Holy hairballs, folks! Do you ever read a book that gives you so many a-ha! moments that you’re just bursting to share it with others? Well that’s what happened when I read Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking About What They See by Megan Dowd Lambert.
I was first alerted to Megan and her work by the great folks at Storytime Underground. Then I got a hold of her book and I read the entire thing in one sitting (and read it a second time the next day!). Lightbulbs were going off left and right!
Megan writes about the Whole Book Approach in which “children’s active participation in making meaning of all they see and hear during a picture book reading takes precedence over moving through the pages at the pace of the adult’s oral reading of the text.” She talks about reading the whole book with children – the illustrations, the design, the pacing, the cover, the end papers, all of it. Reading her book truly made me consider the picture book as a piece of art, not just a container of stories. Her approach shifts storytime from a performance to leading “co-constructive storytimes” where kids are engaged and talking during the reading of the book, not just before and after.
I think one of the reasons Megan’s approach hit home for me is that she respects kids. Plain and simple. The focus of her storytimes aren’t the songs, rhymes, or books – it’s the kids who attend them and their ideas, opinions, and observations. She even says – “the child’s voice is crucial to the success of a dynamic and, yes, playful storytime experience.” I feel like that’s a philosophy I’ve been trying to put into practice for a long time now, and Megan’s book has given me some great ideas for how to make it happen.
One of the biggest things I took away from this book is to SLOW DOWN. Like, a lot. Sometimes I think back on storytimes where I tried to squeeze in 4 or 5 picture books to a group of preschoolers in 30 minutes. Looking back, I see so many missed opportunities to listen. In fact, one of my favourite quotes from Megan is: “I rededicated myself to listening – really listening – to what children had to say about the books I read with them instead of just listening for them to say things that I’d already considered.” WHOA. Now that’s keeping it real, folks.
I admire how Megan’s Whole Book Approach also seeks to keep the tone of storytime playful. She shares numerous examples of the hilarious and insightful things kids have said during a reading with her. During one of my recent preschool visits, a 3-year-old girl told me, “you need rain clouds to make frozen yogurt.” I eventually realized this had to do with her understanding of temperature and ice cream, but this little nugget would have never come about if I hadn’t spent time talking about the front matter which was covered in clouds. At the end of Reading Picture Books with Children, Megan provides an array of prompts and questions you can use in your own storytimes to elicit these types of discussions.
This is one of those professional development books that I’ll read again and again as I try out the strategies of the Whole Book Approach. Megan’s model positions “the picture book as a meeting space for child and adult,” and that’s a message that rings true to me in both my personal and professional lives.
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Full Disclosure: I received no payment, no ARCs, no monetary reimbursement of any kind for writing this review. I simply read the book, loved it, and wanted to share it with others. I received Megan’s permission to include the quotations from her book.