Picture books

Included in this post  are possibilities for teaching with picture books. I also include trait focus; teaching ideas for some of the texts; and suggested possibilities for how the text might serve as a mentor for writing craft, technique, and style.

NOTE! The possibilities for texts remain open to your “noticings” and those of your students. These are just mine—a text speaks to each of us in unique ways. Read. Like a Writer. Share your inner conversations with your students and have them share theirs with you. That is how we begin to connect to the work of writing.

Jack Prelutsky  If Not for the Cat

Trait Focus: Organization—17 haiku (and haiku has 17 syllables) about 17 different animals; Voice—haiku expressed in voice of each animal (point of view); Word Choice—haiku demands small, powerful writing—choice of every word is powerful

Writing Craft possibilities: Point of view—how the 17 animals see their place in the world; Haiku as form

Cynthia Rylant  The Whales

Trait Focus: Word choice—beautiful, poetic writing to present facts about whales; personification; Conventions—colon, periods of ellipsis

Writing Craft possibilities: Personification is strongest possibility—we do not expect the whales to be thinking…; also–an interesting approach to a non-fiction topic

 Ralph Fletcher  Hello, Harvest Moon , Twilight Comes Twice

 Trait Focus:  Word Choice—powerful, figurative language; OrganizationTwilight describes dusk and dawn through talk of phenomenon of twilight; Hello, Harvest Moon uses beautiful language in poetic form to describe the phenomenon of the harvest moon

These books could be studied together, as they both define, explain, present natural phenomenon in beautiful, poetic language. An interesting aside to share with your students: Fletcher got both ideas for writing these books from his own writer’s notebooks and observations of the natural world.

Writing Craft possibilities: Facts can be presented imaginatively, creatively, while maintaining their factual essence; Intense study of a natural phenomenon and trying out expressing it through poetic language; Writing small—saying, describing so much in so few words

Jane Yolen  Welcome to the Sea of Sand, Welcome to the Ice House

These texts would be a great study alongside Fletcher’s previously listed texts, as they both take the reader through  a natural environment using poetic language

Trait Focus: Word choice–every word selected for the beauty of the language

Writing Craft possibilities:

Could be used to explore and practice the genre of poetic non-fiction

Gary Paulsen  Canoe Days

 Trait Focus: Word Choice—several made-up words (airwater; skylake); Organization—a canoe trip and events witnessed along the way (sequencing); present-tense writing

Writing Craft possibilities:

Making up words for visual effect

Writing small—the book describes one event

Beautiful, figurative language

Writing of a place you know well

Karen English  Hot Day on Abbott Avenue

 You could never leave this book for all of the possibilities!!

Trait Focus: Organization—one hot, long day…(sequence); Word Choice—powerful! Made up word phrases ((..a ropes-hitting-ground day; a ropes-making-rainbow-day; Repeated phrases (ropes swishing air, whistling air, strumming air, kissing air—to describe jump-roping)…and so many more examples throughout; Sentence fluency—rhythmic sentences; Conventions-Writing Dialogue

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing small

Playing with words

Present tense writing

Collage Art


Jane Yolen  Owl Moon

 Trait Focus: Organization—writing of one event; circular story

W ord choice—figurative language; onomatopoeia

Sentence fluency—repeated line (If you go owling…)

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing of a place, of a special memory, and writing small

Using color to enhance text

First person point-of-view

Rhythmic sentences, poetic writing

Jack London Froggy’s Sleepover; Froggy Rides a Bike…and so many others


A must-read-study of an author for youngest writers!

Trait Focus:


Word Choice—onomatopoeia

Conventions—placement of text, variation in font

Mentor possibilities:

Writing from what you know best (young kids connect to Froggy’s experiences and his stories can launch their own)

Creative use of fonts and lettering

Creative use of punctuation

A great author study

Roni Schotter  Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street

 Trait Focus:

Organization—a trip down 90th Street

Ideas—writing of a place you know well


Writing Craft possibilities:

This is a good book to read and share aloud for the possibilities of writers “noticing” their daily worlds.

A good study of how a story moves through time.

Everyday events that we often miss, do not pay attention to—great for all ages of writers.

Eric Carle  “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly,: said the Sloth

 Trait Focus:

Conventions—use of quotations; commas

Writing Craft possibilities:

Should be used in an author study of Eric Carle, whose simple stories and beautiful collage art appeal to young writers.

Cynthia Rylant   Night in the Country

 Trait Focus:

Word Choice

Ideas—telling about one thing

Conventions—use of colon; onomatopoeia

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing of a place you know well

Use of color to enhance text

Writing small

Doreen Cronin Diary of a Worm (Spider…Fly)

 Trait Focus:


Idea–Point of View (perspective)


Writing Craft possibilities:

The hilarious diaries invite kids to write their own versions from the point of view of an animal (I have seen kids’ diaries of pigs, horses, and bats)

Keeping a diary, journal. Record of important events

Jackie French  Diary of a Wombat

 Trait Focus:

Idea—perspective of an animal


Sentence Fluency—artful use of fragment

Conventions—use of colon

Writing Craft possibilities:

Could be used alongside Cronin’s books for a study on this kind of text

Artful use of fragment to reflect diary-type writing

Melinda Julietta & Lucia Guarnotta  We Are Bears; We Are Wolves

 Trait Focus:

Ideas—lives of young bears, young wolves told through events in their worlds

Word Choice—repeated phrase (we are bears, we are wolves)

Writing Craft possibilities:

Creative examples of non-fiction written in a fiction-type format that is easily imitated by students

Donald Hall & Barry Moser  I Am the Dog I Am the Cat

 Trait Focus:

Organization—flip-flopping of a conversation—dog speaks, cat speaks, dog speaks….

