Children’s picture books have always been the mainstay of every primary classroom. Teachers of all grade levels know the power of the picture book to engage students and help them imagine, visualize and learn. Book units help teachers to dig deeper into the books to increase comprehension and foster joy in reading.
The Power of the Book Unit
The picture book, while simple in theory, is a powerful tool. Not only does it introduce your students to a book they may have never chosen themselves but with a few strategies, can open up their eyes and minds to a multitude of reading skills and life experiences. Students may have never had these experiences had they not been introduced to that book. In short, a picture book teaches kids about perspective and important thinking skills.
The Just Right Book
The beauty of choosing a just right book is the that it can be a launching book to other curricular areas. A favourite thing for me to do, is use children’s books to teach social and emotional skills. Sometimes, you just need a book to help you to teach your students about something that has been going on in class or on the playground. I created a couple of book units to do just that. I call them Social and Emotional Learning on the Go.
Many teachers know and love The Invisible Boy by Patrice Barton. I have to say it is one of my favourite books of all time. It is my favourite because I think it perfectly captures a typical classroom and how kids with little self awareness and self regulation can really become the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons. It’s because of this that other, more quieter students, can feel invisible. I like this book because kids can relate and it helps you teach about self regulation, personal identity, inclusion and friendship.
Another SEL on the Go book unit that I created is on the book Mustafa by Marie Louise Gay. This book shows a little boy that has come to another country from a war torn country. He lives with his mom in an apartment. Mustafa does not speak English. He goes to a local park and draws greyish pictures in the dirt of unpleasant things. Mustafa meets a local little girl and sees that she is drawing lovely colourful flowers etc. which he really likes. The symbolism for joy and peace is very evident. The two kids start to hang around together and, while they can’t speak to each other, they enjoy each other’s company through play. In the end, they teach each other their name and thus begins a friendship. It’s a beautiful book of friendship and culture.
The Power of Children’s Literature
Quality children’s literature has enormous potential. Books entertain, teach, take kids on adventures, help them imagine and dream… You may just read a story simply for joy as a read aloud. Other times, your purpose is more to model and teach comprehension strategies and encourage kids to use metacognition to go deeper into the book. We know that reading a book more than once in a week is good practice. Using a children’s book unit that keys in on some of the richer elements of a story is the key to helping kids learn new ways of thinking about a book or an event. The right book unit can enrich the book experience without overdoing it.
I’ve created some new book units that focus on the theme of the book and have students work through beginning, middle and end meaningful and engaging activities.
Perfect by Max Amato is a funny book! It showcases the shenanigans of a perfectionist eraser and a carefree pencil. So many people can relate to this and kids are no different. In the end, the eraser is able to erase all the scribbles the pencil made but finds himself alone. He realizes that he needn’t be that picky.
The Incredible Freedom Machines by Kirli Saunders is a great book to read to kids to show them the power of the book. It takes kids on an adventure with these plant “machines” that turn out to just be the reader’s imagination.
The most recent book unit that I finished was perfect for Remembrance Day/ Veteran’s Day. I wrote about A Bear in War by Stephanie Innes a few years ago. You can read the post and see the activities I did here. This book really left an impression on me. It’s a true story about a little girl with Polio that sends her teddy bear overseas to be with her dad. The story is written through the eyes of the teddy bear as he sits in Dad’s pocket on the battle field. Dad does not return from war but the teddy bear does. It’s a bit sad, but the conversations with students are powerful, It helps them to see how important it is to remember those that paved the way for our freedom.
If you are looking to explore children’s books more deeply with your students and provide lessons where they can interact with their peers in book talks and activities, I encourage you to take a look at these units. You can follow my TPT page to be updated when new children’s book units are added.
What are you favourite children’s books that you would like to see a unit on?