Monday, September 21, 2015

Remaking a Teacher Through Picture Books

Children's picture books fascinate me in their role as doorways or portals. Often regarded as a bridge to lead children to a love of reading, children's picture books have launched me into being a better reader, writer, and teacher.

I have learned that some teachers use picture books to introduce the moves a writer makes--this has been an effectve shift in my planning and teaching. For instance, I could teach almost any lesson or mini-lesson on writing with a collection of picture books: 

  • Examine the similarities and differences in the leads and conclusions
  • What transitions are used; in what way are they used?
  • Follow the punctuation--which punctuation contributes to story?
  • How do the images complement or deepen the impact of the words?
  • Any grammar concept can be isolated, explored, and imitated.

Additionally, I am some finding children's picture books as launching points for my own reading life. I had never read anything by Jane Goodall--or anything substantive about her. I'd only known of her through fragments of life. Yet, after reading The Watcher: Jane Goodall's Life with the Chimps by Jeanette Winter, I am motivated to pick up one of Goodall's books.

I found the The Watcher while curating a pile of twenty-five picture books for a classroom unit on memoir. This is how I make good use of my library card. By the way, my local library has been very accommodating by allowing my to check out vast piles of picture books for extended periods of time.

Working my way through my library book pile, two struck me because of their potential for not only my reading life but also my writing life: How I Learned Geography, by Uri Shulevitz (Poland), and The Wall, by Peter Sis (Czechoslovakia).

How I Learned Geography frames a life around one significant experience. When author Uri Shulevitz was a child, his family struggled after the Warsaw blitz in 1939 and fled to Turkestan (Kazakhstan). One day, Shulevitz's father spends what little money he has on a map of the world instead of a few crusts of bread for his hungry wife and son. Having read this book, I now want to read more from this culture and certainly about this time period.

The Wall just blew me away in its combined simplicity and complexity. SO much is going on.

The basic story reads simply across the bottom of the page. Yet, it is so interesting to look at the physical page. Ninety percent of each page is filled with imagery filled with history, tension, conflict, and hope.

It challenges my brain. When I first began the book, my eyes were confused. I found myself hunting for the text. My eyes flitted all around the page trying to make sense of it all.

When I figured out the structure, I found myself spending more time on each page--and reading and re-reading the imagery more than the single lines of text at the bottom of the page.

Actually, the line of text functions as a story within a story.

It makes me wonder what might come out of my own writing should I try something similar about the neighborhood I was raised in...or about my experience as a student in school...or my experience as a teacher. 

Irrespective of where this carries me specifically, the point is children's picture books are leading me across a bridge to being a better reader, writer, and model for my students. 

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