The Whole Book Approach

The Whole Book Approach

My Books

Reading Picture Books with CHildren by Megan Dowd Lambert

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This excerpt from my bookReading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See provides an overview of my development of the Whole Book Approach, a co-constructive (interactive) storytime model that I developed in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.

I think of the Whole Book Approach as a means of reading with children, as opposed to reading to them, as it invites children to make meaning of text, art, and design–the whole book!

Visit the The Carle’s page about its Educational Philosophy to learn about how the Whole Book Approach fits in with its educational programming.

In 2023 I published Read It Again: 70 Whole Book Approach Plans to Help You Shake Up Storytime, in print and digital versions.

Click on WBA plan picture book list 2022-08-26 to see the full list of 70 titles.

Digital books with 10 Whole Book Approach plans each, recommended for grades pre-k through 5 are also available for purchase. Order today!

Whole Book Approach Storytime Guides available for purchase at The Carle!

You can also purchase my Whole Book Approach Storytime Guides through The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. Each Guide includes an introduction linking the whole Book Approach to Critical Literacy Practice, plans for 10 picture books I selected, and resources and extension activities for each plan.

The Whole Book Approach and Critical Literacy

Recently I’ve been working on various projects that explore how Whole Book Approach storytimes can support children’s critical engagement with picture book representations of race, gender, class, and other aspects of identity in characterization. See my work with EmbraceRace and MERGE for Equality for more information about this developing area of my work.

Doors to the World

I’m also pleased that the Doors to the World initiative is including the Whole Book Approach in its resources for educators. Here’s to “making global children’s picture books and teaching resources available to PreK to Grade 3 teachers” and fostering critical reading.

Interested in adapting the Whole Book Approach for online storytimes? Check out this post I wrote for my publisher, Charlesbridge: 

Links for articles and interviews about Reading Picture Books with Children and the Whole Book Approach:

Events with Megan Dowd Lambert

Here I am leading the first-ever Whole Book Approach storytime at The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, right before its official opening day in November 2002

  • Rebekah Slonim wrote this terrific blog post, “Reading Like a Copyeditor” with commentary on how it helped her deepen her appreciation for an illustrated edition of The Wind in the Willows. (2023)
  • Author/illustrator Diane deGroat wrote this blog post, applying the Whole Book Approach to her terrific picture book The Adventures of Robo-Kid. (2022)
  • Scholar Terea Fleta cited Reading Picture Books with Children in the following scholarly article:

Fleta, M.T. “Illustrated Barcodes of Picturebooks: Artistic Peritextual Elements with Pedagogical Applicability”. Child Lit Educ (2021).

Whole Book Approach Storytime Stories

It’s been so wonderful to hear from readers who are using the Whole Book Approach after reading Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See. Reading with my own children at home played a huge part in my development of the Whole Book Approach. In this throwback photo I’m reading with five of my kids–all of whom are now book-loving tweens and teens.

reading with 5 kids

When I read with my sons and daughters we naturally do a lot of stopping and talking about text, art, and design, and I try to let them set the pace of these readings so that their questions, comments, and responses to my questions are an integral part of our reading. I want to bring this same interactive spirit to the storytimes I lead. I never want discussions to feel like we are just interrupting a book; I want them to feel like they are enriching our experience of story, art, and design.

I’ll use the space below to post reader comments that I’ve received about how using Whole Book Approach techniques has enriched the storytime practice of librarians and teachers who’ve read my book, and I’ll also post reflections from booksellers, professors, writers, illustrators, and parents and other caregivers.

  • I am a PhD candidate in mathematics, but I have always first and foremost been a reader.  I purchased your book on reading with children a few days ago and was struck not only by the cleverness and sophistication of the Whole Book Approach, but also by the many new ways it taught me to appreciate children’s books myself. All I wanted to do when I first finished reading was walk to my library and pore over all the favored books of my own childhood with new eyes.
    Thank you so much. Your book was spectacular and meant a lot to me. When I have my own children, your work will inform my reading to with them, and that is as high a compliment as I can give. -“Fan Letter” email from John Whelan, 2023
  • This morning, on an outreach visit, I found myself in an awkward situation… The daycare provider forgot I was coming and only had one child there– a 7 year old. And all of my materials were geared towards the 2-5 year olds I usually see on my outreach visits. But, because I was currently reading Megan Dowd Lambert’s “Reading Picture Books With Children” I was able to put into practice the whole book approach…The first book I grabbed was Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and it was PERFECT for exploring the whole book… Upon asking “do you know what spectacular is” and that combined with the fact that the two were digging a hole the 7 year old said “It could be something spectacular like another dimension!” already, I was blown away. We took time to really look at each picture– each part of the illustrations. After we read the book he enjoyed comparing the house in the first few pictures to the one at the end… he even recognized that the endpapers were red and green to correspond to the fruit on the trees at the beginning and end!

