When I think of literature in secondary education, I think about Harry Potter, Hunger Games and the classics. Now, I have been wronged before so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when I saw my mentor picking up picture books for her year 8’s.
I think I stopped reading picture books when I was about six. My parents read Nijntje (Miffy) to us when we were little. After that, I read picture books of Disney by myself. Not long after that I just read books with pictures every now and then. It is interesting to now return to picture books and see how much has changed over the years.
So far, most picture books I have seen come from the hand of Shaun Tan. Shaun Tan is an Australian illustrator. In 2011, he won an Academy Award for his adaptation of The Lost Thing. The themes of his books are easy to relate to for students. Additionally, his use of symbolism makes his books great content for an introduction to symbolism.
The Red Tree, for example, is about a girl that deal with depression. Students often pick up the use of colour throughout the book. Additionally, every page contains a leaf of the red tree. This tree stands for hope. Students may not find the leaf on every page, but in most cases, they will point the leaf out. When you ask the students, ‘what does the red leaf mean’, some students even understand that it is hope.
Picture books are very useful when you teach a classroom with a huge difference in literacy level. When you are working on symbolism, you could hand the low literate students a picture book, while the more advanced students annotate a poem. Both groups will be working on the same content through different context.
In short, picture books are great to use in secondary school to introduce hard concepts such as symbolism. As a teacher, you can also use the books to differentiate, especially, when you have students in your classroom with a low literacy level.