SLJ Webcast with Yolanda Scott & Emily Prabhaker (& Book Giveaway!)

I recently participated in a webcast about the Whole Book Approach with my editor from Charlesbridge, Yolanda Scott, and my colleague from The Carle, Emily Prabhaker. We had over 1,500 people register in advance, and although I feel like we barely scratched the surface, it was so great to have this opportunity to spread the word about Reading Picture Books with Children. In fact, I was so delighted by it all that I decided to do a book giveaway on Twitter. Go to this tweet, retweet it and follow me @MDowdLambert by 3/16/16 (today!) for a chance to win one of three copies. Already own one? Already follow me? Retweet and enter anyway and you can choose another person for me to send a copy to. I’ve really loved using Twitter (must write a post about THAT sometimes soon) and am grateful for everyone’s support in helping me grow my reach there. The best part is when people reach back!

Speaking of which, the SLJ webcast audience sent along some questions, and I’m posting them with my responses here:

  1. This brings Tullet’s books to mind.

I love that you mentioned Tullet! His books are all about creativity and playfulness, and I love reading them with children. I had a student who told me her son once asked her “Could we just try NOT to press here when it says to?” and they didn’t, and when the dot still changed after the page-turn he was a bit crestfallen. “I kind of hoped it was magic,” he confided in her. But isn’t that sort of magical? That a book could inspire such an idea? He still loved the book and was eager to play along with its conceit, but I just love that story and how it speaks to what scholar Barbara Bader calls “the drama of the turning of the page.”

2. A side note, kids ALWAYS notice if a book has a “sticker” and I tell about the award.

Yes! I love doing that too, and sometimes we talk about sticker placement. My favorite example came from a storytime when we read Allen Say’s GRANDFATHER’S JOURNEY and kids said that the gold Caldecott Medal looked like the sun rising behind Grandfather standing on the deck of the ship. We’ve also talked about poor placement, like the copy of WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE that I had with the sticker placed right over the sleeping Wild Thing’s face.

In a moment of shameless self-promotion, I’ll say that I am so excited to get the silver seals for my 2016 Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Honor for A CROW OF HIS OWN. I still can hardly believe I received this honor and can’t wait to meet the medalists, Don Tate and Phoebe Wahl , and the other author and illustrator honorees, Julie Sarcone-Roach, Ryan T. Higgins, and Rowboat Watkins  .

3. How young a child is this method successful with?

I had multi-age groups at The Carle and visited all age-groups in outreach programs. I had to adapt how I used the approach depending on the group, but I’d say the sweet spot is probably 3-8. On the other hand, I really love using WBA with older kids as a means of inviting them to picturebooks if they think they’ve outgrown them. Recently I visited my daughter’s 4th grade class and a precocious classmate said to me “I only consider something a book if it’s over 300 pages.” I encouraged her to give reading pictures a shot and after a bit of initial resistance she ended up being one of the most active participants in our reading of THE CHICKEN-CHASING QUEEN OF LAMAR COUNTY by Janice N. Harrington, illustrated by Shelley Jackson (which, by the way, is one of my very favorite picture books.

4. Play Ball, Jackie! by Stephen Krensky, might be a good choice too. There is a lot history told in the illustrations. The illustrator is Joe Morse.

I don’t know this one! I am a big baseball fan and a perpetual student of African-American history, so I will track it down.

5. I have a couple of questions: How old are the kids in your storytimes? How long are your storytimes? Do you do this with each book you read, or just one per storytime?

The storytimes I led were about 30-minutes each and I always used WBA because that was my focus at The Carle. But I don’t suggest that this should be how everyone approaches storytime all the time; I just hope that learning more about picture book art and design, and really thinking about the different and important goals behind dialogic and performance storytimes will enable teachers, librarians, parents, and other caregivers to provide ever-more entry-points for children into the books they share with them.

6. Thank you so much! (Esquivel’s dimensions seem to mimic an LP record)

Isn’t that wonderful? I’m so looking forward to seeing this book when it comes out in September, and its Spanish version will be published simultaneously! Yolanda is such a smart editor, and the whole team at Charlesbridge is so talented. I owe so much to Designer Susan Sherman for making sure that my book’s design was stellar. The stakes were high given its focus!