    Thanks to this book it wasn’t an awkward situation. I learned a lot, and so did the 7 year old. We really explored this book together. If you haven’t checked out “Reading Picture Books With Children” I highly recommend you do so! – Meg, posted on Storytime Underground March 20, 2017

  • “Thank you!  I have been a teacher/storyteller/librarian(secret writer) for over 40 years. Your book affirmed my interactive style of sharing books with kids and opened my eyes to focusing on the art! –Jan, reader email received February 2017
  • Here’s a blog post from Reading is Better than Chocolate about leading a Whole Book Approach storytime with one of my favorite picture books, Last Stop on Market Street. Posted 11/17/2016
  • I’ve been using these methods for several weeks now at my daughters’ school library and the results are indeed astonishing at times. By giving children the time and space to explore the physical book and the artwork as much as the words, so much more can be learned. Very rarely do children lose interest and the true challenge lies in keeping the pace moving so we don’t run out of time. I recommend this book very highly to anyone who reads picture books to children, whether your own at home or larger groups in educational or library settings. Annie posted 10/8/2016
  • I’m an illustrator passionate about nature, science and the environment. I volunteer at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery in Fort Collins. I’ve been working with them to develop a new program called “Storytime in the Dome”. Earlier this summer I was at the 21st Century Nonfiction Conference and Alyssa Mito Pusey of Charlesbridge Publishing mentioned your book, Reading Picture Books with Children. I picked up a copy and it’s wonderful!  We’re using your whole book approach for our story time event and it really made it a fun, interactive experience. I just wanted to say “Thanks so much and I look forward to your future books”.  – Cathy July 2016
  • I’ve been a children’s librarian for 3 ½ years and led countless storytimes.  But now I realize how much I’ve been missing, and failing to pass on to the children, and I can’t wait to put the Whole Book Approach into practice. We’ve had a two-week hiatus from our weekly storytimes, but we start up again this week and I’m hoping to try a modified version of the whole book approach and ease into doing more and more over time. I have a bit of a tough crowd since my group is the two-year-olds. I admit that sometimes I’m just happy if they stay relatively engaged and focused on the stories until we move on to what most of them really seem to want most: the music and movement part of the program. But I’ve been taking a good look at the front and back covers and end papers and all the other parts of the book I neglected to notice previously, and I’m eager to share some of my new discoveries with the children. My co-workers and I also take turns leading a craft and story time for 3-7 year olds and I’m in the planning stages for my next one. I’ve been planning brown bear stories and a brown bear craft, (sound familiar? J) but now I’m thinking that the possibilities are quite endless for me to try something a little different. I’m excited to try using the whole book instead of just focusing on the story.  A Visitor for Bear was already on my list, so I was delighted to see it used as an example in your book. In fact, I’ve been happily running to our picture book shelves on a daily basis to find the books to which you referred throughout the book and I feel like a whole new world is opening up to me. Although I focused on children’s services when I was studying for my library degree, my coursework in children’s literature never focused on picture book format. So here I am taking my own crash course, and loving it. I’m also so glad that I bought a copy of your book because I can share it with my colleagues, mark it up, and refer to it often. Thanks so much for including practical advice and suggested questions, and for opening my eyes to look at picture books in a whole new way.       -Renée May 2016
  • What a wonderful book! Thank you for putting into such an accessible text, a philosophy I have long subscribed to. I developed a two hour workshop around your notion of the whole book approach and delivered it to our teachers just yesterday. I guided them through the approach with a section of beautiful high quality picture books. The wonder in their eyes, their on-task behaviour, their excitement in their voices as they encountered so many a-hah moments was a joy to watch. And much of this from seasoned secondary (high) high school teachers! Thank you again for this book – it has made a real difference to me and to our teachers. Meredith, April 2016
  • Thanks to Prof. Susanna Richard for sharing these photos of her graduate students from Eastern Connecticut State University using the Whole Book Approach in one of their classes:


