Friday, March 25, 2016

Reading Picture books with children by Megan Dowd Lambert

Nurturing visual intelligence and opening up conversations while keeping it all FUN!

I don't usually talk about professional reading in this blog but I just have to tell you about this wonderful book.  With professional titles like this I usually skim the text and use the contents or index to pick out sections that interest me but with this book Reading Picture Books with Children I simply had to read the whole book over a couple of days.

I have been reading picture books with/to young children for over thirty years and while many of the techniques mentioned by Megan Dowd Lambert are second nature to me there are some really refreshing ideas in this book.

The subtitle is "How to shake up storytime and get kids talking about what they see."  This is the essence of our time in the library each week.  I love to talk to the children before we read any book moving them from the known to the unknown.  Preparing a scaffold for success so that all children are prepared for any new ideas, vocabulary or other content in a book.  Lambert looks at this process in a different way.  In NSW schools we have recently focused on the idea of visual literacy.  My difficulty with this comes from the complex metalanguage we are expected to use with even the youngest child.  Terms like salience and vectors don't come naturally to me.

Reading Picture books with children takes a more sensible approach.  Lambert shows, using fabulous examples, how you can direct children to see so much in a book from the cover, end papers, gutters, shape, orientation and type face without any need to include complex jargon.

For me this book is a breath of fresh air!   Let's take a closer look at one or two examples :

Take at look at the shape of Madeline.  Why is this book published in portrait  format?   Notice the Eiffel Tower on the cover.

"Because the orientation or layout of a picture book is one of the most immediate elements of book design that readers notice, welcoming children to notice how the layout choices inform their responses to picture books can feel rather like an intellectual hug ..."

Here is another example.  We put plastic over our library book covers but taking time to look under the dust jacket can lead to some interesting discussions. Lambert mentions Alan Say's Grandfather's Journey for example where there is a little origami boat embossed onto the cover.  This is not by chance.  I took a look at my own copy of Tree of Cranes also by Alan Say and found the same surprise.  I had no idea a little origami crane was hiding under the dust jacket.  Another example from my own read aloud favourites would be The Quilt Makers Gift which has the most wonderful fold out dust jacket where you can hunt for all the exotic gifts which have been given to the king.  Lambert also gives the example of books by Chris Van Allsburg.  My copy of Polar express sadly has no dust jacket (wish it did because there is a terrific surprise) but I did find something under the cover of The Stranger.   There is so much to explore and discuss here.

I am a huge fan of end papers when they add to the narrative as we see with Bob Graham here in Australia.  There is always plenty to discuss and discover here but Lambert also explores single colour end and patterned papers such as the myriad of ideas that come from the lines used by Eric Carle in his book Brown Bear Brown bear what do you see?

Have you thought about the type face used in books?  A great example are the series by Bonny Becker.  You just have to yell out the words when they are presented in capital letters and a large size.  I know children in the library are often shocked - no yelling in the library.

When you pick up Reading Picture books with Children don't skip straight to the end but the final chapters are filled with hints and questions you might use to develop conversations with children using the headings of :

  • Trim Size and Orientation
  • Jackets and Covers
  • End Papers
  • Front pages
  • Typography
  • Page design

I highly recommend this book for all picture book lovers - Teachers, Teacher-Librarians and even parents who want to discover so much more in the wonderful world of the picture book.

No comments: