I had the opportunity to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art recently for a workshop on the Whole Book Approach, a concept created by one of my Simmons’ Professors, Megan Dowd Lambert. The workshop was full of librarians, teachers, daycare facilitators and home schooling parents – some from many states away! It was led by one of the Carle staff, who was wonderful. Megan also incorporated the Whole Book Approach in one of the classes I had with her while getting my MFA in Writing for Children through Simmons (at the Carle Museum.) That class, aptly titled “The Picture Book” and Megan’s theory really helped me to understand just how complicated and calculated picture books can be. They are more than words and pictures! I had been a children’s librarian for a few years before getting my MFA and it opened a whole new world to me! While I don’t strictly use the Whole Book Approach in my story times at the library (I don’t do as many of them now,) I do try to weave it into my reading of the stories. I try to bring the parts of the book to the kid’s (and parent’s) attention; maybe discuss the cover, the end pages, etc., and how they work together, or just try to leave some of the story and illustrations open to their interpretation instead of inserting my own opinions.
During the workshop, we had a chance to attend one of the Carle preschool storytime sessions to see The Whole Book Approach in action. A nearby early learning center came with their preschoolers and they were obviously veterans of storytime at the Carle, because they knew a lot of the vocabulary and seemed very comfortable discussing their observations of the books. It was interesting to watch, actually. When the storytime first began, there were 3 kids there who were definitely not familiar with a storytime like this where they were asked to talk about what they saw while being read to. When the preschool class arrived, the first 3 children seemed to figure out that it was OK to talk about the pictures and picked up the concept quickly.
Traditional storytimes that children are used to attending at libraries, or with teachers or parents, are more of a performance on the part of the reader. Or, as Megan puts it, “I think of the Whole Book Approach as a means of reading with children, as opposed to reading to them, as it invites children to make meaning of text, art, and design–the whole book!” (MeganDowdLambert.com) There are certainly more books out there that actually require children to participate more in the telling of the story, such as Press Here or Tap the Magic Tree, etc. But inviting children to physically touch the book is still not really what Megan has in mind when she talks about reading “with” children
This approach inspires children (and adults) look at the book in a new way, taking every part of it into consideration. What is on the cover? What is on the back? Is the book jacket different from the cover? What do the end pages look like? Are there clues on the copyright page or the title page? Megan has done all the work for us so that we can share this with our children, patrons and students. Her book, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See, is a great resource and I was very excited that my workshop fee included a copy of the book! Gotta love those little perks 😉
I always love to visit the museum. I used to feel like I lived there while I was getting my MFA degree – I was in a satellite program and took all of my masters courses at the museum instead of at Simmons in Boston. Plus, I had a 10% discount in the store because of my workshop, so I had to take advantage of that! During the workshop there was time built in to visit the galleries, which included Eric Carle’s art from Brown Bear, Brown Bear. 50th anniversary! Check out his blog! It was really neat to see how the art changed over the years with each printing. One of the other main exhibits was the Eloise exhibit and the art of Hilary Knight. Very cool!