My Musings

Picture books and the development of pro-social skills

As mentioned in the About section of this website, I have been a picture book collector for quite some time. I have always been mesmerized by the way the artwork helps illustrate the subtle and nuanced themes in these books. I believe that as the oral reader, I can help children decipher the explicit and implicit themes presented in a way that is satisfying and empowering.

It wasn’t until the latter part of my career and in my role as the initiator of “Nana’s Read Alouds” when caring for grandchildren, that I really began to focus on the potential of thinking about using picture books to develop and enhance pro-social skills. This is not a revolutionary concept – many others have made the connection between empathy (Allyn, 2010), (Allyn  2018) and reading picture books. Others have looked at specific skills like sportsmanship (Book Birdie post, Sarah Jordan 2017) to illuminate this connection.

My goal in writing this post is to remind educational practitioners and parents that specific books can be selected with pro-social skills in mind. Have you ever heard teachers say things like, “I’ve been teaching for 10 years and I’ve never had a class like this one. They are at each other’s throats all day long,” or “I have a group of girls in my class that continue to exclude and verbally terrorize their classmates,” or “This group of boys really knows how to push each other’s buttons – they are taunting experts. I wish they paid as much attention to their writing assignments as they do to tormenting each other………” and on and on. These sentiments can also be applied to parents raising children – comments like “Why do they both feel they always have to win or be first? It drives me crazy….” are certainly commonplace.

Every elementary classroom should have a time during the course of the week when children are read to aloud. A recent study entitled The Rise of the Read-Aloud, which is the first installment of the Scholastic Kids and Family Reading Report indicates that parents are reading to their children more than has previously been documented (Allyn, 2019). Educators need to follow suit.

How are books selected? What I am suggesting is that teachers and parents be discerning when selecting books to read aloud and think about the themes imparted in a particular book. Whenever practical, try to align book selections with social skills that you believe need strengthening. I am not trying to suggest that every book read be chosen with this idea in mind. I am a believer that children need to select books to be read to them as well. What I am proposing though, is that as informed educators/parents we be strategic about book selection and think about what lessons can be learned both from words and illustrations by our students/children.

Playground Heroes, Jamal and Me and Talking Buddies are certainly examples of picture books that teach pro-social skills, but there are many others. Below are my favorites, but it is certainly not an exhaustive list:

Too Shy for Show and Tell by Beth Bracken

The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric

You’re A Good Sport, Miss Malarkey by Judy Finchler

Jamal and Me by Carol Franks-Randall

Playground Heroes by Carol Franks-Randall

Talking Buddies by Carol Franks-Randall

I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoet

Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard

The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill

The Worst Best Friend by Alexis O’Neill

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes by Mark Pett and Gary Rubinstein

Bully by Patricia Polacco

Rosie’s Brain by Linda Ryden

Nelson Beats the Odds by Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW

Sally Sore Loser: A Story About Winning and Losing

by Frank J. Sileo

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

I received some suggested books from a former colleague Sara Mills-Cohen, who had a distinguished career as a school social worker. Here is her picture book list:

Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna

Ruby the Copycat by Peggy Rathmann

Jessica by Kevin Henkes

Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Zero by Kathryn Otoshi

One by Kathryn Otoshi

I recently received two book recommendations from Stephen Reichlen, Library-Media Specialist at John Tyler Elementary School in Washington, DC. They are the following:

When Sophie Thinks She Can’t by Molly Bang

When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry…. by Molly Bang

If you have any other books to add, or thoughts to share, please use the Leave a Reply button below. Let’s continue the conversation!

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