Girls reading picture books

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Learn more about picture books and their importance in engaging students with reading. Find out where you can get quality resources for using picture books.

  • What's a picture book

    Picture books use illustrations, with or without text, to convey stories, which delight and engage children visually, orally and textually.

    Picture books contain at least 3 elements:

    • words
    • pictures, and
    • what is conveyed from the combination of both — the integration of verbal and visual art.

    In a picture book, text alone will not carry the story — the author and the illustrator jointly share the responsibility of the book to 'work'. Author and illustrator Barbara Cooney says that a picture book is like a necklace with the illustrations being the jewels and the text is the string that holds them all together.

    Michael Rosen, poet, author, UK Children’s Laureate 2007–9, gives a wonderful, passionate paean to the picture book in his 2007 Patrick Hardy lecture. Here is an extract:

    "I’m talking about — the picture book. There it sits like some massive inflorescence, budding and flowering and reproducing in all its delightful, complex and beautiful ways, all freighted with the same impulse – how to please, intrigue, and amuse young children and their carers and teachers.

    And it does this... in many different ways: visually, orally, textually and in any combinations of all three. Eye and ear are constantly challenged to look and listen here, there and everywhere."
    — Michael Rosen, 2007 Patrick Hardy lecture

    A brief history of children's books and the art of visual storytelling has some interesting history about picture books.

  • What's a picture book

    Picture books use illustrations, with or without text, to convey stories, which delight and engage children visually, orally and textually.

    Picture books contain at least 3 elements:

    • words
    • pictures, and
    • what is conveyed from the combination of both — the integration of verbal and visual art.

    In a picture book, text alone will not carry the story — the author and the illustrator jointly share the responsibility of the book to 'work'. Author and illustrator Barbara Cooney says that a picture book is like a necklace with the illustrations being the jewels and the text is the string that holds them all together.

    Michael Rosen, poet, author, UK Children’s Laureate 2007–9, gives a wonderful, passionate paean to the picture book in his 2007 Patrick Hardy lecture. Here is an extract:

    "I’m talking about — the picture book. There it sits like some massive inflorescence, budding and flowering and reproducing in all its delightful, complex and beautiful ways, all freighted with the same impulse – how to please, intrigue, and amuse young children and their carers and teachers.

    And it does this... in many different ways: visually, orally, textually and in any combinations of all three. Eye and ear are constantly challenged to look and listen here, there and everywhere."
    — Michael Rosen, 2007 Patrick Hardy lecture

    A brief history of children's books and the art of visual storytelling has some interesting history about picture books.

  • What makes a good picture book

    What makes one picture book a bestseller and another a flop? Literary agent Tracy Marchini has identified the following elements as making a good picture book:

    • illustrations that are engaging, varied and colourful while adding to the storyline
    • strong characters that are identifiable and evoke emotion
    • humour
    • a story that teaches a concept or value
    • elements of pattern, rhyme and repetition
    • an interesting plot that captures the attention of the reader
    • rich vocabulary
    • re-readability.

    9 factors that make a picture book successful

    How other organisations assess books

    The National Library Board Singapore has put together a presentation on what makes a good picture book.

    What makes a good picture book (pdf, 2.27MB)

    Caldecott Medal — terms and criteria gives a brief description on what they look for when judging picture books for the award.

  • What makes a good picture book

    What makes one picture book a bestseller and another a flop? Literary agent Tracy Marchini has identified the following elements as making a good picture book:

    • illustrations that are engaging, varied and colourful while adding to the storyline
    • strong characters that are identifiable and evoke emotion
    • humour
    • a story that teaches a concept or value
    • elements of pattern, rhyme and repetition
    • an interesting plot that captures the attention of the reader
    • rich vocabulary
    • re-readability.

    9 factors that make a picture book successful

    How other organisations assess books

    The National Library Board Singapore has put together a presentation on what makes a good picture book.

    What makes a good picture book (pdf, 2.27MB)

    Caldecott Medal — terms and criteria gives a brief description on what they look for when judging picture books for the award.

  • Picture books and diversity

    The New Zealand Curriculum includes Cultural Diversity and Inclusion as principles that underpin the decision-making within schools. A rich and diverse library collection can be a powerful tool for seeing ourselves and seeing the world beyond.

