Close Reading with Sets of Related Picture Books

(Originally titled “Close Reading Without Tears”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Nancy Boyles (Southern Connecticut State University) says she is a big fan of close reading because it has the potential to teach students “to delve into a text and uncover one layer of meaning after another, to appreciate as much as possible a book’s multiple themes, diverse points of view, rich language, unique structure, and other carefully constructed nuances.” But Boyles worries that students may be a little daunted when we tell them they’ll be reading very difficult material more thoroughly than they’ve ever read anything before. In addition, close reading won’t be successful if teachers use random texts that don’t lend themselves to this kind of intense focus.

One way to make close reading motivational and successful for elementary students, says Boyles, is using sets of picture books linked by a theme, topic, author, genre, issue, or problem and getting students to explore significant points of comparison. Here are some possible sets with an overall guiding question:

• Who was Abraham Lincoln – the boy, the man, the president? (grades 2-5)

  • Honest Abe by Edith Kunhardt and Malcah Zeldis
  • Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman
  • Abraham Lincoln Comes Home by Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor
  • Abe’s Honest Words: The Life of Abraham Lincoln by Doreen Rappaport and Kadir Nelson

• How do you see the moon – as an astronomer, an astronaut, a Native American, or a storyteller? (grades 3-6)

  • Faces of the Moon by Bob Crelin and Leslie Evans
  • Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back by Joseph Bruchac and Thomas Locker
  • The Man in the Moon (The Guardian of Childhood) by William Joyce

• The Underground Railroad: What choices would you make? (grades 3-5)

  • Unspoken by Henry Cole
  • Minty: A Story of Young Harriet Tubman by Alan Schroeder and Jerry Pinkney
  • Night Boat to Freedom by Margot Theis Raven and E.B. Lewis
  • The Underground Railroad: An Interactive History Adventure by Allison Lassieur

Boyles suggests getting students to answer questions drawn from the Common Core standards. Here is a selection:

Standard 1 – Finding evidence:

  • Which text in this set presents facts or numbers in the most surprising or interesting way?
  • Which text raises the most questions for you?

Standard 2 – Finding the main idea or theme, summarizing:

  • Do the texts seem to have the same or different central ideas or themes?
  • How can you apply the central ideas of these texts to a current problem or issue?

Standard 3 – Analyzing how events, individuals, or ideas develop and interact:

  • Which text shows the strongest connection between parts – sequence, setting, characters, and central idea?

Standard 4 – Understanding word choice as craft:

  • Which text had the most positive tone? Which seemed the most biased?
  • Looking at all the texts, choose six words that are most important to understanding this topic. Why is each word important?

Standard 5 – Analyzing structure and genre:

  • Which text’s structure seemed the most helpful to you? Why?

Standard 6 – Assessing how point of view and purpose shape content and style:

  • Do these authors have the same or a different point of view?
  • After reading all the texts, which do you most strongly agree with and why?

Standard 7 – Assessing multiple forms of texts:

  • How did the illustrations change your understanding or feelings?

Standard 8 – Critiquing texts

  • Is the author of each text being fair to all sides of the topic?
  • Is there any information in any of these texts that you think might be incorrect?

Standard 9 – Making text-to-text connections:

  • What is the central idea across these texts?
  • Which text seems the strongest in terms of message, character development, facts, etc.?
  • Which text has the clearest connection to a problem or issue in the world today?

“Close Reading Without Tears” by Nancy Boyles in Educational Leadership, September 2014 (Vol. 72, #1, p. 32-37),; Boyles is at

From the Marshall Memo #553

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