A Reflection on Picture Books in the Middle School Classroom
Many people believe picture books have a purpose and a place, but what about the middle school classroom? Picture books are traditionally considered reading material for young children and young children alone because of the brevity of the texts and the predominance of pictures (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006)(Billman, 2002). However, reevaluating what we traditionally think of as literacy can change the relationship between picture books and middle school classrooms. Literacy as we know it does not stop at comprehending and analyzing words; literacy extends to a much broader extent of comprehension and analysis (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006). Being able to comprehend and analyze pictures is an equally imperative skill for young adults. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the combined use of words and pictures accomplishes more than reading or viewing can alone. Pictures can express literary tools such as mood, theme, and tone on an even deeper level. The use of picture books in middle school classrooms can greatly enrich the study of these literary elements for young students.
However, many people make the mistake of thinking the content of picture books is easy; this is where education’s underestimation of picture books lies. Shorter text does not necessarily mean easier text, and pictures are not always quickly decoded (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006). Keep in mind the wide range of possible topics picture books can express. When people think of picture books they usually think of whimsy and fantasy, just a mode of expression for children’s stories. But what about adult topics? What about crime, violence, and war (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006)? What about abstract and complex ideas such as hatred, love, and peace (Billman, 2002)? Picture books can do what words alone cannot; they make abstract ideas concrete (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006). When was the last time you read and political cartoon and didn’t initially understand its meaning? This is the genius of using picture books in the middle school classroom; there is more information for students to process in the combined use of pictures and words together. Pictures in and of themselves have a meaning; words in and of themselves have a meaning; put the two together and meanings can change and delve deeper. So no, picture books do not necessarily equate to an easy read. Even setting all academic advantages of picture books aside, middle school students love reading picture books, and these reading materials can motivate them much more than a ten pound textbook (Costello & Kolodziej, 2006).
The idea of using picture books in the middle school classroom may sound infantile to some, but using the combination of complex content, words, and pictures can give students a depth of reading comprehension. Picture books do have a place, and that is not restricted to elementary school classrooms.
Costello, B., & Kolodziej, N. J. (2006). A middle school teacher’s guide for selecting picture books. Association for Middle Level
Education, 38(1), 27-33. Retrieved from http://www.amle.org/Publications/MiddleSchoolJournal/Articles/September2006
Billman, L. W. (2002). Aren’t these books for little kids?. Educational Leadership.