Why Picture Books Are Important by Deborah Heiligman

by Dianne on November 3, 2014

Deborah Heiligman cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Deborah Heiligman

As a small child, I took my favorite books to bed with me and hugged them as tightly as I did my yellow-and-white striped elephant. They were dear, comforting friends. But everything changed when I was in first grade. That was when we were allowed to take books out of our elementary school library. The book I picked off the shelf was also yellow and white striped. It was called What is a Butterfly?

I still remember exactly how I felt as my mother read the book to me, sitting on my bed. Each sentence was an explosion that unlocked the secrets of the universe.

As soon as we finished that book, I went back to the library and took out What is A Tree, then What is a Frog, then What is a Plant. I still loved and hugged The Little House and Debbie And Her Nap (because of her name, not the nap!), but it was the nonfiction picture books that changed my life. I didn’t know I would grow up to write, but I knew I could keep asking questions.

My first nonfiction picture book, From Caterpillar to Butterfly, was part of the Let’s Read and Find Out series published for decades by Harper. My two sons read their way through that series, just as I had read my way through the What is A…? series. And we all keep asking questions.

In fact, my passion is to write about topics I don’t know anything about. My latest picture book, The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, is a prime example of this. The great joy in discovery is just the same as it was when I was six.

Deboorah Heiligman

Deboorah Heiligman

About Deborah Heiligman
Deborah Heiligman is the author of 30 books for children and teens, many of them nonfiction, including Charles And Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith. The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos, won the 2104 Cook Prize for best STEM book. It was also an Orbis Pictus honor, a NY Times Notable, a New York Public Library top 100 Books for Reading and Sharing. Deborah lives in NYC with her husband, a nonfiction writer. Her two sons, who still have lots of questions, live in Brooklyn.

Picture Book Month Daily Theme: Non-fiction Monday, Insects

Curriculum Connections

Read The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos aloud.

At the end of each page, ask students what questions they have. Make sure to record all questions. No questions are silly.

At the end of the book, review the list of questions and discuss possible answers. Some questions may have been answered in the story. Maybe some kids would want to guess or “hypothesize” the answers that are still unknown.

Now research the answers in the library or on the computer. Assign certain questions to specific students or the entire class may research together as a way to demonstrate good research skills to those who might not be as experienced.

Create index cards for each question/answer and affix them with tape to the appropriate pages in the book as a reference or footnote.

Correlates to the Common Core Reading Informational Text standards: RI.1.1, RI.2.1, RI.3.1; Writing standards: W.1.7,8, W.2.7,8, W.3.7, W.4.7

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne Roberts November 3, 2014 at 9:57 am

Thank-you for this peek into your love of books and your inspirations. I hug books, too.


:Donna November 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Deborah, The Boy Who Loved Math is fantastic and I LOVE that you used to take your books to bed with you, hugging them like a teddy bear 🙂 You can’t quite do that with a kindle!


Deborah November 7, 2014 at 9:48 am

Thank you so much! I tell kids that if they read a book and love it, they should hug it–I’m certain the author feels that hug!


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