Teach With Picturebooks

What’s true of short stories is true of picture books:

You should read short stories because each one will give you the full narrative hit—beginning, middle and end—in double-quick time. You’ll get all—well, most of—the satisfaction of a novel, in one small package that might use up 15–20 minutes of your time.

Short Stories and Why You Should Embrace Them, National Short Story Week

Picturebooks are for readers of all ages. Be careful how picturebooks are housed in school libraries.

Unfortunately, many readers leave primary grades with the idea that picturebooks are only for the very young. Par tof this is perpetuated by the separation fo picturebooks within the library. The collection of picturebooks is often referred to as “E Books” (look for the “E” on the spine) or “Everybody Books” or (worse) “Easy Books”. While this is a logistic and accepted solution in some libraries, it often creates a barrier that upper elementary and middle school students won’t cross. Teachers who incorporate picturebooks/illustrated books/books in picturebook format in the instruction and have these books available in the classroom can diminish the reluctance of older readers to return to the pleasure of reading books with many illustrations.

A Unique Visual and Literary Art Form: Recent Research on Picturebooks

A mentor text is a stellar text that can be used as a model to teach students how to write.

Marcie Flintchum-Atkins

There’s no need to put away the picture books once students are older. They come in handy in the high school classroom for teaching:

  • Plot structure (See my post Teaching Kids How To Structure A Story, making use of popular picture books.)
  • Colour Symbolism
  • Irony (especially the difference between words and pictures)
  • Camera angles
  • and many other things.

Over at Marcie’s blog is a collection of links about making use of mentor texts in the classroom.

Australian Picturebooks
British Picturebooks
Irish Picturebooks
  • Rosamund and the Purple Jar by English-Irish writer Maria Edgeworth is the oldest picture book I’ve read, first published 1796.
  • Stuck by Oliver Jeffers — Technically Jeffers would be in his own ‘Irish American’ category I suppose. Stuck is a great example of what might be described as a ‘gag’ or ‘joke’ picture book which are selling really well at the moment. Others in this category are Mo Willems, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen. Now, I can’t personally think of any women writing (nor illustrating) best selling picturebooks of this category. The market is dominated entirely by youngish men. I’d really love to know why this is, but the cynic in me suspects it’s not because women aren’t funny.
  • This Moose Belongs To Me by Oliver Jeffers — an absolutely perfect example of story structure: Shortcoming/Need, Desire, Opponent, Plan, Battle, Anagnorisis, New Situation. If teaching story craft to your class, use this book. It requires less time than watching an entire movie.
New Zealand Picturebooks
North American Picturebooks

Oliver by Birgitta Sif — a boy with stuffed toys as imaginary friends finds a playmate

Translated into English

By Genre


  • The Magic Porridge Pot — I look at the Ladybird versions and examine food in children’s literature in the context of medieval famines
  • Little Red Riding Hood — This tale fascinates me because it says something so terribly bad about rape, yet bowdlerised versions of this tale abound, and suggest none of that… overtly.
  • Tom Thumb, Thumbelina And Other Miniature Tales — This post is more about the miniature tales — including mouse tales — than about these fairytales specifically
  • Beauty and the Beast by Anne Carter and Binette Schoeder (1986) — My favourite version of the story. It includes notes on the history of this tale — which is not technically a fairy tale at all — in the back.
  • The Gingerbread Man — For a contemporary take see Julia Donaldson’s Stick Man. This is the Little Golden Book version I grew up with.

Picturebooks, by their very nature, are designed to comfort. So it is comforting for a child to learn that something they thought was terribly scary is scary only because they are unfamiliar with it.

See: What Is The Horror Genre For? for a breakdown of what horror is and is not.


In a crime story we see what the criminal is up to.


In the detective genre, we follow the character who is solving the mystery. Or, the reader is the detective.

Family Drama
Feminist Subversions From The 1980s

Illustration Study

  • Why The Black And White? — Even with colour printing down in cost some illustrators are still working in black and white. Why?
  • The Glance Curve — how eyes move across a page and how illustrators make the most of that knowledge
  • Grey — examples of picture books which use grey as their main theme, even though ‘kids love primary colours’
  • Shadow And Lightsource — In all artwork there are various sources of light, each with varying effects. How does it work in picturebooks?
  • Taxonomy of Detail in Character Illustration — words to describe how illustrators draw people
  • Panoptic Art In Picture Books — artists such as Shirley Hughes usually include a panoptic scene in their picture books. This is probably an aerial, all-seeing view of a setting.
  • Synoptic Narrative In Picture Books — Continuous narrative is sort of like a comic book sequence but without the framing.
  • Progressive Narrative In Picture Books — This sort of narrative art is so common in picture books that it hardly needs naming. But if the artist shakes it up a bit they can achieve some very interesting skews.
  • Impressionism in Picture Books — Impressionistic painting leaves an ‘impression’, as if the viewer had glanced at it. This style is regularly used in modern picture books to suggest a dreamlike trance or a time in the past.


On Picturebook Apps

A Categorisation Of Touch Interactivity And Animation In Storybook Apps

Decisions To Make When Storyboarding For Interactivity

Onomatopoeia, Mimesis and Children’s Literature