Being a new member of The Brown Bookshelf, and primarily a picture book writer, I thought it fitting that I dedicate myself to blogging about newbie/PB stuff. My mission is to provide inside info— tapping a broad spectrum of key decision makers that drive what is currently deemed marketable (and therefore, most likely to be purchased). I’ll also shed light on the present and evolving status of PBs in the industry.  

I’ll seek out the usual suspects to help us make sense of all this (editors, agents, and booksellers), but I’ll also access experts and gatekeepers whose thoughts we writers don’t often hear. Toward that end…

Tonya Pointer is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT), certified in the area of Elementary Education (K-6), and a member of the North Carolina Association for Educators (NCAE).

BBS:  Welcome to The Brown Bookshelf, Tonya.

TP:   Thank you.

BBS:  How long have you been working in the field of literacy/education?

TP:   I’ve worked in the educational field for 19 years…ranging from paraprofessional, teacher, literacy facilitator, and now reading specialist.

BBS:  What age group do you currently work with? What age groups have you worked with in the past?

TP:   Currently, I am a literacy coach for the second grade team at a local elementary school.  I’ve taught 4th grade, and reading to K – 5th grade students.

BBS:  What does your job entail?

TP:   I coach classroom teachers in implementing research based teaching practices to promote high student achievement.  This includes: facilitating team planning to align classroom instruction with state standards; modeling lessons to address all learning styles; co-teaching; and motivating teachers to improve teacher efficacy, collaboration and overall student development.

BBS:  What role do picture books play in improving a child’s literacy level?  Are there specific ways teachers can utilize them in the classroom to do so?

TP:   All genres of books are significant in educating a child.  Picture books are especially useful to promote the core values that underpin the curriculum, and to generate thoughtful debate on a range of issues. These discussions promote oral language development.  They also provide ideal material to develop students’ visual literacy, helping them to achieve stronger outcomes in the viewing mode of the English Learning Area.

Picture books serve as excellent tools for helping students link the text to the pictures, aiding in visualization and comprehension. They also help students make connections to personal experiences, to deepen their understanding of the story.  These books are often used to teach fluency, vocabulary and comprehension strategies for overall reading development. 

BBS:  As a writer of this genre, I’m interested in your opinion about what makes a superior picture book. As a specialist, what attributes do you specifically seek when selecting picture books to help a child improve his or her reading skills?

TP:   It depends on the child’s reading needs.  There are five main components of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension.  If a child is weak in phonemic awareness and phonics, I look for picture books that have simple, rhyming text with supporting pictures.  For vocabulary and comprehension development, books that use pictures to support context clues are important to aid in identifying the meaning of unknown words and understand the story.

BBS:  Picture books traditionally have been written for the pre-school to lower elementary set, but increasingly we hear they’re being utilized in the classroom with older children.  Has this been your experience? In what specific ways are they used? 

TP:   Yes.  As I stated, they are extremely useful in teaching comprehension strategies—especially to older students who are still developing fluency.  The illustrations aid in tracking comprehension because these students still spend a lot of effort in decoding text.  Pictures also provide support for students when they are constructing literal meaning such as the “who, what, where, when” in reference to story elements.  Older students often use the images in picture books to help clarify meaning of events, characters or vocabulary.

BBS:  Do you actively seek out books written by (or for) people of color, African-Americans in particular? Is this authorship information readily available to you, or is it difficult to obtain?

TP:   Actually, I purposely choose books from diverse cultures.  Students often have a deeper interest in books to which they can make connections.  These connections lead to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the author’s intentions.  Another reason I seek diversity is to broaden their knowledge base regarding their world.  Yes, locating minority authors is easily accessible.

BBS:  For all of the aspiring PB writers out there, what types of picture books could you use more of? What are some of the most popular picture books among the students at your school?

TP:   There are a plethora of picture books available to children. Lately, I find myself searching for more bi-lingual books for our students who are learning English as a second language. Picture books by Eric Carle, Patricia Polocco, and  Mildred Taylor are some of my students’ favorites.

BBS:  Thank you so much, Tonya, for the knowledge you have shared with us today. Before you leave us…Coffee or Cocoa?   

TP:   Cocoa

BBS:  Scrabble or Pictionary?

TP:   Scrabble

BBSFat Albert or Akeelah and the Bee

TP:  Fat Albert

7 thoughts on “EXPERT SCOOP

  1. What a fascinating interview. I didn’t think that picture books could teach you so much and could also be used for older readers. I’m looking forward to more of these posts!
    Oh and I love Fat Albert, but I think I’d go with Akeelah and the Bee 🙂

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