4.2 : Picture Book Provocations

I imagine that I am preaching to the choir when I talk about the importance of picture books in Early Childhood classrooms.  The possibilities are endless, from sharing books as a class, getting deeper into the details with a small group, or making favorite books available for children to revisit independently.


Picture books play a role in children's understanding of story, and are especially valuable tools on the journey to becoming a reader and writer.  The re-reading of a book sends a message that the words stay the same each time, and that the pictures can offer you information about what the words say.  They are a wonderful place to find familiar letters, and familiar words.  

There are many, many wonderful picture books out there - and there are some not-so-good ones.  Reading books before you read them to children is always important - you can understand where children might ask questions, wonder out loud, or laugh.  There are some tips for choosing books at the bottom of this page, but before that, let's think about how picture books can serve us in different situations: whole group, small group, and for independent exploration. 

Whole Group Read-Alouds

Group dynamics change from year to year - and often by the week, or the day!  Some groups get deeply engaged in a longer book, while others might just want a few minutes of story.  When planning a whole group read aloud:

  • Think about the kids first.  If there is a dog on the first page and the children want to get into a long dialogue about dogs, don't see that as a negative thing.  Books should make us think and wonder!  You can always revisit a book later.  This applies to children's sensory, motor, and emotional needs during a story.  The may need to wiggle, or stand, or lay down - reflect on your emotions around those things to understand where your discomfort might be coming from.
  • Have techniques for keeping them engaged.  Suggest ways for them to interact with a story, perhaps by moving, giving a thumbs up if they agree with a character, or asking a question and have them whisper their answer to their neighbor.
  • Make the book available after the read-aloud.  An engaging book is one that children will want to revisit.  This is especially engaging when you put in a bookmark and kids can peek ahead at the illustrations for the rest of the story, getting a preview of what will happen when you bring the book back to the group.
  • Choose books thoughtfully.  This might mean the same book everyday for a week, it might mean something that relates to the topic at hand, or just a class favorite: listening to a story shouldn't feel like work.

Favorite books for whole-group read-alouds:

Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin, pictures by James Dean

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen

The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson, pictures by Axel Scheffler

Fortunately by Remy Charlip


Sharing Books in Small Groups

When we work with a small group of children (3-6, perhaps) we have a different dynamic to explore literature.  We can engage more with individual children, get deeper into the content of a longer book, and make more personal connections with story.

We can use many of the same techniques and ideas that we use with whole group read-alouds, but with that extra bit of personal attention.

It also allows us to choose books that are a bit longer; a bit more complex.  Small group reading is an ideal setting for books with big, juicy ideas that we want to explore with children. It is a time to explore stories that children can see themselves in, making parallels between the world they live in and characters and places in story.  There are big ideas that permeate children's lives: they are actively trying to understand power, fairness, emotions, and much more.  

When planning small group book sharing:

  • Read the book ahead of time, and add sticky notes where you might want to stop.   You may want to ask children what will happen next; how a character is feeling; or if the event on a certain page reminds them of something from their own life.  
  • Provide clipboards/paper for children to draw and sketch while you read.  This might be a combination of free drawing, along with some planned drawing tasks.  If you work with children who are beginning to write, you can offer that they can write or draw.
  • Don't shy away from long books, or books with big ideas.  You can break a book up into a few readings using bookmarks.  This adds an automatic of summarization, also - you can quickly go over the few pages you read in the previous small group session, with the kids chiming in about what they recall.  This is a big skill we expect of children in elementary school and beyond, and we can begin that process at a appropriate level with young children.

Watch the video below for an example of sharing books with young children in small groups, starring one of my favorites: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.


Books for Independent Exploration

Whether you are in a public school, a museum, a home day care, or any other setting with children, there is incredible value in children having reading be an "anytime choice".  Children can relax with a book inside or outside; they can giggle over a book with a friend during choice time; they can browse favorites at the end of the day while they wait for pick up.  It can help children ease into the day to have books available - perhaps they want to have one last cuddle with their caregiver before they leave each other for the day.

Just like I prefer to have a good understanding of what book I'll be sharing with children in a large or small group, I like to curate what will be on our classroom shelves.  There are some categories of books that I always like to have available for children to look at.

  • Books we have shared together in large or small groups.  When children are familiar with books, they are able to read themselves, inferring and recollecting based on the illustrations.  The video of friends re-reading Pete the Cat in the video at the top of this lesson is a great example.  The children turn the page at just the right time, and the book has been read in an enthusiastic and memorable way, too.
  • Repetitive Books.  These are books that are easy for children to get into the rhythm and pattern of: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom and The Very Hungry Caterpillar are good examples.  The details are easy to remember, and there are repeat phrases that children can recall.
  • Books related to our inquiry.  This is a place where most non-fiction comes into the classroom, but there can also be fiction related to children's interests and threads of inquiry/projects in the classroom.  For example, if there is an inquiry into homes and shelters, a non fiction book about skyscrapers would fit in right next to The Very Busy Spider - and there are endless conversations to have about different kinds of homes when children are able to explore suck stark examples, right next to each other.


Exploring picture books gives children an understanding of the diversity of stories; it sends a message that books are a place for information and entertainment.  What are some of your favorite books to share with children?  Pop into our storytelling community to share your favorites, ask questions, and get ideas about great new books from others in the workshop!