7. What excellent illustrations in Hush Little Baby!!

Marla Frazee is a genius. I fell in love with her work when I first read HUSH LITTLE BABY and saw how she made this list-song a narrative through the front-matter pages. If  you don’t already know and love her work, take a look at this video about her inspiration and her dedication to creating great art for kids: 

 8. How large are your storytime groups?

It really varies! I love working with groups of about 10-25 kids, but I had a blast doing what we called “Big Screen Storytimes” at The Carle with over 100 people in the auditorium. I’d always have the book I was reading in my hand, but we projected pages onto the screen and I used a mic so everyone could hear, and kids would call out questions and responses as I read. One year when we had a Chris VanAllsburg exhibit we did this with THE POLAR EXPRESS and everyone came in their pjs. While the Christmas theme of this book wouldn’t work for a public library or school, I’ve also done this with BROWN BEAR for big groups (200+) at schools and with many other books, too.

9. One thing I’ve always wondered is if changes in font, font size, and spacing (words that curve or printed diagonally)….does that make it harder for beginning readers?

The short answer is yes. The long answer is that when it comes to picture books, there is usually an expectation that there will be an adult reading text aloud while the child listens and looks at the art to form what is called the composite text, or the iconotext, in her mind. So it’s ok if typography is complex and vocabulary is advanced because the adult is doing the decoding. On the other hand, a beginning reader book implies an independent, emergent reader so typography should be simple and clean in its design. 18 pt font is standard and the leading (space between lines) should be generous. I wrote about the differences in form and function for picture books and beginning readers in a while ago if you’d like to take a look:

“InFORMed Reading: Evaluating and Using Picture Books, Beginning Reader Books and Illustrated Books” in the Winter 2006 edition of ALSC’s Children & Libraries.

I also highly recommend K.T. Horning’s FROM COVER TO COVER and its chapter on “Easy Readers and Transitional Books” which I cite in my essay.

 10. I am intrigued by books like “Breaking News: Bear Alert”…I would never think to use something like that in storytime because it is so visually “busy”.

It’s not a title I have used, but I can see how it could be a lot of fun—particularly with a small group or with just a few kids at home.

11. Millions of Cats is one of my favorites!!

It’s a book I remember from my childhood, and I have had a great time using it at storytime-especially when The Carle had some of Gág’s work on display during an exhibit of artists who had illustrated works by Margaret Wise Brown.

12. One concern that comes up when I talk to librarians is they think their groups are too large to do this. Do you need to keep the size of the group small?

It’s luxurious to have a small group, but I’ve used WBA questions and techniques with very big groups. The word “Approach” is important here—it’s not a specific list of questions or steps to get through in a storytime; I’m offering a way to build on what you already do with more focus on book design and dialogic techniques. Just shake things up a bit by asking open-ended questions about book design, and by centering kids’ questions and ideas in your shared reading.

Although she didn’t call  it the “Whole Book Approach” here’s what Lolly Robinson of the Horn Book had to say about WBA storytimes I led during The Carle’s opening weekend in November, 2002, when we welcomed thousands of visitors:

“…I wandered into the museum’s small library to rest my feet and happened onto a storytime that tied together my most basic wishes in one child-friendly package. Megan Lambert…proved that children as young as two or three can be kept entertained by the details of picture book creation. While reading Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.’s BROWN BEAR to a large group of children of various ages, she managed to explain pacing of text and art, the basics of layout, and even book production (jacket, binding, gutter). She kept it interactive, and the kids were fascinated. And I, a former preschool teacher, had a feeling of satisfaction akin to hearing a sublimely performed concerto: I was witnessing a perfect group time.”

ROBINSON, Lolly (2003), “What do you see? The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art” [online], The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2003

13. Do you have a suggested book list for different ages?

I have a blog post that offers up a list of books I’ve used in recent WBA storytimes and trainings, but I like to think that you can adapt and use this approach with any picture book. Just keep it fun and interactive, and allow responses to art and design to guide your shared reading.

14. Where is The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art?

125 West Bay Rd. in Amherst, MA

15. How can we get your book?

You can order signed copies from The Carle  , and here’s a link to my website with other purchasing possibilities:

16. What kind of techniques are more appropriate for a very young audience (0 to 5 years old)?

I’ve had the greatest success with getting very young children to respond to layout (portrait vs. landscape) and endpapers. I love working with the age-group because they are typically so eager to jump in and talk about art and design. After all, although there are precocious early readers of text, most kids this age can’t decode words but they are eager and able to read pictures. My 1-year old is currently enamored of Helen Oxenbury’s baby board books and delights in acting out the babies’ activities. He’s clearly reading pictures and loving it.

