Watch Adrienne Gear's webinar “Using Picture Books as Mentor Texts." She shares some of her favorite “Gear Picks” picture books and practical ways to integrate them to support reading, writing, and thinking across curriculum.
On the first day of my Language Arts methodology course for my Bachelor of Education degree at the University of British Columbia over two decades ago, the professor entered the small lecture room, walked up to the podium, and began reading aloud the picture book When I Was Young in the Mountains. I sat, riveted, as he filled the room and my heart with Cynthia Rylant’s beautiful words. That experience profoundly impacted me as a teacher, more than anything else I learned in teacher training.
Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I love books. I don’t feel just a small affinity for them; I’m talking heart-racing, book-sniffing, fingers trembling love that knows no bounds. Anyone who knows me professionally knows how children’s literature is woven into all aspects of my teaching practice. I don’t remember a time when I began a reading or writing lesson without a picture book in my hand. Picture books are my teaching partners and are woven through the fabric of almost every lesson I teach. I am on a continual quest to find the perfect book for that strategy, that lesson, that topic.
Along with a picture book anchoring my lessons, the benefit goes far beyond the actual lesson. I begin my school year with books that help me build a positive class community: I read books about names and invite students to share their name stories; I read books about families and culture and invite students to talk about their own; I read books about grief when a student in my class experiences a loss; I read books about mindfulness as we begin our daily mindfulness rituals.
Picture books have become the undeniable link to my students. Books have an almost magical way of inviting connections, conversations, and deep thinking better than any other teaching tool out there. These conversations are seldom about what happened in the story, but more likely to be about what is happening in our lives: conversations about our families, our feelings, our friendships, our fears; about bullies, basketballs, worries, and dreams. Flashy YouTube videos and interactive gamification smart boards aside, you will never go wrong with a picture book in your hand.
There is a misconception that picture books are intended to be used in primary classrooms and that once students move into the middle grades, they should be reading novels and textbooks. For those of us who know picture books, we know that there is no “too old” age for picture books. For every picture book for younger students, an equal number contain sophisticated themes, language, and content that far surpass the level of understanding of a six- or seven-year-old (i.e., books by David Wiesner, Shaun Tan, Chris Van Allsburg).
Five Reasons Why Picture Books Are an Essential Part of My Literacy Instruction:
1. They’re short, so I can cover a lot of ground in a single lesson.
2. They introduce complex concepts in an accessible, child-friendly way.
3. They help to create a class community and a feeling of belonging.
4. They provide every child with an access point into a story.
5. They invite readers to think, connect, feel, and discuss.
I have written seven professional books for elementary teachers in literacy over the past 15 years. You can find them here. Each book comes complete with my recommended “Gear Picks” books for lessons. It could be a picture book for practicing inferring from my Reading Power book, a mentor text from an author who is a master at creating sensory details from Powerful Writing Structures, or a picture book to support SEL from my Powerful Understanding book. There is a book for everything!
Adrienne Gear has been a teacher with the Vancouver School Board for over 25 years. She provides professional workshops, demonstration lessons, and leadership sessions to schools and districts throughout the province, country, and internationally. She has worked as a classroom teacher, teacher librarian, and district Literacy Mentor. Adrienne is the author of seven books: Reading Power – Revised and Expanded (Pembroke, 2015), Nonfiction Reading Power (Pembroke, 2008), Writing Power (Pembroke, 2011), Nonfiction Writing Power (Pembroke, 2014), Powerful Readers for Secondary Students (2016), and her latest books Powerful Writing Structures (2020) and Powerful Poetry (Pembroke, 2021) Her books have been translated into French, Swedish, Danish, and Chinese. Find all of Adrienne's books here.
Follow Adrienne on Instagram or Facebook: @readingpowergear, or on Twitter: @AdrienneGear.