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every picture tells a story

Apr 19, 2009 // 3 comments // Categories: comprehension, inferring, reading // Tags: , , , , , .

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help kids use illustrations to support reading and thinking

The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart and illustrations by David Small, is honestly one of the most beautiful children’s books I have ever read.

The story takes place during the Depression and is told through letters that Lydia Grace writes to her Grandmother and parents after she leaves them to spend a year working with her surly uncle in his bakery in the city. She brings her love of gardening to her uncle’s shop and ultimately brings some sunshine to a previously depressed town.

  • The Gardener: Because we’ve been re-potting our terrarium, talking about our upcoming tour at a garden center, and beginning to start our outside garden, this was a great book to read tonight before bed. Maddy has also been doing a lot of reading in her own books, so I could tell that Owen’s been feeling frustrated. Tonight, I wanted to show them both how some authors use pictures to tell the story.

Several parts of this book use two-page illustrations to carry the narrative, so I modeled how to examine the inside cover illustration. I modeled my thinking:

Oh my goodness! Look at this incredible garden! I can see so many plants and vegetables growing here. Look at the sunflowers! See the lettuce? What else do you notice? . . . Look at the little girl showing the woman–maybe her grandma?–that huge tomato! It looks like she must feel proud of that tomato. They must work very hard to make their garden grow.)

Then we looked closely at the following pages’ illustrations and talked through what we saw. We asked questions (I wonder why those two people look so sad? What will they say when the little girl comes back with food from the garden?) and made observations.

When I finally got into the reading, Owen got the hang of it and could clearly explain what he saw. When he talked us through Lydia Grace’s arrival at the train station, I cheered–You did it! Owen, you’re reading! You don’t always have to use words to read; sometimes there are no words, so you use the pictures! That’s exactly what reading is–using the words and the pictures to tell the story! That’s exactly how Maddy is learning to read her books–and you’re doing the same thing. Good for you.

And that’s how we walked through The Gardner, talking about how the author uses both Lydia Grace’s letters and the illustrations to tell the story. What a beautiful walk it was–I’ll take this kind of learning any day.


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Comment (3) | Leave a comment

  1. I love this book and I really like how you have written your review of it. Would you be interested and/or willing to let us re-post this post with links to your site on We are looking for a “Teacher Feature: Book Review” for next Tuesday and this book is timely.
    Let us know what you think!

    Katie, Kevin and kids
  2. Sure, Katie–
    I appreciate your kind words and would be more than pleased to be a “Teacher Feature Book Reviewer”!

    Sign me up! It’s an honor to be included in your site.


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