Making Writing Real With the Use of Picture Books by Alyson Beecher

Last Saturday, Cathy Mere, Reflect and Refine: Building a Learning Community, and Mindy Robek, Enjoy and Embrace Learning, hosted the 4th annual August 10th Picture Book 10 for 10 event.  I spent a relaxing day reading through the many, many posts created by other Nerdy Book Club members.  It truly was a fabulous celebration of the great variety and diversity present in picture books.  So many instructional uses are evident in each of these books.  Yet, there are teachers and administrators who fail to recognize the role of picture books in instruction.  This thought makes me sad. Hopefully, as more and more of us championing the picture book, others will see the vast potential that lies within the covers of these amazing books.

Admittedly, as a young teacher, I understood how to create lessons supported by literature, but not necessarily the full potential for how to incorporate books into my lessons.  I grouped the picture books I used in my classroom by themes.  I never truly understood that picture books were a format filled with stories representing every genre. Nor did I consider reading levels.  They were picture books, so, of course they were for young children.  If I read them aloud, I just modified the text to match the audience.  As for things like mentor texts? What was that? Laddering or pairing a picture book with a novel? I had no clue.

Thankfully, my ability to effectively select and use a picture book in multiple ways to enhance instruction has developed over the years.  It has been through the interactions with many of the readers of the Nerdy Book Club blog that I continue to be challenged to increase the ways that I integrate picture books into lessons.  It has also made me a huge advocate for the use of picture books in upper elementary school and even in secondary classes.

With the first day of school quickly approaching, I have a goal this year of building an extensive collection of picture books as mentor texts specifically for writing.  Here are just some of the books I plan to incorporate into writing lessons during this school year:

Ralph Tells a Story by Abby Hanlon (Marshall Cavendish, August 2012)

Over the last few years, I have learned that many of my struggling student writers fail to make a connection between their ability to tell about something (spoken words) with writing a story (words in print).  Abby Hanlon’s character Ralph is a wonderful example of how this connection can be made.

Mr. Zinger’s Hat by Cary Fagan; Illustrated by Dusan Petricic (Tundra Books 2012)

A young boy accidentally knocks the hat off of an older gentleman.  As they interact, the boy learns about creating a story through the questions asked by the elderly author.  Children can learn elements of storytelling, but teachers can also learn about the important use of questions to guide children through the writing of their stories.

No Bears by Meg McKinley; Illustrated by Leila Rudge (Candlewick Press, 2011)

I love stories that work on multiple levels.  This book makes a fun read aloud for younger students, but it also works well as an example of metafiction or a way to talk about writing.  Ella wants to write a story and her own journey in creating a story provides tips and ideas for students in their own writing.

The Plot Chickens by Mary Jane Auch; Illustrated by Herm Auch (Holiday House, 2009)

Any book with chickens will likely be funny, and The Plot Chickens is no exception.  Take one book loving chicken who wants to write a book, and mix in a basic understanding of book publishing, and a lot of steps for what makes a good plot.  A great book for discussion with students as they learn to write their own stories.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt; Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel, June 2013)

If your box of crayons wrote you letters, what would they say? Great way to help children think about both writing from a different point of view, as well as provides examples of persuasive letter writing.

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne (DK Publishing 2001)

I always find it difficult trying to explain to students that a story is in first person or third person and forget second person.  Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park bring to life four different points of view or voice.  By retelling the “same” story from four different points of view, Browne gives readers a clear understanding a various narrations.

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills (Schwartz & Wade, 2012)

In this follow up to Rocket Learns to Read, Rocket is back and this time he wants to write a story. With the continued support of a little yellow bird, Rocket learns to pay attention to his surroundings for clues and ideas for a story.


Chester by Mélanie Watt (Kids Can Press, 2007)

Emerging writers can learn something from Chester (the main character) as he uses his red marker to retell the story being told by author, Mélanie Watt.  Elements of both writing and editing can provide examples for students developing their own books.

Here are two new picture books that are coming out this fall which can also be used in the writing process with older students:

Little Red Writing by Joan Holub; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet (Chronicle Books, September 24, 2013)

A humorous take on the Tale of Little Red Riding Hood where a Little Red Pencil learns a thing or two about descriptive adjectives and plot while fighting a pencil sharpener (Wolf 3000).

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka , Mac Barnett; Illustrated by Matthew Myers  (Simon & Schuster, October 22, 2013)

Scieszka and Barnett have fun re-writing a “little Golden Book” style story.  Teachers and students can explore the elements of editing and rewriting as they discuss the transformation of Birthday Bunny to Battle Bunny.

What picture books do you love to use as mentor texts in your classrooms?

Alyson Beecher is a Program Support Specialist for Reading & Literacy with the Pasadena Unified School District in California.  She has a serious book addiction and celebrates books as part of the Nerdy Book Club.   You can find her on Twitter as @alybee930 and on her blog: Kid Lit Frenzy