As I wrote about yesterday, on Saturday I attended the Horn Book at Simmons conference. One of the speakers was a classmate of mine when I was a student at the Simmons Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. Megan Lambert now has one of those dream jobs in the children’s literature field. She works at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. Through her job, Megan has explored reading picture books with children in innovative ways and has developed and taught the Whole Book Approach. On Saturday, I had the opportunity to hear her talk more about this way of reading picture books with children, and came away with new ideas for story time at Inly.
As Megan explained, the Whole Book Approach is a way to integrate children into story time. The traditional idea of reading a story as an “adult performing for children” is reconsidered and reimagined. In this approach, the story reader is the facilitator. It’s a slower activity to be sure, but it’s a conversation rather than a performance. You begin by thinking of the picture book as a visual art form. The facilitator asks open-ended questions and raises questions about the design and construction of a book. As an example, Megan pointed to Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans and Rapunzel retold by Paul Zelinsky. Both of these picture books are “tall” (or portrait) books. Rapunzel’s story of life in the tower would not be as effective in a horizontal (or landscape) format. A book about a tower should be tall. Conversely, Chris Van Allsburg’s holiday classic, The Polar Express, works far better as a horizontal book. The train’s length and the journey are important elements of the story.
When Megan reads a story with children, she focuses their attention on the endpapers, the layout of the pages, and other elements of the book. As she pointed out, this approach isn’t the only way to have a story time. In fact, while I often point out design elements to our 1st through 5th grade students, I usually read straight through with younger children. It’s magic when kids start to “see” a picture book differently. I’ve had many experiences when children point something out that I never noticed or they interpret something in a new (and interesting) way. When I arrived at school this morning, I pulled Rapunzel off the shelf. Megan inspired me to get a few kids to take another look at that tower.