Wednesday, February 10, 2016

An Introduction To The Revolutionary Whole Book Approach For Children's Books

Megan Dowd Lambert is an exceptional woman.  She has developed a new approach to children’s literacy called The Whole Book Approach Method. In association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, she has published a new book (Charlesbridge) called Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See.  

Megan’s innovative approach to storytime really does shake things up and not only does it make these valuable moments more interesting and fun, kids hone their cognitive thinking skills at the same time.  

“I began envisioning an approach that would invite children to engage with great picture book art on their own terms,” Megan says. "Like so many others, I appreciate the ease and convenience of screen readers, but a Kindle can’t hold a candle to the love I have for a book in hand,"

She has the right credentials to write this book. A senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons College, where she earned her master’s degree in children’s literature, Megan served on the 2011 Caldecott committee and now writes for the Horn Book Magazine. In 2009, Mass Literacy named her a Massachusetts Literary Champion.

As a reader, a mother, and a teacher, I know that we carry picture books about with us, not just as physical objects in our hands with pages that we turn, but as remembered experiences with stories and art, and with each other," says Megan. "I pick up a single picture book, and I recall not only the specific story and art on its pages but also the myriad insights that it provoked through Whole Book Approach readings that invited children to read words, pictures, and design along with me."

She writes in her book:

"During Whole Book Approach storytimes, children’s active participation in making meaning of all they see and hear during a picture book reading takes precedence over moving through the pages at the pace of the adult’s oral reading of the text.  The word “approach” is crucial – this is not a prescriptive method that would have you asking specific questions about picture book illustration and design in a certain order as you read aloud.  Instead, the Whole Book Approach simply stresses inviting children to react to the whole book – its art, design, production, paratextual and textual elements – in ways that feel natural and enriching to them and to you as the adult reader.  This method requires that storytime leaders – be they teachers, librarians, parents, or other adults engaged in reading picture books with children – immerse themselves in understanding the picture book as a multi-modal art form (one that uses both visual and verbal modes of communication) in order to consider how not only text and illustration but all design and production elements might contribute to the shared reading."

A spokesman for her publisher says: "The Whole Book Approach is a practical guide for reshaping storytime and getting kids to think with their eyes.  Whether storytime takes place in the classroom, library, or home, The Whole Book Approach serves as an elegant primer on the picture book art form for readers of all ages.  you will learn how the size and shape of a book influence how we perceive its content; how the jacket, casing, endpapers, and front-matter pages set the stage for the story to come; and how typography and page design impact the reader’s experience.

Megan began laying the foundation for the Whole Book Approach when she was working for the education department of the Eric Carle Museum. Several years – and about 25,000 students and 3,000 professionals – later, Megan is ready to share her groundbreaking technique for reading picture books with young children.

Chapters cover subjects like trim size and orientation, jackets and covers, endpapers, typography, and more.  With examples from well-known books, discover how a picture book’s design, illustrations, and words work together to tell a story and how incorporating these elements into the reading of the story enhances a child’s learning and love of reading.

As a result of reading Megan's book and employing her method, you may end up being part of a revolutionary approach to literacy. They should make a children's book to illustrate her success story.

Here is an interview with the author:

1.   Megan, why are you proposing we change how books are consumed by children?
It’s not so much that I’m proposing a change, it’s more that I am asking us to consider our intentions when we read with children. Literacy experts identify performance-based storytimes and co-constructive storytimes, and I’d place the Whole Book Approach in the latter camp. Shared readings can be a great source of entertainment in performance-storytimes in which the text is read aloud, uninterrupted. Children get a lot out of immersing themselves in the book’s words and pictures at the pace of the adult’s oral reading—especially if the reader offers a truly engaging performance of the text. I absolutely do not suggest abandoning such shared readings, but I offer the Whole Book Approach as another way to read with kids, or as a source of new idea that adults can add to how they’re already reading picture books with children in their lives.
Adults often act as mediators or gatekeepers in children’s reading lives, and with the Whole Book Approach, I’m advocating a child-centered approach to shared reading that makes children’s responses to picture book text, art, and design integral to storytimes at home, or in classrooms and libraries. This means there’s a lot of stopping and starting in the reading of the text in order to facilitate a discussion of words, pictures, and design. I think there’s another kind of pleasure that is derived from this sort of co-constructive reading. With the Whole Book Approach, I hope to inspire critical thinking, especially with regard to art and design, and to foster an appreciation for printed books in the digital age, not to mention great conversations about books between adults and children.