    Cultural and multicultural resources

    Information about the types of picture books that effectively illustrate ethnicity, including representation of refugee and migrant communities, abilities, family structure and gender roles can be found at the following websites:

    Equity, diversity and inclusion — lists a range of resources compiled by the American Library Association

    Human Rights in Education resources — a forum for NZ educators to share ideas, local and international resources, and experiences

    Mirrors Windows Doors — promotes children’s and YA books from across the world that highlight cultural and multi-cultural diversity

    NZ Pacific Picture Book Collection — 36 picture books nominated by 9 librarians with specific responsibility for providing library services for Pasifika communities in New Zealand

    The New Zealand Picture Book Collection He Kohinga Pukapuka Pikitia o Aotearoa — provides New Zealand English picture books reflecting diversity in New Zealand society

    Revised NZ Picture Book Collection — includes 60 picture books that teachers, librarians, authors and publishers nominated in a 2015 online survey

    We Need Diverse Books — has links to resources, recommended titles on various themes and tips for aspiring writers

  • Picture books and diversity

    The New Zealand Curriculum includes Cultural Diversity and Inclusion as principles that underpin the decision-making within schools. A rich and diverse library collection can be a powerful tool for seeing ourselves and seeing the world beyond.

    Cultural and multicultural resources

    Information about the types of picture books that effectively illustrate ethnicity, including representation of refugee and migrant communities, abilities, family structure and gender roles can be found at the following websites:

    Equity, diversity and inclusion — lists a range of resources compiled by the American Library Association

    Human Rights in Education resources — a forum for NZ educators to share ideas, local and international resources, and experiences

    Mirrors Windows Doors — promotes children’s and YA books from across the world that highlight cultural and multi-cultural diversity

    NZ Pacific Picture Book Collection — 36 picture books nominated by 9 librarians with specific responsibility for providing library services for Pasifika communities in New Zealand

    The New Zealand Picture Book Collection He Kohinga Pukapuka Pikitia o Aotearoa — provides New Zealand English picture books reflecting diversity in New Zealand society

    Revised NZ Picture Book Collection — includes 60 picture books that teachers, librarians, authors and publishers nominated in a 2015 online survey

    We Need Diverse Books — has links to resources, recommended titles on various themes and tips for aspiring writers

  • Picture books and vocabulary

    We learn most effectively through language exposure, and we learn our most interesting vocabulary from books and other print sources. In the article What reading does for the mind, Ann E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich review studies that compared the number of rare, unusual and interesting words in:

    • written language — from picture books to scientific articles
    • words spoken on television in prime time viewing
    • adult speech — from conversation to courtroom testimony.

    The researchers found that the incidence of rare words in picture books was greater than in all of adult conversation (except courtroom testimony) and in all prime-time TV programmes.

    What reading does for the mind

  • Picture books and vocabulary

    We learn most effectively through language exposure, and we learn our most interesting vocabulary from books and other print sources. In the article What reading does for the mind, Ann E. Cunningham and Keith E. Stanovich review studies that compared the number of rare, unusual and interesting words in:

    • written language — from picture books to scientific articles
    • words spoken on television in prime time viewing
    • adult speech — from conversation to courtroom testimony.

    The researchers found that the incidence of rare words in picture books was greater than in all of adult conversation (except courtroom testimony) and in all prime-time TV programmes.

    What reading does for the mind

  • Wordless picture books

    Wordless picture books rely on illustrations alone to tell a story and are a wonderful resource that allows children to tell the story 'in their own words'. They encourage children to:

    • read the pictures
    • look at the details
    • follow patterns and sequences
    • explore characterisation
    • work out what is going on and bring their own language to their own version of the story.

    Wordless picture book lists

    Use these lists of wordless picture books for inspiration:

    Wordless picture books — a list compiled by Nancy Keane

    Weber County Library System: Wordless picture books — a list with brief annotations and book covers

  • Wordless picture books

    Wordless picture books rely on illustrations alone to tell a story and are a wonderful resource that allows children to tell the story 'in their own words'. They encourage children to:

    • read the pictures
    • look at the details
    • follow patterns and sequences
    • explore characterisation
    • work out what is going on and bring their own language to their own version of the story.