  • I just got a copy of Reading Picture Books With Children at my library, and I read it immediately! I really loved it and all your ideas about sharing books. Of course, I already knew you were a great writer from the pieces you’ve done for Children and Libraries in the past, but this was truly eye-opening for me, both as a writer and a librarian. And I loved the story especially about the kids getting images of Max’s mom based on Pierre! I had never thought of that! All your examples were really fun for me to consider and go back and look at the books myself. Thanks for a great title; I’ll be sharing it with all my colleagues, and I’m now inspired to read books with my daughter in a different way! Keep up the great work!” – Sharon, February 2016 


  • I saw your interview with SLJ, and it made me want to share a WBA-related story from one of my storytimes. I was reading David Miles and Natalie Hoopes’ Bookwith two third-grade patrons today in a rural library. When I asked what a “book about books” might mean, one patron noted that it might be a book with “fake books” in it. The other patron noticed the strips of pages used to decorate the book, and decided that the book was, rather, made of other books. Halfway through reading the book, that patron also told me I was saying book too much. So, rather than say the word when it came up in the text or in our discussion, I would pause and shut my lips tight. They loved that I wouldn’t allow myself to say “book,” and I loved that they thought it was so funny! Perhaps my favorite observation came when we returned to the endpapers at the end of the book.  In our original discussion of the endpapers–a collage of a series of letters in different scripts–the patrons noticed how some letters were “normal” and others were “fancy.” The fancy letters reminded them of fairytales. This might explain why both patrons had been noticing a strange tentacle/vine/dragon tail hidden in some of the pictures throughout the book. The identity of this creature is never revealed, but one patron suggested that the “fancy” letters in the endpapers might be placed together to spell the identity of the creature. We weren’t able to discover if that was true or not (in part because of how libraries tape the slipcover). But I just thought it was so cool–not to mention an excellent idea for a picture book! My favorite thing about using WBA is that it teaches children to really stop and read the pictures. I once read a Pete the Cat book to a preschooler and he was actually irritated when a shoe color that appeared in the endpapers didn’t appear in the story. I used it as an opportunity to discuss what might happen with those other shoes. Would the green shoes step in goo? The yellow shoes in bananas? I could share so many more stories. But, for now, I’ll just say thank you (again) for teaching me how to read pictures. -Alec, February 2016


  • I recently devoured Reading Picture Books With Children and have been implementing several of the Whole Book and VTS strategies with my students. The Whole Book model impressed me so much…Thanks so much for your insight, passion, and wisdom! – Emmie, February 2016


  • I just wanted to let you know that I’ve now read your book, and it is terrific. I’m assigning it as required reading for my twenty-seven students in “Art and Story: The Story of Picturebook Art,” which starts February 22nd. I know students will appreciate the approachability of your book! -Marianne, February 2016


  • Yesterday I received your book Reading Picture Books with Children. I was so exhausted last night, I could only get through the forward and introduction. I woke up this morning, grabbed my coffee and read the first three chapters before I had to get ready to go to school and put on my school librarian hat. I couldn’t wait to try new things I learned in the first three chapters. I read You Are (not) Small to prek, k and 1st graders. Your approach made for the best library time I’ve had in over 20 years. The conversations were rich, insightful, organic and allowed the children to really experience the art as a part of the telling experience of the story. I threw out those structured CCSS lessons and just let it happen. I am so thankful for your book, I emailed many people about it today. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for such an eye opener written in a format that isn’t stuffy, but approachable. -Ann, November 2015


  • There are very few books out there on how to read to children that have anything new and innovative to report and yet I felt curious and drawn to Megan Dowd Lambert’s book that caught my eye while at PNBA. I thought I knew quite a bit and am quite the dynamic story time reader but upon reading this book, I feel like I have a whole new direction to take story time.  I am so thankful that this book is so well written and the pacing allowed me to devour it in a couple hours and easily read it word for word and cover to cover and I admit that I took some time to notice the endpapers and took the paper cover off to peek within. I am ecstatic with invigorated book curiosity as a result of the questions posed within this book from the size and shape of the book to the books gutter and even the spine of the book…This book is spectacular…Thank you so much for finally providing a worthwhile and much needed book and I promise I will help get it into as many hands as I can as well as using it to transform our bookstore’s story times using the Whole Book Approach!  -Jesica, October 2015