Why Picture Books Are Important by Bethany Hegedus

by Dianne on November 17, 2017

Why Picture Books Are Important by Bethany Hegedus

Picture books delight. They entertain. Reading a picture book, both the art and the words, is like a trip to an art exhibit or getting to attend a fabulous play, without ever leaving the library or the comfort of the couch. But these days, picture books also inspire. They showcase personalities who resisted, who persisted, who have not been featured in American history books before—or if they have made their way into textbooks and history classrooms—have not been portrayed in a fully rounded way.

The picture book biography is a form I didn’t have as a child. Maybe there were some in the 1970s and early 80s when I was in elementary school, but they were mostly fact sheets with photographs, and not the gorgeous art of Evan Turk, Erin McGuire, Christian Robinson, or Vanessa Newton. The factual aspect of nonfiction is important, but as I’m a children’s picture book biographer, what calls to me is capturing someone’s life, full of achievements and setbacks, full of stumbles and triumphs, and having that say to a child reader of today… “How will I shape the world? How does my life —right now—as a child—going to shape the rest of my days? And not only how can I make a difference, but how will I?”

Today’s readers need inspiration. They are hungry for stories of real people overcoming any and all odds. They want to read stories of survival where they can see themselves, and the challenges they are currently facing, challenges our country is currently facing, and know we will come out on the other side. Changed. Stronger. Still resisting. Still persisting.
Picture book biographies are conversation starters. What I write is nowhere near as important as what the child readers share with me when I am lucky enough to be in their presence. When I am blessed enough to get to listen to the continuing conversation–that all started in the pages of a picture book. 

About Bethany Hegedus
Bethany Hegedus’ books include the award-winning  Grandfather Gandhi and the newly released Be the Change: A Grandfather Gandhi Story, both co-written with Arun Gandhi, grandson to the Mahatma and illustrated by Evan Turk as well as the forthcoming Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird (Jan 2018).  The Grandfather Gandhi books join Bethany’s novels Truth with a Capital T and Between us Baxters in gracefully handling race, class and diversity issues.  A graduate of the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults, Bethany is prior editor of the literary journal Hunger Mountain. Bethany is the Owner and Creative Director of The Writing Barn, a writing retreat, workshop and event space in Austin, Texas. A former educator, Bethany speaks and teaches across the country.

Literacy Activity
November 17 – Family

“The very nature of reading a picture book invites conversations and questions that support students developing understanding of language and the world around them.” (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013)

Ask students to collect family photos that show them when they were still babies until the present time. Create a family book with the photos as guide in telling their family story.

Suggested reading
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell and illustrated by Henry Cole
Emma’s Story by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Song Nan Zhang
Here Comes Hortense! by Heather Hartt-Sussman and illustrated by Georgia Graham
A Chair for My Mother or Un Sillón Para Mi Mamá by Vera B. Williams
Families by Ann Morris

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

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