    Wordless picture book lists

    Use these lists of wordless picture books for inspiration:

    Wordless picture books — a list compiled by Nancy Keane

    Weber County Library System: Wordless picture books — a list with brief annotations and book covers

  • Using picture books to inspire readers

    The first stage for using picture books in your classroom literacy programme and to inspire and model writing is to get to know the books. Then the ideas will flow. A few of the many available picture book resources include:

    Picture Book of the Day — a blog by Anastasia Suen that recommends a picture book each day of the week. Some days have a special focus, for example, non-fiction Monday, poetry Friday. She adds a 1 or 2 line plot summary, a short quote from the text (in italics), and a suggested writing activity for one of the 6 traits of writing.

    Picture books — Ministry of Education's English online resource has information about how picture books can be used to support the learning of static images.

    Power of Pictures — at the Center for Literacy in Primary Education. The CLPE's website has resources for primary school teachers to help "develop their understanding of the craft of picture book creation and illustration as a way of raising children’s achievement in literacy".

    Teach with Picture Books — blog by Keith Schoch.

    Ways to share picture books — blog post by Keith Schoch about sharing books with upper primary and intermediate age students.

    Sharing picture books with children leads to amazing conversations. In the best picture books there is a gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child's imagination."
    — Anthony Browne, Children's Laureate 2009–2011

  • Using picture books to inspire readers

    The first stage for using picture books in your classroom literacy programme and to inspire and model writing is to get to know the books. Then the ideas will flow. A few of the many available picture book resources include:

    Picture Book of the Day — a blog by Anastasia Suen that recommends a picture book each day of the week. Some days have a special focus, for example, non-fiction Monday, poetry Friday. She adds a 1 or 2 line plot summary, a short quote from the text (in italics), and a suggested writing activity for one of the 6 traits of writing.

    Picture books — Ministry of Education's English online resource has information about how picture books can be used to support the learning of static images.

    Power of Pictures — at the Center for Literacy in Primary Education. The CLPE's website has resources for primary school teachers to help "develop their understanding of the craft of picture book creation and illustration as a way of raising children’s achievement in literacy".

    Teach with Picture Books — blog by Keith Schoch.

    Ways to share picture books — blog post by Keith Schoch about sharing books with upper primary and intermediate age students.

    Sharing picture books with children leads to amazing conversations. In the best picture books there is a gap between the pictures and the words, a gap that is filled by the child's imagination."
    — Anthony Browne, Children's Laureate 2009–2011

  • Talking about features of picture books

    The whole-book approach — Megan Dowd Lambert shares her whole-book approach in an excerpt from her book: Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See

    Questions to ask about picture books

    Here are some questions you can use when you are talking to children about picture books. Questions to draw attention to how the book is designed include:

    • Jacket — what do you think the jacket of the book is for?
    • Spine — does the jacket image wrap around the spine? Consider the lettering.
    • Cover — is it cloth bound? Embossed? What are the colours? Why?
    • Format — portrait? Landscape? Square? Shaped? Why?
    • Endpapers — how are they the visual overture for the art in the book?
    • Front Matter — how do these pages ease you into the book?
    • Gutter — how does the illustrator accommodate or use the gutter between the verso and recto pages?

    Questions to draw attention to aspects of the book's look and feel and illustrations include:

    • Typography — how are all elements of the book proper arranged on the facing pages? Consider the absence or presence of frames, the use and pacing of double and single spreads, font choices, placement of text and pictures, etc.
    • Medium and style — how does the illustrator's choice and use of medium(s) suit the story? How does the medium generate attention to artistic elements?

    As well as talking about these features of picture books, you could also talk about other aspects of the book, such as how:

    • illustrations fill in the words, add to the story, or give a different perspective
    • narrative is carried through the book
    • picture books can be used as a starting point for exploring a topic
    • picture books can be mentor texts and frameworks to inspire creative writing.
  • Talking about features of picture books

    The whole-book approach — Megan Dowd Lambert shares her whole-book approach in an excerpt from her book: Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See

    Questions to ask about picture books

    Here are some questions you can use when you are talking to children about picture books. Questions to draw attention to how the book is designed include:

    • Jacket — what do you think the jacket of the book is for?
    • Spine — does the jacket image wrap around the spine? Consider the lettering.
    • Cover — is it cloth bound? Embossed? What are the colours? Why?
    • Format — portrait? Landscape? Square? Shaped? Why?
    • Endpapers — how are they the visual overture for the art in the book?
    • Front Matter — how do these pages ease you into the book?
    • Gutter — how does the illustrator accommodate or use the gutter between the verso and recto pages?

