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Picture books and easy readers | Class #2, fall 2016


During our first class, we started to look at picture books. For our second class on October 19, we are adding easy readers into the mix. Here's what we are reading and discussing:

  • Two more picture books

    • Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown

    • That New Animal by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Pierre Pratt

  • Two easy readers

    • There Is a Bird On Your Head! by Mo Willems

    • Ling and Ting: Together in All Weather by Grace Lin

  • Picture This by Molly Bang (who will also be our guest speaker — lucky us!)

Both picture books feature characters who misbehave. Or maybe they are working out how to be true to their natures while also understanding the expectations of their companions.

Our two easy readers use humor and familiar situations to help struggling readers begin to enjoy reading. Notice how the texts of the picture books are so much more complex, and how their art can tell a story that runs counter to what the text is saying. Easy readers are very difficult to create. The text must be so much simpler, and the art needs to provide clues for readers who struggle with the text. Any Tom, Dick, or Jane can follow those rules, but making them into a book that is enjoyable and entertaining is so difficult.

Molly Bang had already created several picture books when she decided to figure out how pictures work. The result was Picture This, just out in a beautiful 25th Anniversary edition. Molly says she began to understand art and composition better through this exploration. While Picture This was originally written for adults, I know some teachers in later elementary and middle school who use the exercises in the second half of this book with their students.

We hope you will join our online pre-class discussion of all five books.
Note: Students have been asked to research specific book creators and websites and add their findings in the comments.

  • Kate M. will comment on Peter Brown

  • Alex  H. will comment on Emily Jenkins

  • Amanda M. will comment on Pierre Pratt

  • Santi D. A. will comment on Mo Willems

  • Jinwen Y. will comment on Grace Lin

  • Lauren W. will comment on Molly Bang

  • Longy H. will comment on the Seven Impossible Things blog

  • Carli Spina (TF) will comment on the Calling Caldecott blog


Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is a freelance designer and consultant with degrees in studio art and children’s literature. She is the former creative director for The Horn Book, Inc., and has taught children’s literature at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogged for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.


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Stone Dawson

I agree absolutely with what everyone has said so far about "Mr. Tiger Goes Wild." The contrast in colors and shapes, the way the pictures urge the reader to turn the page and discover what happens next, and the message of the story are all great for young readers. I also loved how the illustrations use the perspective of the reader to tell the story. As mentioned above, most of the animals in the book have their eyes closed throughout the beginning of the book, while Mr. Tiger stares directly at the reader. This really helps the reader understand just what Mr. Tiger is feeling in a much more substantial way than if he was looking at the other characters. The perspective of the reader is also used when the other animals tell Mr. Tiger to go to the wilderness, placing us in the shoes of Mr. Tiger which is fascinating. Finally, Mr. Tiger, upon realizing his boredom and loneliness in the wild, looks at the reader almost pleadingly, as if we, as the page turners, are in control of what he can do. Overall, a simply wonderful book!

Posted : Oct 18, 2016 03:52


I enjoyed reading Mr. Tiger Goes Wild so much that, after I finished it, I logged onto Peter Brown's website to learn more about him. I also watched a video about his creative process for developing the story, which was very interesting. He discusses his inspirations for the illustrations, as well as the research he did on Victorian-style art when creating the buildings in the story, and he emphasizes his use of vertical and horizontal in the spreads. That was something that I noticed and appreciated while reading the book. For example, when the Tiger is walking upright, all of the buildings and characters are also vertical. In the same vein, my favorite spread is the one where he gets his "wild idea" and gradually sinks lower and lower on the page until he is crawling on all fours. I thought that was very cool and I imagine it would also be engaging for children reading it. Additionally, as others have mentioned, I love the message, not only of uniqueness but also of balance between wild and proprietary. So great! I look forward to reading more of his work.

Posted : Oct 18, 2016 02:42

Mia Branco

I don't think I have ever come across a Mo Willems book that I don't like, and There is a Bird on your Head is no exception. Willems has a wonderful way of developing simple dialogue and interaction between his characters that is both straightforward and full of personality. In dialogue created with exchanges made of single words, simple sentences, and facial expressions, Willem is able to show how important and empowering it can be to advocate for yourself as well as how your perspective may change when you are observing a situation versus experiencing it first hand. Best of all, he does so with humor and compassion.

Posted : Oct 18, 2016 01:13


Echoing other's sentiments, I was also struck by the illustrations in Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. The vivid orange stands in stark contrast to the muted grays and greens and browns of the city, reminding me of the illustrations in the book Extra Yarn, written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by John Klassen. In this story, the main character brightens up the town she lives in by knitting pieces all over town with her extra yarn, similar to the "yarn bombing" phenomenon that spiked in popularity a few years back. I love the idea the Mr. Tiger brings color to the rigid, drab world around him, and I found it powerful that the wilderness he ventured into was also depicted in brighter, fuller colors, juxtaposing it with the muted city. In contemplating the power of these images, I wondered, after last week's reading of Mirror, how this book might have worked without text. I think the breaks in the text and the varying sizes added rhythm and cues for emphasis into the story, but I wonder if a similar story and effect could have been realized without text, relying on just the power of the illustrations. I think commentators above were right that the illustrations subtly suggested what might come next, and while one may not understand the full story line without text at first glance, one perusal from start to finish should spell it out clearly enough. Given the traditional dependency on written word in books, I have only recently begun to contemplate the usefulness of textless books for children and adults alike. Reading words can be challenging, especially for children, but lack of words challenges one differently - creatively, imaginatively. This could perhaps encourage children who have a strong sense of imagination and story sequence but struggle with words or language. It is interesting to think about what makes a textless book successful and to image traditional books as textless, and I have a feeling I will be thinking a lot about this as the course progresses.

Posted : Oct 18, 2016 12:38

Katie Stack

I agree with Shuwen about the humor in the books. While student teaching in third grade, we did a unit on books that the librarian indicated were up for the Caldecott in 2014, which included Mr. Tiger Goes Wild. The students were entirely engaged by the story and captivated by the illustrations. It is such a great way to promote individuality! Now rereading the book through the lens of this course, I noticed some features that were overlooked before, such as the design, use of color, and amount of text on a page. I also watched a video in which Peter Brown discussed his illustration process, which I'd recommend! For example, he discusses how he wanted to show Mr. Tiger walking on all four legs. To emphasize Mr. Tiger's horizontal posture, he emphasized the verticality of the buildings and other animals. Just as I appreciated how Lolly revealed the spread pattern of Where the Wild Things Are , I really valued hearing Peter Brown's thought process that led to his wonderful illustrations. link to Peter Brown's video (scroll to Mr. Tiger Goes Wild):

Posted : Oct 17, 2016 11:02

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