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Literacy Through Picture Books

Dear Elizabeth,
I like to use picture books when sharing time with my 2 ½-year-old. I would like to know if this is helping her learn to read.
Alan Martinez
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Picture books encourage expressive language & high-level thinking
  • Spend time reading & enjoying picture books every single day
  • Picture books help children develop the skills to learn to read & write
Expert Advice
Wilma Robles De Melendez, Ph.D.
Wilma Robles De Melendez, Ph.D.
Professor of early childhood education
The Different Kinds of Picture Books
Books are probably one of the best tools that we have when it comes to helping our children to become literate and to learn how to read. Essentially, through books, children are actually learning what we call the building blocks of reading, where they learn, first of all, how to identify sounds, how to actually learn about print and that print carries messages. That’s why we have quite a variety of books to choose from. We have, for example, the pop-up books, that definitely are a good way to cultivate children’s interests. We also have books with different textures that children also like, because they’re not only looking at the illustration, but they also get to sense and to understand the words that we use. We have the cloth books that are wonderful, because they can use them. They can chew and bend, and certainly they’re washable. I also love the books that are plastic, because they can take them to their bathtub.

Literacy Skills
There are many literacy skills that children learn through picture books. I would say that among the ones that are most important are what we call concepts of print, which is learning how to use books -- becoming familiar with how to open a book, how to actually read in terms of the directionality of print in the book. Children also learn how to look at the different images that we have in books, and reading illustrations is one of the important pieces that we have during the very early years, because they know how to actually look for details, which also helps in terms of understanding the stories. But they are also learning new vocabulary, which certainly contributes to building their language, and indeed another piece that they certainly learn is that they become familiar with letters, which is what we call alphabetic principle. So in reality, all of the main four building blocks for reading, they’re embedded whenever we’re sitting down to read a book to a child.

Introducing Picture Books
There are a lot of different ways to introduce picture books to kids. Probably the first one is making sure that the books are age-appropriate, that the topics or the themes are actually things that children want to listen about. Also we want to make sure that the books have very colorful and clear illustrations, because especially when they’re very young, illustrations carry a lot of the meaning and help them to understand the stories.

Do You Always Have to Finish the Book?
If a child is not really engaged in the book, then it’s best not to finish and to change the activity, because we never want to force a child to listen to a story, because then it’s not going to turn into a positive experience. We’re building a love for books so we want to make sure that every time that we look for a book, that a child will feel that this is going to be an exciting experience.

Reading the Same Book Over and Over
We all have a favorite story, and children definitely have their favorites, as well. I would stay that probably the best thing to do is once you know what topics your child really enjoys, try introducing different books on the subject your child likes. For example, if they like animal stories, then let’s start bringing other books that also have topics about animals. In that way, we are introducing them to other stories that they can enjoy and read along with the adult that is reading the story.

What Makes a Good Picture Book?
First of all, the book should be age-appropriate. I can’t emphasize that enough because that’s very important. Also, good picture books are ones that are very colorful and have stories with a variety of different situations and plots – silly stories, stories about animals, stories about things which are also familiar to the child. Also we want to make sure that the stories bring a lot of repetitions, and opportunities where the story can also allow for the child to be part of the story. Furthermore, read books that are a link to some of the experiences the child is going through or that are related to something that is happening in their environment.
Child Care Provider Comments
Michelle Kimbrough
Michelle Kimbrough
Mother of two
I read picture books together with my children at night time, right before they go to bed. They pick out the book they want me to read – usually the same books over and over. Kenny likes the “Little Bill” series of books by Bill Cosby. I point out the pictures and he tells me what he sees. Little McKenna will join in and try to tell me what the pictures are before him.
Joann Ordoñez
Joann Ordoñez
Grandmother of seven
I set aside time to read picture books with my grandchildren. I usually read with them on Sundays when I spend more time with them. They bring me the books they want to see. The twins are still learning. They like when I make the sounds of the animals in the books. For instance, in “The Three Little Pigs,” when the wolf is blowing the house down, I will make the noises of the wolf. Imitating the characters makes them enjoy it more.
Sylvia Rath
Sylvia Rath
Child care provider for 17 years
In our child care center, we actually have a writing house where kids make their own books at the school. The writing house is outside. It is for writing and drawing. They can identify the space as being for this. The house is light instead of dark. There are tables, chairs, tape, staples, paper, buckets with writing tools, and a chalkboard. We also have picture wire, so kids can display what they have written and drawn.

Homemade Picture Books Featured Activity:
Homemade Picture Books
Literacy Through Picture Books Featured Video:
Literacy Through Picture Books
Topic: Early Learning Areas
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