    Questions to draw attention to aspects of the book's look and feel and illustrations include:

    • Typography — how are all elements of the book proper arranged on the facing pages? Consider the absence or presence of frames, the use and pacing of double and single spreads, font choices, placement of text and pictures, etc.
    • Medium and style — how does the illustrator's choice and use of medium(s) suit the story? How does the medium generate attention to artistic elements?

    As well as talking about these features of picture books, you could also talk about other aspects of the book, such as how:

    • illustrations fill in the words, add to the story, or give a different perspective
    • narrative is carried through the book
    • picture books can be used as a starting point for exploring a topic
    • picture books can be mentor texts and frameworks to inspire creative writing.
  • Transitioning to and from picture books

    Picture books can be read to children from when they are babies through to when they are ready for early chapter books and sophisticated picture books.

    In her article "How to help your child transition to chapter books", Melissa Taylor outlines considerations for when a child is ready to move to chapter books:

    • help the child remember what happened in the previous chapter so that they can read the book over a number of nights
    • teach the child how to choose a good book, consider the cover, blurb, scan the text, 5 finger rule
    • choose an engaging series, such as Magic tree house, A to Z mysteries, Zac Power, Rainbow magic
    • don't stop reading picture books.

    How to help your child transition to chapter books

    Sophisticated picture books

  • Transitioning to and from picture books

    Picture books can be read to children from when they are babies through to when they are ready for early chapter books and sophisticated picture books.

    In her article "How to help your child transition to chapter books", Melissa Taylor outlines considerations for when a child is ready to move to chapter books:

    • help the child remember what happened in the previous chapter so that they can read the book over a number of nights
    • teach the child how to choose a good book, consider the cover, blurb, scan the text, 5 finger rule
    • choose an engaging series, such as Magic tree house, A to Z mysteries, Zac Power, Rainbow magic
    • don't stop reading picture books.

    How to help your child transition to chapter books

    Sophisticated picture books

  • Picture books at home

    Reading picture books at home from a young age promotes a love of reading and enjoyment as a family. They make excellent gifts for children of all ages, even newborns. They are not too young to be read to.

    Six reasons why picture books matter — an article by Linda Lodding from Random House Kids.

  • Picture books at home

    Reading picture books at home from a young age promotes a love of reading and enjoyment as a family. They make excellent gifts for children of all ages, even newborns. They are not too young to be read to.

    Six reasons why picture books matter — an article by Linda Lodding from Random House Kids.

  • Find out more

    Children's and young adult's books — book reviews and links to other resources

    Children's Picture Books — a list of picture book authors' websites

    International Children's Digital Library — a digital library of picture books from around the world, including New Zealand

    Inspiring inquiry through picture books — by Kath Murdoch, Education Consultant

    Page by page, creating a picture book — from the National Library of Canada

    Picture book resources — from Booktrust UK

    Picture books that love libraries — from Booktrust UK

    The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) — has information and publishes the quarterly refereed journal Bookbird

    The International Youth Library — hosts various databases, including The White Ravens — A Selection of International Children's and Youth Literature

    The Planet Esme Plan — includes book lists, a blog and links

  • Find out more

    Children's and young adult's books — book reviews and links to other resources

    Children's Picture Books — a list of picture book authors' websites

    International Children's Digital Library — a digital library of picture books from around the world, including New Zealand

    Inspiring inquiry through picture books — by Kath Murdoch, Education Consultant

    Page by page, creating a picture book — from the National Library of Canada

    Picture book resources — from Booktrust UK

    Picture books that love libraries — from Booktrust UK

    The International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) — has information and publishes the quarterly refereed journal Bookbird

    The International Youth Library — hosts various databases, including The White Ravens — A Selection of International Children's and Youth Literature

    The Planet Esme Plan — includes book lists, a blog and links

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