I love picture books – to read on my own, to read aloud to my nephews and to write. But the side-effect of writing picture books is that I also have to perform the book – or as I call it – Sing for my Supper. I usually sing a modified version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm – all it requires is enthusiasm.
|Notice the cap and the drums...|
When I get invited into schools, I usually have to do sessions with children from Reception to Year 6. Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 are perfect for the picture books. I tell stories, we make up stories together and they love reading from the picture books.
Then for Year 3 and Year 4 – I read from my chapter books and discuss the stories for their inner meaning of justice and fairness. That’s all good.
But what happens when I go into Year 5 and 6 classes? They are too old for my picture books and definitely not interested in my younger chapter books. At first I used to show my books for 30 seconds and then say, “I write for younger kids, let’s do some writing ourselves.” I would never bring out my books again thinking they might not be interested.
Then one day it occurred to me that I could use picture books in Upper Key Stage 2 too, as long as I use them effectively to draw them in and bring a different perspective. Here are some ideas I use in Key Stage 2 classrooms with my picture books. Maybe as a writer in schools or a teacher you might be able to use them too.
Idea #1: Convert my fictional story into a non-fiction activity
I read the story aloud in class and then use the book as a jumping off point to discuss non-fiction that underpins the text.
For example Pattan’s Pumpkin is the retelling of an ancient legend – but when I use it in KS2 classrooms, I engage the children in the setting – the beautiful UNESCO protected Sahaydri Mountain Range and talk about the fauna and flora of the region. I bring in some information sheets about the region, the animals etc and the class works in groups to create non-fiction booklets about the mountains, or animals or India depending on which topic interests them.
Of course teachers love this workshop too as it covers a bit of geography, science, reading and I sneak in a bit of Maths. Check out the teaching ideas I share with teachers here.
Idea #2: Picture Book Story Board Workshop
In this workshop, I talk about the layout of a picture book as a writer. I show them my notebook where I break up text into spreads, draw boxes to figure out what might go into each spread. I talk about page-turns, exciting events and story mountains.
Then I give each table a story that I am currently working on. Each group then designs the picture book turning into designers and illustrators. They have to break out my text into spreads and put illustrations and words into 12-box grid. Each group comes up with a different design and they love to compare and discuss their reasons.
Idea #3: Plan Your Own Picture Book
This workshop is a combination of the other two. First I tell them a story from one of my picture books. Especially one that has a pattern – usually from one of the titles from the Farmer Falgu series.
For example, in Farmer Falgu Goes to the Market, my character goes on a journey and encounters problems throughout his journey and in the end finds resolution.
Then I invite the class to throw ideas into a big story salad. Can we make Farmer Falgu go somewhere else? Whom will he meet? What problems will he face? So far we have sent off Farmer Falgu to the moon, to the undersea and to alien planets. The children decide the characters Farmer Falgu meets, the obstacles in his way and the resolution.
Some children of course then change course and find their own characters and that’s okay too. Once we have discussed the basics, then either in pairs or on their own, they plan their storyboard. Some develop the whole story while others enjoy telling the story to everyone else. Read more stories that were developed in classrooms here.
The important thing is then the children engage with the picture book without guilt. They are often told they are too old for it. When they are allowed to, they enjoy it very much – but in a very different way.
So if you’re a picture book author who is nervous to go into older classes, you can move up from Reception, take off your costume and do workshops with the older kids too.