2014.

Ludwig, Trudy, and Patrice Barton. The Invisible Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013. Print.

Neal, Judith C., and Kay Moore. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" Meets "Beowulf" In Secondary Classrooms." Journal Of Reading 35.4 (1992): 290-96. ERIC. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.

Martin, Jacqueline Briggs, and Mary Azarian. Snowflake Bentley. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998. Print.

Martin, Rafe, and David Shannon. The Rough-faced Girl. New York: Putnam Juvenile, 1992. Print.

McDonnell, Patrick. Me... Jane. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. Print.

Mochizuki, Ken, and Dom Lee. Baseball Saved Us. New York: Lee & Low, 1993. Print.

Munson, Derek, and Tara Calahan King. Enemy Pie. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2000. Print.

Neill, Alexis, and Laura Huliska-Beith. The Recess Queen. New York: Scholastic, 2002. Print.

Pearson, Molly Blake. Big Ideas in Small Packages: Using Picture Books with Older Readers. Worthington, Ohio: Linworth Pub., 2005. Print.

Pett, Mark, and Gary Rubinstein. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. Naperville, Ill.: Source Jabberwocky, 2011. Print.

Ransome, Lesa, and James Ransome. Young Pelé: Soccer's First Star. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2007. Print.

Raven, Margot Theis, and Chris Ellison. Let Them Play. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear, 2005. Print.

Reiker, Melissa, "The Use of Picture Books in the High School Classroom: A Qualitative Case Study.” Masters of Liberal Studies: Rollins College, 2011. Web.

Schoch, Keith. "Teach with Picture Books." Teach with Picture Books. Web. 25 Nov. 2014.

Schwartz, Corey Rosen, and Dan Santat. Ninja Red Riding Hood. New York: Putnam, 2014. Print.

Scieszka, Jon, and Lane Smith. The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking Kestrel, 1989. Print.

Senften, Kate. Personal interview by author. 2014.

Seuss, Dr. The Sneetches: And Other Stories. New York: Random House, 1961. Print.

Shannon, David. A Bad Case of Stripes. New York: Blue Sky, 1998. Print.

"The Picture Book Teacher's Edition." The Picture Book Teacher's Edition. Web. 3 Dec. 2014. <>.

Vaughan, Marcia, and Ron Mazellan. Irena's Jar of Secrets. New York: Lee & Low, 2011. Print.

Woodson, Jacqueline, and Earl B. Lewis. Each Kindness. New York: Nancy Paulsen, 2012. Print.

Woodson, Jacqueline, and Earl B. Lewis. The Other Side. New York: Putnam's, 2001. Print.


  1. You have thoroughly and interestingly covered the topic of using picture books. Great job!

  2. So glad you enjoyed it! Thanks so much for the kind comment.

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