 Part of what motivated me to develop the Whole Book Approach was that I wanted to bridge what I saw as a gap between how I read with my kids at home (interactive, lots of conversation, flipping back and forth to discuss how all the parts of the book worked together) and how I led storytime, or saw others do so, in schools, libraries, and at The Carle. I wanted to bring some of the homey, conversational feeling of reading at home into my work at storytime.

17. What about going through the book first to engage the children, then read the book in its entirety after a discussion?

I haven’t done this, but I’d really love to hear how it goes if you decide to give this a whirl. I’ve found that kids who already know a book I am reading are usually eager to get to know it better through reading in this way, and if it’s a new book to them they typically roll right along with the co-constructive, dialogic reading. I address the occasional comment from kids who want to read without discussion, who say “Can’t we just READ the book?” by saying something like, “We are reading the book, but we are reading the pictures, too.” Honestly, I’ve gotten more resistance from adults than I have kids, and my main message is to keep it playful and interactive, and fun. If it starts to feel like a chore to stop and talk, then keep moving or shift gears in some other way (and yes, my books has tips for managing pacing and keeping conversation flowing).

18. Another benefit of using the WBA is to engage pre-school children in the “serve and return” form of communication with adults that is so critical for early childhood brain development. The WBA provides that opportunity for meaningful conversation.

Yes! I was just talking with my 17-year-old daughter about this and how lucky her baby brother (age 1) is because he has so many people in our big family (I have 6 kids) talking with him all day long. I told her that talking and reading and playing with him is helping him learn language and is aiding in brain development. “Think of it this way,” I said to her, “His brain can only grow outward as much as his skull will allow it, so all of this new growth is making his brain get…wrinkly with new connections and growth.” It’s become a family joke that we are trying to make sure he ends up with the wrinkliest brain ever.

19. Some books are better to be shared with a large group than others. A document camera really helps kids access small pictures; however it distorts color and scale. Therefore I often shift back and forth between the projection and the physical book.

Yes! This is what I did in “Big Screen Storytimes” at The Carle. I don’t want to lose out on sharing the actual book, but the projected images (we used a projector with slides instead of a document camera) was a lifesaver for working with huge groups I will say that I am typically not a fan of “big books.” I feel like they end up distorting the art so that it looks a bit like it’s in a fun-house mirror.

20. In using the Whole Book Approach, in the time allotted, were you able to read the entire picture book and still have time to engage the children without cutting them off?

Yes—sometimes I might need to keep things moving, but I’d much rather read with a  very talkative group than a silent one! There’s a section at the back of my book that reviews various techniques I’ve developed to keep conversations flowing without making kids feel like I am cutting them off. I hope you’ll find it useful.

The other point I’d like to make here is that I’ve tried to embrace the idea that there’s a big difference between finishing a book and reading a book. I resist the impulse to get through to the end just for the sake of “The End.” I did that once recently at a storytime, and in retrospect I really should have just ended the storytime a bit early instead of trying to cram in one last book.

21. Can you talk about how to discuss the artist’s choices of materials/techniques (for example, watercolor) with children? What would be some key vocabulary to know?

This is the one area where I sort of retained the use of a storytime theme at The Carle. If I wanted to highlight an exhibition artist’s use of a certain media I might select books by other artists who use the same media—only collage books, or only watercolor, for example. Then I would tell kids that this was how I chose the books, and maybe that would become a focus of our reading conversation, but maybe it wouldn’t. I think of book selection as a provocation I provide, and then it’s up to me to facilitate the discussion that the children initiate in response to that provocation. In this sense, I take inspiration from the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, which is foundational to The Carle’s Studio programming.

As for key vocabulary, my book has a glossary that is largely devoted to book design terminology, but there is some visual art content there, too. I also love Jane Doonan’s Looking at Pictures in Picturebooks and its glossary.

22. I read Millions of Cats this morning. Kids were mesmerized!

It’s a classic! The storytime story I shared in the webcast about this picture book’s use of simultaneous succession is one of my all-time favorites.

23. Thanks for the insights! I have learned a lot. I love the picture book as a whole package but you have helped me think about getting even young children to appreciate that and become involved more fully in the experience.

It’s so gratifying to hear this. I hope to hear from you about your Whole Book Approach experiences on Twitter @MDowdLambert or online at


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