Picture Books for Middle School

by Jimmie Lanley on October 19, 2009

Middle schoolers are far past the picture book stage, aren’t they? I used to think that. But I’ve learned differently through my own homeschooling experience. Picture books are still very appropriate educational tools.

collection of picture books

Once Sprite began reading chapter books, I was ready to clean up the bookshelf and give away a lot of her picture books. I assumed she’s outgrown them. Of course there were some select classics that we could never part with, but I wanted to make room for more “advanced” books. When she balked, I relented and didn’t force her to part with any of her books. As we’ve moved frequently over the years, we did give away books and of course buy more, some of which are, ironically,  picture books. What a turnaround! It was Living Math.net’s booklists that shifted my perspective on picture books. I tried a few of the recommended titles and discovered that they are valuable learning tools. Sprite has not outgrown them. In fact, I’ve not outgrown them!

reading The 5000 year old PuzzleFirst of all, picture books are fantastic for introducing more complex topics. Those tough concepts are made easier to understand through the illustrations and the narrative format. Also, a picture book is very nonthreatening. Its juvenile appearance masks the deep thinking between the pages.  Pulling out an all text essay may get some groans, but sitting with a picture book on the couch lowers those defenses and gets kids in the mood to learn.

Case in point:  while Sprite and I were having the “photo-shoot” for these photos, I asked her why she liked picture books. She said, “Because of the pictures, of course!” When I pressed her for details, she explained, “Things are easier to understand with the pictures.”

loving the picture booksSecondly, picture books are living books.  In studying online about the use of picture books for young adolescents, I found a common theme of contrasting picture books with textbooks. For example, look at A Middle School Teacher’s Guide for Selecting Picture Books. We Charlotte Mason educators already know the value of living books, so I won’t bother delving farther.

Furthermore, the illustrations in picture books provide yet another way to inject art appreciation into your homeschool. All it takes is a few pointed questions or statements to alert the child to the art:

  • “I really like this illustrator’s style. It’s so soft and dreamy.”
  • “How do you think the illustrator created these pictures?”
  • “Would you like to try to make some pictures like this?”
  • “Why do you think this illustrator used ___ in his pictures?”

Also, familiar picture books are a great way to first introduce the elements of fiction — plot, character, setting, point of view, conflict, and theme. Because the story of the picture book is already familiar, the child can focus his attention on the complicated literary analysis.

Reading The Librarian who Measured the EarthThe latest picture book we’ve studied is The Librarian Who Measured the Earth by Kathryn Lasky. It’s about Eratosthenes, the Greek scientist, writer, librarian, mathematician, and all around brilliant guy. (I’m pretty proud of myself for simply being able to say and spell his name!) There is some advanced math in this book! Seriously! This man estimated the circumference of the earth 300 years before Christ. It turns out that his measurement was off by only 200 miles. Pretty impressive. The book explains the steps he took to come to his conclusion. I have to be honest. If this information were not presented in a picture book with illustrations, there is no way I would understand it myself.

The way a middle schooler uses a picture book is quite different from the way a younger child does.  Obviously an older child is going to delve deeper into the topic, possibly searching out other resources after reading the picture book. I have Sprite narrate in writing, synthesizing the ideas we learned into her own words.  I encourage her to copy the diagrams in the book to enhance her narrations. Here are some Eratosthenes Notebooking Pages that we used for that purpose.

By the way, have you visited my Freebies Page recently? (Look at the links above the header, across the top of every page.) I’ve revised it quite a bit, adding links to many of my free printables, mostly notebooking pages. (Those files can still be found at HSLaunch, but I’m copying many files over to this website too for more organized access.)

So do you use picture books with your older children? Do you have any tips or titles that you especially like for homeschool?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }