I have written before on the often overlooked benefits of using picture books as educational tools among all ages. While many have a tendency to write picture books off as simple entertainment for the very young, studies have shown that picture books can be powerful tools for teaching, even at the high school level (read some of the studies here, here, and here).
”To me, it’s an easy access point,” stated Brianna Crowley, a Pennsylvania high school teacher, in an article for The School Library Journal. “To them, it’s going to feel so accessible, but as a professional I’m going to know how to question to help them go deeper.”
This fact was driven home last week as I shared the picture book, This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos, with over 300 elementary students, ranging from Kindergarten through 5th grade. The younger students were immediately captivated by the cover illustration and excited to read the story. The 5th graders, on the other hand, immediately gave the book a wary eye.
This was a picture book.
Hadn’t they outgrown those years ago? If I’m being honest, this was my initial thought, as well. This is A. Blob is a fantastic book, but would 5th grade students be able to see past its illustrations and minimal language to appreciate the important message it communicated? It turns out, we were both surprised.
As soon as the book was opened, every student was drawn to the vibrant illustrations of Yuri Fialko. Even the older students were intrigued by the funny looking A. Blob on the cover and cringed at the sticky trail of purple slime it oozed over the other characters in the book. Captivated by the illustrations, the students were more open to the message of the story.
This nonthreatening quality is part of what makes picture books key tools for introducing difficult topics. Prior to reading the book, the students were asked to make some predictions on the personality of the main character, A. Blob, and I could tell that they were curious to see if their predictions were correct. I mentioned This is A. Blob was written, in part, because the author saw people around her not treating one another well and that she wanted to help people understand the consequences of unkindness. I never used the term “bully” or told them much more about the story.
Had I said we were going to read a book about bullying, I may have received some eye rolls or a barrage of stories and comments. The students, having been told not to bully so many times before, may have shut down. Instead, they lit up with curiosity when they saw a picture book with an interesting name and a unique looking character. Their walls were down and they wanted to hear what the author had to say.
The critical thinking prompted by the interplay of the illustrations and text in picture books is simply unmatched by any other medium; a fact which came through in my interactions with the students. There is one page in This is A. Blob that has just two short sentences: “This is A. Blob. A lonely purple gob.” With the opposite page showing a close-up of one of A. Blob’s eyes; a single tear streaming down its face. Even the most outspoken students were silent. This was a side of the character they had not expected. There were few words, but that one tear spoke volumes. You could see the wheels turning in their heads.
One student said he understood how A. Blob felt because he had moved schools last year and knew what it was like to feel left out. To him, This is A. Blob was a story about being different. Another student said her sister had been mean to her, like A. Blob, but she was nice to her sister and her sister started being nice to her. To this girl, the story was about the power of kindness. A kindergarten student said maybe A. Blob was mean because it didn’t like being purple. To her, this was a book about self-acceptance.
That’s the great thing about picture books. Their simplicity leaves so much open for interpretation. Over the course of 4 days, I spoke with over 300 students and the responses I received ranged far and wide. Because the story was simple, the students could insert their own experiences and interpretations. As a result of reading this short picture book, 300 students as young as 5 all the way up to 10, opened up to discuss empathy, the causes and consequences of bullying, how to deal with differences, self acceptance, problem solving, and other critical subjects.
So, were we reading a picture book? Yes. However, by the end of our discussion, none of the students were focused on the fact that we were talking about a picture book anymore. They were talking about real life problems and how to solve them.
Have you ever used picture books to open the discussion on a difficult subject? Have you read picture books to older students? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Check back here next week to read Part II of this school visit blog where I discuss how we made our own A. Blob slime and talked about the stickiness of words.
The writer visited two elementary schools with the picture book This is A. Blob, by L.A. Kefalos. To learn more about the author, visit her author page, or follow her on Facebook!
This is A. Blob is a masterfully illustrated picture book suitable for children ages 4-8. Written by Lori Kefalos, author of several award-nominated animated shorts, This is A. Blob is the first of a series following this bully. This first installment follows the antics of A. Blob, a slimy, purple, blob-like creature who wreaks havoc on the elementary school playground with its bullying ways. As the story progresses, however, readers learn that there might be more to A. Blob than meets the eye. Along with its powerful illustrations and rhymed verse for early readers, this story invites children to put themselves in the shoes of another. The book demonstrates that a bully can come in any shape, size, or color and encourages readers to consider why bullies behave the way they do – and start to consider what can be done to help.
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This is A. Blob by L. A Kefalos. $14.95
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