Conventions—text presented in script-like form with use of colon

Writing Craft possibilities:

Great simple text to show how scripts are written

Point of view

Use of colon to set off speaking

Good example of a Conversation text

David Wisnieweski   The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups

 Trait Focus:



Word Choice


Mentor possibilities:

Could spend so much time with this book as it offers all traits, really, and all in powerful ways. The focus is on lists of grown-up rules, so the appeal to kids is automatic.

Easy to imitate and try out on their own

Conventions use—artful breaking of rules—chapter titles in lower case, for one

Collage art

Karen Hesse   Come on, Rain!

 Trait Focus:

Organization—a slow move through hot summer days with no rain; poetic look and feel


Word choice

Sentence Fluency—many repeated phrases to add rhythm

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing small—of one event

Writing to make reader feel a natural phenomenon—heat of sun in city with no summer rain, and then the feel of the coolness when the rain comes

Repeating phrases for rhythm

Use of color to match text

Kristen Joy Pratt-Serafini  Salamander Rain: A Lake and Pond Journal

Trait Focus:

Organization—science journal; non-fiction text features (sidebars, inset, borders, captions, and many more

Ideas—recording science information in a journal

Writing Craft possibilities:

Interesting model for student report-writing of scientific facts

Non-fiction text features-study

Annette Langen & Constanza Droop   Felix Travels Back in Time

 Trait Focus:

Organization—trip around the world through the letters written by Felix, a stuffed rabbit

Writing Craft possibilities:

Not just letter-writing, but also a unique way to present historical facts

Faye Gibbons   Mountain Wedding

 Trait Focus:

Organization—one event

Word Choice—natural, regional dialogue

Writing Craft possibilities:

Word Choice—natural, regional dialect to reflect two country families

Dr. Seuss, Jack Prelutsky & Lane Smith  Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!

 Trait Focus:

Word Choice, as with all Seuss books

Writing Craft possibilities:

I would use this book for one reason alone, and I have used it for this reason: the book was actually written after the death of Seuss, by his friends, Prelutsky and Smith. The Epilogue to the book tells this story AND includes many of the planning, drafting, revising, editing notes by Seuss himself. It is a study in the work of how a writer thinks and of the many, many decisions that writers make to bring life to a book.

and other titles of places or objects

Diane Siebert   Mojave, Sierra, Cave…and many, many others

 Trait Focus:

Voice—written in inanimate voice—-the desert speaks, the mountains speak….

Word Choice—poetic non-fiction

Writing Craft possibilities:

If possible, gather as many Siebert texts as you can for an author study.

Beautiful use of figurative language reflected in the “voices” of natural phenomenon, and in other texts, through regions (Heartland) and objects (Trains)..and many more.

Gary Paulsen   Worksong; Dogteam

Trait Focus:

Word Choice

Sentence Fluency

Writing Craft possibilities:

You cannot beat Paulsen for a study of language and sentence use. He is so artful with variation and with rule-breaking.

Writing small of everyday phenomena.

Marsha Wilson Chall  Up North at the Cabin

 Trait Focus:

Word Choice—beautiful figurative language

Ideas—writing of a place you know well

Writing Craft possibilities:

Students need good models of what we mean by writing from what you know and how writing of a place you know can be powerful—this is such a model

The look and feel of the text is poetic

Creating visual images in reader’s mind

Writing small with description

Jonathon London    The Eyes of Gray Wolf


Trait Focus:

Organization—an event across time (one night)

Word Choice—poetic—beautiful imagery

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing facts in poetic language

Writing of one event across time

Writing small

Writing in present tense

Jean Craighead George  Look to the North: A Wolf Pup Diary

 Trait Focus:

Organization—life of wolf pup told through calendar months/seasons

Writing Craft possibilities:

One of many good models of texts that show that informational writing can be very expressive

Diary text

Nicola Davies   Bat Loves the Night

 Trait Focus:

Organization—combines facts with narrative of a bat’s journey through a night of eating

Conventions use

Word Choice—definitions throughout

Writing Craft possibilities:

As an aside—writing from what you know—the author write this book from her observations of the pipistrelle bats that live under the tiles of the roof of her home.

Combining fact and fiction

Including fact notes at end of book

Would be a great text for study of how different writers approach telling of bats (Stellaluna, for example, and there are others)

Byrd Baylor    Everybody Needs a Rock; I’m in Charge of Celebrations

 Trait Focus:

Organization—narrative poem with concentration on natural phenomena

Word Choice


Writing Craft possibilities:

Byrd Baylor should be an author study—all of her books focus on the southwestern desert. Great models for noticing and telling of a place. The above are just two of many books by her.

The Rock text is a list-type book, easily tried out by students.

The Celebrations text is  good model because the girl who is the narrator describes how she names events in the world as celebrations and records them in her writer’s notebook.

Jamie Lee Curtis   Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day; When I Was Little: A  Four-Year Old’s Memoir of Her Youth

 Trait Focus:

Organization—stylistic, interesting placement of text, illustrations

Ideas—the things most important in a small child’s world

Writing Craft possibilities:

Writing what you know—all of her books appeal to young kids—an author study is a must if you can all of her books

Libba Moore Gray   My Mama Had a Dancing Heart

Trait Focus:

Organization—told through seasons of year; poetic form

Word Choice—poetic, powerful (We’d do a seabird-flapping, dolphin-arching hello summer ballet…) throughout

Writing Craft possibilities:

A great model for students to play with language


Patricia Polacco   When Lightning Comes in  Jar; MY Rotten Redheaded Older Brother

 Trait Focus:

Ideas—writing from what you know

VoiceSentence Fluency

Writing Craft possibilities:

Polacco’s books make a great author study. Most ideas originate from her real life, which makes them good models for kids to write about what they know best.

2 thoughts on “Picture books

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