2.   How did you come to develop what you have coined The Whole Book Approach?

Julie Danielson at the children’s literature blog,  Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast wrote to me after reading my book and said, “with the Whole Book Approach storytime is a cooperative (ad)venture between reader and listener that joins dialogic reading with Visual Thinking Strategies.” I first learned about VTS in 2001 from the Founding Director of The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Nick Clark, when the museum was still under construction. I was finishing up my last semester as a graduate student in Children’s Literature at Simmons College by earning my final four credits in an Independent Study I designed that let me support The Carle as it developed its Reading Library collection and drummed up interest with local educators, families, and libraries in the year before its grand opening. Nick told me about VTS and how he planned to implement it in The Carle’s gallery programs and materials, and I was intrigued.

I liked how it took an inquiry-based approach to looking at art by turning the typical museum docent tour on its head: instead of having a guide tell a group tour about a picture, the docent asks the group open-ended questions to invite them to make meaning of what they see. The following overview is adapted from the VTS website.

The following three questions guide the discussion:

  • What's going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can we find?

And then the group leader uses these three main facilitation techniques:
  • Paraphrase comments neutrally
  • Point at the area being discussed
  • Linking and framing student comments

Throughout, the group is asked to:
  • Look carefully at works of art
  • Talk about what they observe
  • Back up their ideas with evidence
  • Listen to and consider the views of others
  • Discuss many possible interpretations

After learning about VTS, I started rethinking how I was leading storytime in The Carle’s information office and in outreach visits to area schools and libraries. First, I decided that instead of structuring storytime around a theme, I wanted to simply structure it around sharing a broad range of picture books with children, and I wanted to use VTS questions and techniques to invite them to critically engage with the picture book as a visual art form. I drew on my studies of the picture book at Simmons and started asking kids to reflect on endpapers, layout, why some pictures cross the gutter and some don’t. It was very exciting! In many ways storytime started to feel more like the reading I did at home with my son—it was playful and interactive, and it made children’s responses to art, design, and story central to the experience.

After leading storytimes with over 8,000 children in Western MA, I started travelling farther afield on behalf of The Carle, and the teachers and librarians who hosted me began asking for professional development about the picture book as a visual art form. One librarian in Vermont said that what I was doing reminded her of the PLA & ALSC’s use of dialogic reading in their (then brand-new) Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library initiative. This was my introduction to dialogic reading, which some describe as “Hear and Say” reading because it uses a series of prompts to ask children to respond to texts as they are read aloud. I realized that the storytime model I was developing might be thought of as “see, hear, and say” reading because I was integrating a focus on the visual elements of shared reading by focusing on illustrations and design.

So I integrated influences from VTS, dialogic reading, and my graduate study of the picture book as a visual art form and started inviting kids to make meaning of all they saw and heard from picture books at storytime. In workshops, talks, and professional writing, I started calling my technique the “Whole Book Approach” because I wanted to highlight the potential for all of the parts of the picture book—text, art, design, and production elements—to be sources of meaning and delight in shared readings.

3.      What evidence do you have that such a methodology works – and that it is as good or better than any current approach? I’d never say that the Whole Book Approach is a “better” way of reading aloud—there’s too much to be gained from other approaches (like performance-storytimes) to assert that one way is better than another. But since there are many kinds of learners and learning styles, I just think that there’s room for many approaches to sharing picture books. The Whole Book Approach is an intentional way to engage children with talking about art and design during shared readings of picture books. It’s also child-centered as it makes their responses integral to a reading. The adult’s job is to provide the facilitation needed to keep the experience engaging, enriching, and fun for everyone.

Along with my academic study of the picture book as a visual art form, VTS and Dialogic Reading are the main sources of inspiration for the Whole Book Approach, and their proponents have data and documentation to highlight how their pedagogy supports learning. I do not claim that the Whole Book Approach is the same as VTS or Dialogic Reading, but I encourage readers to investigate their work documenting the great potential of co-constructive, inquiry-based learning.

I also take great inspiration from the work of veteran early childhood educator Vivian Gussin Paley, whom I heard speak when I was also asked to present at the 2008 Kindergarten Conference at Lesley University. “I call on you to be foot soldiers in an army of anecdotes about the importance of play in children’s lives and learning,” she remarked, and I heard that call loud and clear. While recognizing the contemporary need for hard data about pedagogical methods that raise test scores and document children’s learning across the curriculum, Paley was adamant that we must also speak, write, read, and listen to stories about individual children and the stuff of their imaginative, creative lives. In essence, she argued that speaking to and about the heart in our advocacy on behalf of children is just as important as speaking to the mind.
In my book, rather than focusing on the central place of play in children’s lives and learning, my contributions to an army of anecdotes center on reading aloud and all of the cognitive play involved in children’s interactions with picture books. Where Paley works to document and explore children’s storytelling and dramatic play, I explore children’s active engagement with stories, pictures, and design as readers, listeners, viewers, thinkers, and as emotional beings.

4.   What did you learn about the beauty of children and their love for books while working at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art? I don’t know if this quite answers your question, but time and again, I learned that children saw and noticed things in picture books that I did not, and so I learned to slow down and let their questions and responses guide the pacing of the reading. Children come to picture books with their own experiences, strengths, and perspectives, and I want to give room for them and their resulting diverse responses to encounters with words, pictures and design.

