February 22, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Three Ways To Use Picture Books with Older Kids | Programming Cookbook

Picture books, though often created with prereaders in mind, offer countless opportunities for older students in upper elementary and middle school to explore writing and art and engage in discussion. I love sharing picture books with older kids, letting them take over and encouraging them to create their own stories. The three programs profiled below each use fabulous picture books that are likely already in most library collections and are sure to spark creative projects.

The Hat Trilogy

Start by sharing Jon Klassen’s first two hat books, I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat. Before reading 000-hat-trilogythe books, remind kids to pay close attention to the pictures. After reading both books, talk about the similarities between them. Kids might notice that the first hat described in I Want My Hat Back is the hat featured in This Is Not My Hat. Beyond hats themselves, ask students to identify other common themes in the books, such as big animals eating smaller animals or the concepts of karma and irony.

Next, talk about the final book, We Found a Hat. Before I had a copy on hand, I simply showed my group a picture of the cover and asked them to make predictions about what might happen in based on what they know from the cover and the previous story lines. After a group discussion, ask kids to illustrate and/or write their own version of the third book. They can do so by writing and illustrating multiple pages, create a comic-style storyboard, or just jot down broad ideas on a single page. After they’re done, have them share their ideas and stories with the rest of the group.

This activity was created before the publication of We Found a Hat, but could also be expanded to include all three titles. Read all three books, and then ask kids to come up with a brand new story, or just read the third book after they have completed the bookmaking activity.

Don’t Let the Pigeon…

Middle grade readers undoubtedly know the well-loved character from Mo Willems’s beginning reader books. This DIY Pigeon activity is a great way for kids to work on their persuasive arguments.


Interior spread from Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems.

Start by reading any of the Pigeon books aloud. Ask kids to take up the pigeon’s argument, articulating why they deserve to drive the bus, stay up late, etc. Repeat with more books, offering kids the chance to act as narrator.

Next, lead a discussion about other things the pigeon should NOT be allowed to do, taking notes on a whiteboard or piece of poster paper. Once the kids have generated a list, allow them the chance to create their own pigeon book. Choose a group topic, or let each kid illustrate a page for any of the ideas.

Something Spectacular

These three seemingly unrelated picture books get kids talking about the beauty they see in everyday life and how the ordinary can be spectacular.


Interior spread from Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña.

Begin by reading Matt de la Peña’s Last Stop On Market Street, Mac Barnett’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, and Antoinette Portis’s Wait. While reading each book, stop to talk about what the characters are seeing and how they interpret their world. This is also a great time discuss the Newbery win and Caldecott honor for Last Stop On Market Street and what constitutes distinguished writing and illustration for children.

Next, challenge the group to think of something beautiful or spectacular that they experienced recently that might seem like an ordinary occurrence. Why was it beautiful? What made it special? Ask each kid to write or illustrate their own story and then share it with the group.

With permission, share any of the above final student projects with the authors and illustrators via social media.

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Holly Storck-Post About Holly Storck-Post

Holly Storck-Post is a youth services librarian at the Madison (WI) Public Library. She loves bilingual storytime, art/maker/STEAM programming, and reading teen books. She is a joint chief for Storytime Underground, part of the administrative team of the Library as Incubator Project, and a founding member of WisCode Literati. Holly blogs about her adventures at adventuresofachildrenslibrarian.com, and you can find her on Twitter at @hollystorckpost.

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