1. Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are” is one of the most-loved picture books of all time. It also won such accolades as the Caldecott Medal and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, but it is also on the New York Public Library’s list of “One Hundred Titles for Reading and Sharing.”
Of all the elements of design that Giorgis lists in her discussion of picture book design, line is the one that stands out most vividly. When Max is sent to bed without supper, even when his room becomes a jungle, the closely packed group of trees suggests the bars on a jail cell. The implication is that, even though Max is free in his own mind to be king, he is still confined by his own reality – and by the rules of his parents. These lines intersect with the powerful diagonal lines made by the moving beasts, as they at first menace Max and then, later, as they dance. These monsters show the power of Max’s desire to live free of his parents’ rules, but the vertical lines remain. As far as space and shape go, the monsters certainly fit the definition of grotesques, with gigantic bodily features – particularly the heads – that are indicative of the strength (and perhaps the superficiality) of the emotions at work in Max’s mind. When it comes to page turns, not only does the ongoing plot make the reader want to continue – who would not want to see what happens to a young boy who, costumed, heads out to sea, away from his grounding? – while each pair of pages remains fairly cohesive, the energy at work in the illustrations keeps the reader from becoming complacent enough – or uninterested enough – to stop reading.
Sendak, M. (1963) Where the wild things are. New York: HarperCollins, c1988.
2. A graphic novel is basically a hybrid of the conventional, text-based novel and a comic book. The graphic novel tells a story using story panels, like comic books do, or by showing different artworks in a particular sequence. While this is a particularly popular medium in the 2010’s, it is not a new form of writing. The first known example dates back to 1833, as the Swiss artist Rodolphe Toepffer wrote “Histoire de M. Vieux Bois” as a story told completely by cartoon pictures.
Graphic novels can be instrumental in helping students follow a story’s plot line when the text is not accessible to them. For special education students, as well as other struggling readers, having the graphic cues next to the text can ease comprehension considerably. Graphic novels can serve as an excellent vocabulary builder, to help students transition to text-only works once their reading vocabulary is sufficiently large.
3. The postmodern picture book looks, in many ways, like an ordinary picture book. Physically, it looks much the same. However, when you open one and start to read it, you’ll notice that the plot line is not linear; also, the book may refer to itself. The best-known example may be the 1990 Caldecott Medal winner “Black and White,” by David Macaulay. There are four different series of events taking place in the story, and the preface warns the reader that he may be about to encounter one story – or four stories.
The Venn diagram strategy may work best for third graders. Have students look at a postmodern picture book (other examples include “The Stinky Cheese Man” by Lane Smith and “The Three Pigs” by David Wiesner) alongside a traditional picture book, and have them add areas of difference to the diagram. Visual elements such as line, color and shape would work, as would the direction and content of the story itself. After finishing the diagram, ask students how they would define the two types of story books.
4. The primary benefit that one receives from adding non-fiction works to augment the content in a textbook is the specific layering of detail on the topic. A book about the life of Theodore Roosevelt, for example, will have many more facts about his life and his effect on the United States than an American history textbook. While the textbook might contain some information about how Theodore Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War with the “Rough Riders” or how he was a major player behind the national park system, a story of his life will give you deeper insights, such as the fact that his poor health in childhood pushed him to be an outdoorsman and to pursue feats of strength – a drive that would explain both of these accomplishments and personalize him to students, particularly with those with infirmities or conditions of their own.
5. The rhyme scheme in “Night” separates it neatly into the different images that achieve expression. The idea of the coming night making it “hard to see” (2) takes the shape of shadows. First, they enter “Through the windows/through the door” (3-4) and then start “pussyfooting on the floor” (5-6). These different rhythmic units are also set apart by the words “door” and “floor” which, by rhyming, break the verse up. These two units do have identical rhythm, making it easier for students to read – and to remember – the images.
The basic rhyme scheme consists of three pairs of sounds (door/floor, crawling/creeping, and light/night). The diction is very accessible to third-grade readers, with the possible exception of “pussyfooting,” but the personification that has shadows entering a home and crawling around will not only engage student interest, as many children are at least intrigued, if not terrified, by the dark, but the description will show the student the meaning of this long, strange word.
I would have students read this poem aloud, stopping at punctuation marks, to increase fluency. The rhythmic momentum of the verse would pull them through the tougher words.
6. While younger elementary school students are more accepting of those different than them, as they go into the older primary grades, they become more aware of ethnic, religious and other differences, and those differences can become social boundaries, depending on the attitudes of those students’ parents, peers and other persons of influence. Stories written by authors and that have narrators from other cultures can give students a perspective on what it is like to live in different places. This different viewpoint can help students realize not only the unique features of their own place on the socioeconomic spectrum, but also their place in relation to others. Also, multicultural texts give students insight as to how members of other cultures view the student’s culture. This added insight and understanding can go a long way toward building strong character among your students.
7. Using a Venn diagram for a comparison/contrast activity would work similarly with a picture book as with a text-only book, in that readers could chart similarities and differences. The benefit of using a picture book in this situation is that the visual detailing that a reader would obtain from the illustrations would help them build their lists more efficiently. Also, the way the illustrator used such details as line, space, color and shape in drawing the pictures could help the reader understand nuances about the information being presented that might not be available to a struggling reader just looking at text.
8. Children’s literature has long served to teach lessons to its readers. Most people who were born in the 1960’s and 1970’s have a fond memory of “The Giving Tree,” Shel Silverstein’s tale of a tree that kept giving of itself to a young boy, who grew to an adult. The poignant sacrifice of the tree for the boy teaches an unforgettable lesson about the sacrificial elements of love – but as a child, the lesson just soaks into the mind through a strange sort of osmosis; a teacher doesn’t even have to say much after finishing the story.
Children’s stories didn’t always operate this way, though, with warm, winning stories designed to teach a nice lesson. The earliest children’s literature was designed to teach students through fear, as with the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Most of the stories revolved around the terrible (and often grisly) things that would happen to children who didn’t listen to their parents. The Big Bad Wolf and the Gingerbread Man, for example, were much more dangerous in the original texts of the Grimm Brothers than they would be in the sanitized modernizations that were suitable for programming in the twentieth century.
In the present day, many children’s stories are designed to teach the reader a lesson, but through positive reinforcement, for the most part, and with particular care to direct the young reader toward a particular moral or emotional goal.
9. For reluctant readers, suspense is a powerful source of motivation. In fact, it’s a strong source of interest for readers at just about every level. James Patterson, the thriller novel writer, believes in ending each chapter in his novels with a “cliffhanger” conclusion, where the reader has to forge on to the next chapter to find out if a character lives, dies or gets shipped off to some horrible fate in between.
When it comes to series novels, suspense works on both ends of the novel. Not only does the reader want to hurry to the next volume at the end of a successful serial book, but when he starts that next volume, he will have the prior knowledge about character, setting and basic elements of plot before beginning. Because he won’t have to acquaint himself as fully with all of these elements before reading, and because he’ll have an existing interest level in the characters and the story before beginning, he will be more likely to follow through with reading this later novel in the series.
10. Because of the detailed labor that goes into the illustration of picture books, using them to supplement textbooks allows you to reach students that have different learning styles. Auditory learners, who may benefit from having you read from the textbook aloud, may struggle with understanding deeper concepts at work. Picture books add a more visual element to the content that you are presenting, and they can help students improve their understanding. Going back to the example of President Roosevelt, pictures of him as a young man having to go through breathing exercises and attached to a breathing machine will help elementary-age students who are struggling readers understand Roosevelt’s motivation to be as active as possible when he grew older even more than they would have with text alone.