• Esther Harder

5 Ways to Extend a Picture Book Reading Session

A good picture book should be requested on repeat. "Again!" that little listening voice should chime. And, obligingly, you flip back to the beginning.

But sometimes the pages of even the best book can blur together and you find yourself nodding off mid-sentence. Or maybe you really wish you could read that book five more times, but you should actually be logging into a meeting and would love for your little co-worker to occupy themselves with the story a little longer on their own.

It may then be time to to try some of these additional ways to interact with your picture books. The age of your co-reader / co-worker may require you to do some developmental adaptations to these options, or you may find that reading this list will inspire you to come up with your own activities better suited to your family's particular interests.

Option 1: Skip the Words

Two children in shorts squat next to a large box of sidewalk chalk.

Try reading the story simply by narrating what is going on in the images. Ignore the text.

Yes, an author said it: Ignore the text. See what illustration details come to life when you are looking only at the images to get a sense of what's happening in the story.

Picture books are structured so that the illustrations tell a deeper story or even a side story to what is going on in the text. Being able to "read the pictures" is as important as reading the words.

As you look closely, consider the following questions:

  • Can you identify how the characters are feeling?

  • Is there more action going on in addition to the main action that the text talks about?

  • Are there some hidden details (easter eggs) to discover?

  • If you could jump into the scene, which part of the setting would you want to discover?

There are any number of questions that you can ask your co-readers to discuss as you look at illustrations. Open-ended, wondering questions are the way to go, as they will get everyone thinking, and the responses may surprise you.

Option 2: Pick a New Lead

A jumbled box of plastic characters.

In this retelling, ignore the main character and choose someone else to follow through the story. This approach will involve a combination of looking closely at the illustrations for clues about this secondary character and paying attention to where that character shows up to do or say something in the text.

What do you learn about this character by studying them? Perhaps other relationships or dynamics between characters will be more visible when you set the lead aside.

This option can be repeated for as many characters as are in the story. Characters without dialogue can be picked up and analyzed, too! For example, in my picture book, Quarantine Kids, main character Elia has a monkey sidekick. Though Monkey does little other than getting dragged around the scenes by Elia, a closer look will reveal that Monkey participates by watching the action; Monkey's eyes track the imaginary characters that Elia creates. So, a great follow-up question when picking Monkey as the lead would be: I wonder what Monkey does when Elia isn't around.

Other, general questions for considering new leads include:

  • What does this character want or need in the story?

  • If this character were in charge, how would the story change?

  • Who are the best friends or biggest threats to this character?

  • If you got to hang out with this character for a day, what would you do?

Maybe your little reader will be inspired to write or draw some fan fiction, or a spin-off series based on a secondary character!

Option 3: Take them to Lunch

Two guinea pigs eat carrots.

This option takes more planning, but for delicious results!

You and your little reader can create snacks based on foods that show up in their favorite book(s). Perhaps this book reminds them of a comfort food they always beg for, but now they can pretend they are sharing that food with a literary character.

Or perhaps your reader is curious about a new food because they have watched their character friend enjoy it on every read. Capitalize on that curiosity and head to the kitchen.

Let the little one help with the prep if possible, but be sure to plan ahead so you know what materials you may need, and which utensils or steps your child should not be helping with. Years ago, I was a librarian assistant, and we had a program where we read a story and then cooked a meal or snack based on the story. Since I was leading this program live with elementary-aged children in the middle of the children's department, I had limited materials to work with (to keep children and books safe!), and we still pulled off some fun snacks like homemade chocolate pudding, a vegetable stew and cornbread, smoothies, and more!

Option 4: Put it Onstage

Four human marionette puppets in waiting poses.

Pull out the puppets, or the stuffed animals, or the dress-up kit, and act out the book! Your child has read or listened to this story so many times that you may find they can recite the entire book, line by line.

This option can be combined with choosing a new lead so that the story is seen from a new perspective. Put the villain in charge, or the younger sibling: Then what happens?

This is an option that may allow for side-along work. Give your child a goal; in so many minutes, you'll be finished with your meeting and ready to buy tickets to their performance. Or if you have an additional mobile device you don't mind them using, have them work on filming themselves and you can watch the performance together!

Option 5: Translate It

Perhaps you are a multilingual family. Or perhaps your child is practicing sight words, or certain vocabulary words for school. Or maybe you've been studying an additional language on an app but haven't found many ways to put it to practical use. This is an opportunity to stretch vocabulary skills!

We blend Spanish and English in our home, so we often translate books from one language to the other. Our little one is only just starting out with his first words, so we point out objects and foods that he can recognize, and he retells the story in his own way: usually a list of nouns with a few verbs thrown in.

Stories are built upon lists of nouns and verbs. Sometimes breaking down a story into its components in this way may spark a different interest: Just how much of the story's meaning CAN you capture with the vocabulary you know?

This option can be silly as well as studious:

  • What happens when you remove all the [choose a part of speech] from the text?

  • What happens if you replace a commonly repeated word throughout the story with a silly word?

  • How far can you get reading the story backward?

Playing with the text in this manner is sure to spark some laughter and possibly some new learning.

Keep on Going!

You've got the idea . What other ways can you think of to read your stories?

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