Why Picture Books Are Important by Trisha Speed Shaskan

by Dianne on November 1, 2015

Trisha Shaskan book cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Trisha Speed Shaskan
Two years ago, I taught an ELL (English-language learners) class to seven Somali students ranging in age from six to ten-years-old. The students had only lived in the United States for several months. In the beginning of each class, we sat on the floor and I read a picture book. On this particular day, I chose David Small’s Imogene’s Antlers, which begins, “On Thursday, when Imogene woke up, she found she had grown antlers.”

All the students leaned toward the book in surprise. A few students widened their eyes. A couple students laughed. One ten-year-old girl who I’ll call Hani said, “What?” She touched the page. She laughed. She smiled. As I continued to read, the students inched in closer and closer. Afterward, by pointing out some of Small’s lively illustrations and using the language they had already learned, the students discussed how Imogene, the kitchen maid, and the cook accepted and embraced Imogene’s dilemma, but Imogene’s mother and the principal did not. After completing an activity, the students had free time on the computers. Hani asked for the book. Using it as a guide, she found the “Reading Rainbow” episode that features Imogene’s Antlers. She put on her headphones, sat back, laughed, and smiled. For the remainder of class, she watched the episode over and over again. Hani had traveled 8,000 miles from Somalia to Minnesota where she was expected to learn a new language, become educated, and fit in at a new school. Hani understood, laughed, found meaning, and perhaps found herself in a picture book about a child who accepts being different—and embraces it—even when she’s challenged. While increasing a child’s language and visual literacy skills, picture books broaden a child’s world and provide a place for human connection and understanding.

Trisha Shaskan headshot

About Trisha Speed Shaskan
Trisha Speed Shaskan has written over thirty picture books for children, including Honestly Red Riding Hood was Rotten!: The Story of Little Red Riding Hood as Told by the Wolf. Trisha’s forthcoming picture book Punk Skunks is illustrated by her husband, Stephen Shaskan, and will be published by HarperCollins in February of 2016. Trisha has been an educator, bookseller, and worked in a library. She received her MFA in creative writing from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Trisha lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband Stephen, and their cat Eartha, and dog, Bea. Visit her online at trishaspeedshaskan.com.

Literacy Activity
Nov 1 ~ Sea/Ocean

“Although fiction picture books provide fantastical elements, these stories provide wonderful springboards for conversation about fact vs. fiction and can spark the desire for further research.” (from the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Book Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Cast your line for some picture books about the sea and go fishing for facts. Do sharks talk? If not, how do they communicate? Do sea otters live with their families? Can fish really share their scales? Then, using the list of questions, search the library or Internet for answers.
Suggested reading:

The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Nugget and Fang: Friends Forever—Or Snack Time! by Tammi Sauer, illustrated by Michael Slack
Turtle Island by Kevin Sherry
Swimmy by Leo Lionni
I’m a Shark by Bob Shea

Be sure to download the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classroom for more engaging ideas and activities to bring picture books into the ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies curriculum!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lauri Fortino November 1, 2015 at 12:23 pm

What a lovely, heart-warming story. It’s amazing what picture books can do!


diana murray November 1, 2015 at 1:15 pm

Trisha, you truly rock!


Pamela Haskin November 1, 2015 at 10:54 pm

What a delightful story. I was smiling the whole time seeing the wonder of your students.


Marlys Honeyman November 2, 2015 at 10:43 am

Picture Book Month makes the end of summer bearable. Thank you to all involved. What a great kick-off, Trisha Speed Shaskan! I’ll never read IMOGENE’S ANTLER’S the same, and I’m sure this will warm David Small’s and all picture book creator’s hearts. Thanks for poignant, encouraging, and inspiring example of how capturing and sharing the fruit of our imaginations can transforms lives.


:Donna November 2, 2015 at 5:31 pm

What a great anecdote, Trisha! It goes to show that picture books are like music—universal and invaluable 😀


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