Using picture books with English language learners

Many picture books offer opportunities for children, and even adults, new to English to explore both the written and spoken language they are acquiring. How picture books are put to this purpose requires sensitivity to potential learners and wise choices of books to use.

English language learners represent a wide range of ages, life experiences, literacy levels in their home languages, and–just as important–linguistic and cultural histories. Many speakers of Latin American Spanish dialects, for example, may indeed be learning English as a second language. However, those coming to North American English from the Indian subcontinent and some Northern African cultures probably are conversant in multiple languages already and thus have a different skill set to use when learning yet another–third, fourth, fifth–language.  Screen Shot 2015-06-11 at 10.01.10 AM

Working with English language learners who are present in classes with native speakers also draws attention to the need to be inclusive, rather than focusing attention on the use of specific books as a means of gaining English fluency. With these varying potential student needs in mind, how and why can picture books become part of the learning experience?

A number of the Book-based Activities we develop for this site address the potential uses of titles with English learners. What do these books share?

  • They offer content that makes use of general life experience that is not culturally bound
  • They provide opportunities for relatively sophisticated discussions of the theme, plot technique, character development, or art presented
  • They introduce culturally specific tall tales or geography information that builds out the English language learner’s general acquisition of idiomatic expressions, local history and/or physical environment, and vocabulary used in a contextually engaging manner

One example of how such picture books can expand upon the English language learner’s current strengths is the Neighborhood Map activity described for Detective Gordon: The First Case. This activity works well for the English language learner who is mainstreamed with native speakers and can even allow her to excel in undertaking the exercise, which is based on observation and documentation through drawing.

A group of English language learners, who may within the group share no language other than beginning English, may find that the What If…? activity, suggested for The Incredible Plate Tectonics Comic, provides the opportunity for sharing information about their own experiences with earthquakes, work together to create a model that expresses possibilities, and expand their academic understanding both of STEM-related content and articulating ideas in their new language.

Building empathy into the experience of sharing picture books in a group that includes English language learners and native speakers can also expand everyone’s horizons. Inhabit Media, a wholly owned Inuit publisher, includes titles that are published in Inuit as well as English. The written language is unlikely to be familiar to anyone in the group, giving all a level playing field for understanding how an old language may be new to this reader.

What activities do you find comfortable for new English speakers and readers when you share and expand their reading choices? We’d love to hear from you!

Oh the things we have for you!

With the American Library Association’s Annual Conference rapidly approaching, followed by the annual conference for the International Literacy Association, we’re excited about all the new books we’ll have to show you!  We had a staff meeting yesterday, with Ellen doing her fabulous job of book talking us through the fun, the gorgeous, the thought-provoking, and the curious.

Among just a few of the treasures you’ll get to see, either at conference or on our Pinterest board for the conference (if you can’t attend in person) is Cheer-up Bird, from Lemniscaat USA, a fun–and yes, cheering–picture book by Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 12.57.42 PMEdward van de Vendel, with illustrations by Ingrid and Dieter Schubert. The Schuberts will be the featured speakers at the USBBY event in San Francisco, during ALA.

Gecko Press is bringing out When Dad Showed Me the Universe, by Ulf Stark, with illustrations by Eva Eriksson, which is already collecting lots of review praise in its English language edition. Although its on sale date in the  US is September, here at PS We’re Reading, we’ve already created some activity suggestions for teachers and librarians who might want to get a jump on preparing for new books to share with young readers after summer.

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 1.07.28 PMNo Starch Press, which is located in San Francisco and so can readily join us for ALA this year, is publishing an essential book for new secondary school and college students, Violet Blue’s The Smart Girl’s Guide to Privacy. We’re developing an educators guide to this title to help promote its importance to girls online everywhere and everyday.

Frederic Brremaud and Federico Bertolucci have created a magnificent wordless graphic novel Love: The Tiger, published by Magnetic Press and distributed through Diamond Comics. Publishers Weekly has already awarded it a starred review and you’ll see us developing materials to make sure this gets into the hands of readers of all ages.

Pajama Press has a new Princess Pistachio book, from  Marie Louise Gay. Princess Pistachio and the Pest is pulling in great reviews even as the eponymous princess heads into her own summer vacation. You’re going to be hearing more about that, and lots of other great new books for kids, very soon! Stay tuned!

 

Talking Traditions … and Noteworthy Children’s Holiday Books

Midwinter holidays offer children’s book authors, illustrators, and publishers many opportunities to share wonderful traditions from around the world. This year, KidLitTV shared a dozen or so new and traditionally favorite stories in their first Holiday Special (which, host Rocco Staino promises, will itself become a tradition). First up was Floris Books’ delightful new The Yule Tomte and the Little Rabbits (author Ulf Stark, illustrator Eva Eriksson; translated by Susan Beard), itself a smorgasbord of traditions to discover and repeat.

 

First, what’s a tomte? Floris Publishing is Scottish. But, the tomte is…Swedish. Tomtes, Floris explains in their own blog, are akin to little gnomes and make their homes in the woods and in Scandinavian mythology.

Yuletide traditions are abundant in both Scandinavian and British cultures. One such tradition that has made its way into many North American homes is that of the Advent calendar. And, in a nod to that anticipatory time-keeping, this picture book is told in 25 short chapters. Now there’s another tradition in the making: a chapter a night from December 1.

 

Thanks  Floris, for sharing this delightful holiday story, and thank you Luann Toth (managing Editor of School Library Journal  Reviews), for sharing it with KidLitTV fans!