Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A Picture Book a Day.....

A couple of months ago, I stumbled across this post from an educator I admire and I was immediately spurred unto action.  Jillian Heise 's knowledge of amazing children's literature and her passion for creating readers inspires me enormously. She teaches 7th and 8th grade English (which is equivalent to Year 8 and 9 in New Zealand) and she has, perhaps without knowing, helped me immensely as I built up my classroom library for Year 8s after a move from Year 5 and before that, juniors.

Jillian's post gives numerous compelling reasons advocating the use of picture books in a middle
school classroom. Her goal to read a picture book a day for a full school year is pure genius and with only five weeks of the school year to go, I decided I just HAD to do something similar with my girls.

I have always suffered happily from a picture book addiction; I must have spent thousands of dollars on picture books over my teaching career! Becoming a Mum gave me even more license to purchase as many books as my heart desired with no regard for the Mastercard balance! My own children have been the primary beneficiaries of this policy but the students in my classes have also benefitted enormously. My students and I have always lapped up picture books in large quantities, finding a perfect story for nearly every occasion. 

Then came a move to Year 8. Five months into the year, a parent complained to our principal that I was insulting the students' intelligence by reading my Y8s picture books. This practice was deemed by this parent to be beneath their daughter and inappropriate for a teacher of 11 and 12 year olds. My principal stood up for me but I was incensed! In an ironic twist of fate, one of the many sophisticated picture books we'd spent a huge amount of time discussing turned out to be the essay prompt in the child's high school entrance exam and she came back to school "high as a kite" and thanking me for equipping her so well for the exam! Hilarious. The parent however, remained adamant that picture books should firmly remain in the early years classrooms.

It turns out that this parent was not alone in their view. I have ploughed on in my use of picture books and I remain firmly committed to using them with my learners for many reasons. When I came across Jillian's post, I wanted to give her a virtual fist bump. I felt vindicated and like I'd been given official permission to continue using picture books with wild abandon!

My girls were about to start their very last month of primary school ready to embark on the next phase in their education adventure, secondary school. So I decided that we would, inspired by Jillian, read a picture book every day for their final month at school. Jillian suggested some titles and I spent a lot of time carefully planning which books we'd read together, using a mixture of my own personal books as well as placing many holds at the amazing Christchurch City Libraries. Books that made the cut included some stories about the experience of refugees (related to our Unit of Inquiry) a couple of Christmas picture books and a large dose of encouragement and pearls of wisdom as they head off to high school.

So many amazing titles! 

The girls loved the routine of beginning each school day at 8.30am with a story. They'd curl up on beanbags or under desks or cuddle up close to one another ready and waiting for the day's instalment of picture book joy.  From 8am on, they'd be trying to weasle out of me what today's title was and at the conclusion of the story, there was often spontaneous applause if the book had hit the right spot.

There are so many reasons why I think this very simple addition to our day was so successful but the most compelling reason is the ability of a story to enhance community through shared experience. This community bonding was exactly what my girls needed as the day came ever closer that they would splinter off to attend their various high schools.

I loved every single one of these books but one really stands out because every single student loved it, all three teachers adored it and my own two children loved it so much that my daughter wants to scan the pages and frame them for her walls. I had to return it to the library so you guessed it, I bought my very own beautiful copy.

An incredible book about friendship; such an important message before the girls move on to new schools. 

And one more deserves an honourable mention. Jillian recommended this for my girls' very last day at school. I read it to them before we shared memories of their years together and it gave many of us "sweaty eyes"......... but we're good with that! :)

Buy this book if you have a child starting school or leaving for their O.E. or....well, I'm sure you can find an excuse! 

I now believe that this is something I will do every year to finish my learners' primary school experience with a bang. So here's a question for you; which are your favourite picture books? Which do you think I should add to my collection?

Thanks again to Jillian Heise for the inspiration. I hope you are enjoying "The House that Jack Built" by Gavin Bishop; a fantastic author/illustrator from my home town of Christchurch, New Zealand.