November is Picture Book Month, a fun opportunity to celebrate our favorite books, as well as our beloved experiences and memories with them. The beautiful pictures, the thoughtful words, the silly characters – there is so much to celebrate! We’ve been reading wonderful pictures books both new and old all month long, and have had a great time celebrating the stories and authors that we love. But St. Anne’s-Belfield students love picture books so much that just reading during library class didn’t feel like enough – I wanted to do something extra special to celebrate.
Middle school students are in the perfect position to help celebrate picture books: they are young enough to remember the hours spent on parents’ laps laughing and turning pages, and old enough to joyfully share those experiences with younger readers. So sixth grade English teacher Mr. Passmore and I put our heads together on a special project to give them a chance to pass on their excitement and love of reading. Reading aloud is a valuable skill that helps with fluency, comprehension, and critical reading skills – so why not put that practice to good use? A celebration with younger students would help sixth graders strengthen their read-aloud skills while providing an exciting and fun party for kindergarten and first grade readers. Plus, Mr. Passmore and I would get to spend the whole day reading picture books, singing songs, answering picture book trivia, and coloring with crayons. Clearly a win-win.
For weeks, the sixth graders participated in picture book workshops. They started with discussions – why do authors write books? Why makes the picture book medium unique and important? What are authors and illustrators trying to communicate with their stories? When reading to yourself, you stop and reflect every so often to make sure that you understand the story and what the author is trying to tell you. But when sharing a story with a younger reader, how does your role change? Suddenly you are responsible for not only understanding the author’s message, but for passing it on. Your tone of voice matters, your understanding of each character. You don’t just read the story, you get the story, are the story – and that is what makes it come alive for your listener. The more we discussed, the wider and rounder their eyes got. “This is, like, a real responsibility,” one sixth grade girl told me. “I need to find the perfect story.”
After our discussions, sixth graders combed the shelves for just the right picture book. Many searched the catalog for stories that they loved when they were younger – others tried to think like a five year old. “What do kindergarteners like?” they asked me. “Is the Pigeon still cool?” Once they had chosen their books, the practice began. Classes workshopped their stories, reading to a partner and sharing constructive criticism to make changes. They tried out different voices, added post-it reminders and questions, and practiced reading for younger siblings or pets. It was interesting watching their attitudes change as they learned more about picture books as a serious form of art and communication. What started as the kids are going to be so cute became I love the message behind this book, and I think it will really teach them something. Mr. Passmore and I watched as they took on the role of mentors and teachers; right before our eyes, our students went from passive to active readers. Their big moment was coming, and they were determined to be ready.
When the day finally arrived, the sixth graders were beaming and so proud of their hard work. It was wonderful to watch them sharing their stories with such joy and gusto – and they had some very happy customers! The day ended with a collaborative art project to share with the school community. It was a wonderful celebration of the books that help us fall in love with reading.
I am thankful for the chance to live a life filled with books, and to share those books with my favorite readers each day. I am grateful to be a part of the St. Anne’s-Belfield community. Wishing you all a warm, joyful Thanksgiving.
It may be Thanksgiving break, but Picture Book Month is still going strong. Check out the Picture Book Month website to learn more about the celebration and find games, activities, and book suggestions for the picture book lovers in your life, big and small.