February 20, 2012

Picture Perfect Teaching with Children's Books

By Debbie Clement, Guest Blogger

What a joy to share with you today from my perspective as a previous Elementary School Art teacher evolved now into an author/illustrator of picture books. My most successful author visits to schools unfold when teachers have directed their students to respond to my work prior to my arrival. It is a thrill to see the excitement of students who have ‘studied’ my style and are eager to share their efforts.

I believe that the correct picture book can address and illuminate all manner of educational learning standards and goals. The language arts may be the most obvious connection for the study of picture books by mature readers, yet the appropriate picture book may also easily direct studies of math, science, history, social studies and geography as well.

How can you find the right picture book? Here are some suggestions:
  • Select books based on the strength of their artistic style. In my art-room era, I selected picture books with strong graphics and design as well as those with vivid color, all of which lent themselves to study and interpretation by my students. The dramatic simplicity of Gerald McDermott’s art was always a hit with my upper elementary students. 
  • Search for picture books with a possibility of launching student discussion and creating writing exercises. 
  • Select picture books with an eye toward suitability/universality of subject matter comparing good vs. evil, right vs. wrong. These would make excellent source material to consider issues of bullying and diversity.
Take a look at this work created by third graders for my recent visit to their building in response to my INDIE Award of Excellence picture book winner, Red, White and Blue. Since all of my books' texts are based on original songs I’ve written and recorded, their guitars echoing notes on the staff were especially ingenious.

I’ll never forget the teacher who purchased my picture book, You’re Wonderful, for her eighth grade class. When I raised my eyebrow at the suitability of a picture book for mature junior high students, she quickly responded, “There is no shelf-life for issues of self-esteem. If ever there was a message I want my tween-agers to hear it is the text of your book.”

She went on to explain to me how in her role as math teacher she would have her students examine the geometry in my quilted illustrations. She shared scads of exciting projects that were unfurling in her mind as we shared possibilities. That’s when I realized the power of an enthusiastic teacher. There is potential everywhere.

Whether you infuse your week with the work of household names such as Patricia Polacco and Jane Yolen or reach for the work of Lynn Cherry, Paul Goble, Margaret Hodges, Jerdine Nolen, Joyce Carol Thomas or the lesser known Debbie Clement, you have the opportunity to infuse your ‘academic’ subjects with the Arts. Weaving together lessons to engage all learning styles and intelligence strengths will be certain to fortify the fabric of your classroom.

Debbie Clement is a former elementary school art teacher who now writes books and tours the country for speaking engagements, conferences, and author visits to schools. You can learn more about her books and materials on her Rainbows Within Reach blog. Debbie is an avid Pinterest fan with over 3,000 followers.


  1. Wow Debbie! What an amazing insight you've given us through art! Love it-thanks for sharing.

  2. You're Wonderful is my favorite! When you sang it for us, another teacher remarked that it would be so nice to start every day hearing that message, so I said, "Why don't you!"

    You definitely left a lasting impression on all of us and I'm so glad to see that you will be making many, many more schools all sushiney and rainbowy!

    Big Love to You!
    Sunny Days In Second Grade

  3. Hi Laura and Debbie,

    I just love this post. I am a quilter and teach art to our first graders in a weekly rotation. Debbie, your picture books look wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your ideas.

    First Grade Schoolhouse


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