“The beauty of children” that I see is the beauty of humanity. There is a humanizing potential in literature, and in all art, and in our encounters with it. By sharing experiences of and in these encounters we can explore what it is to be human. I know this sounds rather lofty for storytime fare, but literature and art, in all of their forms, are representations of human experience, and of our hopes and values and beliefs and questions. Picture books can therefore engage children with the human project of representing life in art. In my work I want that engagement to position the child as an active participant in making, interrogating, and exploring the meanings that picture books can offer.\

5.   Why are kids still slipping through the cracks and entering adulthood without strong functioning literary skills? This is a big question! I’m afraid I am not the best person to give a thorough answer, but I will say that I have learned a tremendous amount from Jonathan Kozol’s books—especially Savage Inequalities, Illiterate America, and The Shame of the Nation. I also want to recommend that everyone listen to this episode of “This American Life”. I am sure that systemic racism, continuing segregation arising from myriad historical and contemporary factors, and entrenched class stratification have a lot to do with the complex problem you cite, and this episode helps to expose such underlying factors. These sources just scratch the surface; there many, many scholars, activists, teachers, librarians, caregivers, and students themselves who are working to expose and address inequities in our educational system.

My book is not focused on school reform; nor is it overtly about dismantling racism or addressing class inequality. It is about empowering all children to think critically and it’s about giving their voices space in interactions with adults.

6.   By putting a greater emphasis on the visuals of a book, are you not emphasizing the words enough? The Whole Book Approach is founded on the recognition of the picture book as a multimodal text in which words and pictures work together to tell a story or convey information. So in my storytimes I say that we read the words but we also read the pictures. Words don’t get short shrift, but art and design get more attention than they would in a performance-storytime.        

7.   What are some of the best children’s books that you recommend children read with their parents? There are too many to name! I purposefully did not include a book list in my book because I didn’t want readers to think that the Whole Book Approach only works with some picture books. Try it out with any picture book! But, I love to direct people to the We Need Diverse Books website as a resource for finding books, and I will take this opportunity to highlight books I have recently used in Whole Book Approach storytimes and trainings and others that I am eagerly anticipating after seeing them at ALA midwinter in January:

Picture Books Used in Recent WBA Storytimes and Trainings:

·         My Father Is Taller than a Tree, by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
·         Freight Train by Donald Crews
·         Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de LaPeña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
·         Hush, Little Baby: A Folk Song with Pictures by Marla Frazee
·         Waiting by Kevin Henkes
·         Shhh! We Have a Plan by Chris Houghton
·         Big Red Lollipop Rukhsana Khan, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
·         This Is Not My Hat by John Klassen
·         A Crow of His Own by Megan Dowd Lambert, illustrated by David Hyde Costello
·         Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle
·         Just a Minute! A Trickster Counting Book by Yuyi Morales
·         This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad
·         The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
·         Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka
·         Bully; Green; and I Used to Be Afraid by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
·         Roger Is Reading a Book by Koen Van Biesen

Anticipating in 2016:
·         Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales
·         Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian, illustrated by Mike Curato
·         Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super Stream of Ideas by Chris Barton, illustrated by Don Tate
·         The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith
·         Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood by F. Isabel Campoy, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
·         Blocks by Irene Dickson
·         Old Dog Baby Baby by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Chris Raschka
·         When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Julie Morstad
·         In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
·         Real Sisters Pretend by Megan Dowd Lambert illustrated by Nicole Tadgell
·         Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McLintock
·         School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
·         There Is a Tribe of Kids by Lane Smith
·         Ideas Are All Around and Samson in the Snow by Philip C. Stead
·         Sing with Me! by Nakao Stoop
·         Home At Last by Vera B. Williams, illustrated by Chris Rashka

As I look at these lists, I am sure I am leaving out wonderful ones, so I hope readers will regard them as starting points. And, yes, I did include my own picture books in a bit of shameless self-promotion but also to highlight to work of my amazing illustrators.

8.   You point out that ebooks may have their appeal or convenience for some adults, but why are children’s books best enjoyed through a paper edition? The picture book as a visual art form. Digital platforms will evolve to make the most of how they can be used to tell stories and engage readers, but the picture book codex (bound at one side with paper pages to turn) is a perfect technology unto itself. I think there are reasons that transcend the sentimental or nostalgic for why the picture book is not only surviving, but thriving in the digital age, and I believe it will continue to do so. These reasons are based in the physicality of the book, and in what its design affords all of us, children and adults, when we meet in its pages. Page-turns, pacing, the size of the book, all of these elements, and more, contribute to how we experience the stories that picture books tell. And ultimately, every picture book holds, not just its illustrated story, but memories of shared readings and thus have the potential to become part of the material culture of our lives.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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