The Fall of 2006 brought me the savviest class I ever taught. Nearly all 32 of them scoffed at me on Wednesday, September 6th when I pulled out Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.
“A picture book?” one student said disdainfully.
“Yes, a picture book,” I replied. “We’re going to read lots of picture books this year.”
“Why?” another voice asked.
“Well-written picture books, like the ones I’m going to read to you this year, can teach us a lot about writing,” I said.
I was met with blank stares, know-it-all looks, rolling eyes, and a couple sucks of the teeth.
“I mean it. You can learn to become a better writer by reading picture books. There are a lot of amazing picture books out there. You’ll see.”
“Mrs. Bonner* didn’t read picture books to us last year when we were in fourth grade,” one student said.
“Well, I’m not Mrs. Bonner. I read lots of picture books aloud to my classes. You’ll see… you’ll come to love them.”
I don’t think I had my class convinced. Even though I knew they would come to love picture books in a short period of time, this was a case of show, not tell. Telling my students that they’d learn a lot about writing from picture book authors was merely lip service. It was pointless to tell them they’d come to find the value of picture books as fifth graders when they thought picture books were for babies. I knew I had to SHOW them by reading lots of interesting, well-written picture books. One wrong book selection in the first month of school and I knew I’d lose them. However, I had read picture books aloud to other fifth grade classes before… my books for the first month of school were road tested, so I was confident they’d come to find the value of these texts and would hopefully adopt some as mentors in the weeks to come.
I went back to my 2006-07 plan book last night to see just how I won my class over on picture books (and I did win them over). These are the picture books I read during the first four weeks of school. Some of them were meant to build reading-writing connections, while others were for other content areas, team-building, or just for enjoyment:
Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street
I’m in Charge of Celebrations
Two Ways to Count to Ten
When the Relatives Came
The Other Side
Too Many Tamales
NOTE: I was also reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes aloud in September since we were doing the Sadako Project (to build community). I also read several short stories, such as “Eleven,” “The Bike,” and “Josie’s First Allowance Day” to my class in September.
As you can see, I had an excellent array of books, which were my partners in showing my students how wonderful picture books could be — even in the fifth grade.
* = Name has been changed.
I am a literacy consultant who has spent over a decade working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grade K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.
I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).