An Introduction to the Whole Book Approach

Cover of Reading Picture Books With ChildrenMegan Dowd Lambert presented a webinar on the Whole Book Approach through the Massachusetts Library System last month; I heard about it from Rhonda Cunha, the speaker at January’s Youth Services Interest Group meeting (more on that soon), and carved out time to watch it recently. Megan’s presentation was excellent, and I’m planning to read her book as well (Reading Picture Books with Children, Charlesbridge, 2015). Here are some highlights from her introduction to the Whole Book Approach in the MLS webinar.

“The Whole Book Approach is a co-constructive model created by Megan Dowd Lambert in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art that centers children’s responses to picture book art and design.”

Megan emphasized that it’s an approach, not a method or a script. “Co-constructive” means that the storytime is interactive: kids are making meaning during the storytime, it’s not a performance by the adult reader. We are reading with children (discussion), not reading to them (performance).

Main tips/takeaways:

Cover of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • Engage children with a book they know already (e.g. The Very Hungry Caterpillar).
  • Ask open-ended questions (“What do you see happening here? What do you see that makes you say that? What else can we find?”).
  • Use picture book design and production terminology (jacket, case, orientation, trim size, gutter, etc.) to empower children to become experts about books.

Don’t be “the sage on the stage,” be “the guide on the side,” Megan advised. The group makes meaning together; facilitate responses, don’t correct responses. Be alert to nonverbal responses as well. For those – librarians, teachers, or caregivers – who are concerned that this approach will make storytime too rowdy, Megan offered techniques to redirect children’s attention when necessary, and advice for what to say to adults who may have concerns about the Whole Book Approach:

  • Point to the book and say “Eyes on art!”
  • “1,2,3 page turns”: If discussion wanders too far/long, wrap it up by saying, “We’ve had such a great conversation about this picture, let’s see what happens next. Count with me… 1,2,3 [turn page].”
  • Broaden the frame for a successful storytime: “That was a really busy storytime, but there are lots of different ways to measure success about storytime. Kids were excited about books, wanted to talk about their ideas and their feelings – that’s successful.”

Megan said she did not use themes in her storytimes, but chose books that she loved and wanted to share. Here are a few (not all!) of the ones she mentioned: Saturday by Oge Mora, This Is Sadie by Sara O’Leary, All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen, and Nine Months by Miranda Paul.

A lot of content was packed into an hour-long webinar, and I can already tell that my next storytime is going to be a little different: more open-ended questions, more time spent looking at the cover art. Thank you, Megan and MLS!

 

Readers’ Advisory: Novels featuring real historical characters

The Massachusetts Library System (MLS) has a new series called “5 in 15 Booktalks,” where librarians talk about 5 titles in 15 minutes or less. I got to work with the excellent MLS staff to put together a “5 in 15 member edition” booktalk, where I talk about novels that feature real historical characters, including:Cover image of Wolf Hall

  • Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies
  • Edith Wharton in Jennie Fields’ The Age of Desire
  • Mary Mallon (a.k.a. Typhoid Mary) in Mary Beth Keane’s Fever
  • Anne Morrow Lindbergh in Melanie Benjamin’s The Aviator’s Wife
  • Vanessa Bell (nee Stephens) in Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and Her Sister

Watch the video (me talking over slides). It was hard for me to narrow my list down to five titles, so I mention some others during the talk, including The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, Z by Therese Anne Fowler, Sutton by J.R. Moehringer, and a few others.

What’s your favorite novel featuring a real historical character? Or do you prefer your historical fiction to have a purely invented main character? Share in the comments!