PictureBooks: Reading Aloud to Preschoolers

Breaks between semesters allow me the opportunity to work on different aspects of my job. This break, I have several projects to address and they’re all things I’m enjoying w. First, is preparing for the one credit hour class I’ll be teaching in the spring entitled “Black Girl Magic”. I’m developing a very engaging curriculum that takes students perception of black girls from invisibility to visibility in a mere 8 weeks.

I’d also hoped to develop interactive videos on information on using library resources for research purposes for the students I work with in the college of education but, I’ve gotten a more immediate project to work on.

Part of my duties here include working with faculty to provide information literacy instruction, to develop a teaching materials collection (which includes books for children and young adults) and to aid in the use of library materials. This past semester, I began working with a faculty member on preparing her first-year education students to read-aloud to young children. It sounds like a benign enough way to introduce education students to working with children, but she and I have been digging into the complexities of reading aloud. My role with the class has been to help them locate books to read-aloud in the library,  to understand the need for diversity in read-aloud books, to learn how to select diverse books and also for me to acquire additional read-aloud books for the library.

We soon realized that it’s too much to expect the students to be able to select age appropriate books to read-aloud and it would take instruction beyond the scope of the class to prepare them to do so. Consequently, I’ve been working on identifying books that would make good read-alouds for preschool and kindergarten students. Acting as a true scholar and researcher, I posed that question to Twitter. I don’t think Twitter has ever let me down as much as it did on that query. I was sent lists of picture books, STEM books, must read picture books and one author was even kind enough to suggest her middle grade science fantasy book. When I commented that not every picture book is a good read-aloud, particularly not for this age group, I was told that I should do my own research for books. Yes, I’d have to agree with that.

This experience made me realize why the lists of books I’ve found recommending books for reading aloud were so bad: people were simply listing their favorite picture books. I found there was often too much text on a page for my needs or the story was too passive or it was too complex.

Because I’m developing this list for read-aloud sessions where the readers have little experience reading to children, they don’t have a relationship with the children to whom they’re reading. Also, we don’t know how much experience the children have in being read to. Consequently,  it’s best to stick to some sort of basic guidelines in selecting texts. Prior to our first round of sending students out, the faculty member and I thought that books with well-developed narratives and limited amounts of text would make for good books to read-aloud. We were careful about vocabulary development (no word play), racial, gender and age representation  and how much the story would stretch the child’s imagination: would they be able to make sense from the text from their limited life experience.

That wasn’t enough.

I’ve been doing some research that has made me much more aware of the cognitive and physical level of development of most children and have a better idea of some of the things to look for in selecting the books for my list. Most of the research I’ve found is rather dated and I wonder what new research is out there on how young brains process information in picture books.

While most of what I’ve found gave specific ideas on selecting books based upon the text, I’ve not found much what to look for with regard to the images in these books. How complex, how simple, how real or iconic should they be? This, to me is a huge component in selecting picture books because in picture books, the reader is building a story based upon the interplay of the text and image. But, what is these children’s pictoral competence? In books, both images and text are symbols, but how far along are preschool brains in being able to decode images? To transfer knowledge from pictures? Some of my research indicates that at this age, children are able to distinguish between images and text as sources of information, but what if the text is embedding in the image or if the background of the image extends into the text area?

Simply reading a book to a child is a good thing. Not thinking about text complexity, story development or whether the child is old enough to even focus on images doesn’t always matter. When a parent holds a child on their lap and snuggles with them as they read a book, it won’t matter if they’re reading the most recent adult bestseller or last year’s Caldecott winner. It’s about the experience. But, for educators and librarians who are trying to familiarize children with the components of a book to develop the child’s ability to engage in symbolic thought (i.e., read) then, selecting the best book for that age is quite important.

And, I’m looking at ways of selecting texts for most children. We’ve already experienced that not all children in school settings are English speakers. Some have different behavioral skills while others may need adjustments for visual or auditory reasons. My findings are very, very general ones meant for those initial reading sessions. The more you read with children the more you can vary the reading material.

So far, I’ve found that preschoolers who have experience being read to are beginning to realize that adults are reading the text, not the images. Preschoolers are ready for stories with narrative structure. They need text that supports them in constructing meaning and making predictions. They appreciate informational texts that fills in knowledge gaps. Preschoolers enjoy hearing new words, word patterns, rhymes and rhythms. If they’ve not had practice with books then picture books that teach concept books are good starters.

I’ve not found many concept books by IPOC, LGBT+ authors or those with disabilities  that display diversity. I know of a few, but not enough. I’m thinking about how exposing preschoolers to diverse symbolic representations through picture books will enhance their worldview.

Here’s the beginning of my list of read-aloud books for preschoolers and kindergarten students. When complete, my list will not be entirely of diverse titles, but they’ll be a large part of it.

Flett, J., & Cook, E. N. (2013). Wild berries =: Pikaci-Minisa. Vancouver: Simply Read Books.

Gonzalez, M. C. (2014). My colors, my world =: Mis colores, mi mundo. New York: Children’s Book Press/Lee and Low

Harris, M., & Brantley-Newton, V. (2014). The girl who heard colors. Toronto: CNIB.

Ismail, Y. (2015). I’m a girl!. New York: Bloomsbury.

Jackson, R., & Pinkney, J. (2016). In plain sight. New York: Roaring Brook Press.

Martinez-Neal, J. (2018). Alma and how she got her name. New York: Candlewick.

McDermott, G. (1972). Anansi the Spider: A tale from the Ashanti. New York: Henry Holt.
Miller, S. (2017). Princess Hair. New York, USA: Little, Brown.

Morales, Y. (2003). Just a minute: A trickster tale and counting book. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

Reynolds, A., & Ohi, D. R. (2017). Sea Monkey & Bob. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sauer, T., & Brantley-Newton, V. (2018). Mary had a little glam. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.

Sehgal, S., & Golden, J. (2016). Wheels on the tuk tuk. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Steptoe, J. (1988). Baby says. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.

Yum, H. (2011). The twins’ blanket. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

Yum, H. (2016). Puddle. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux.

I’ve found a few articles with information on theories of conceptual development and becoming symbol minded that I hope will help as I continue with project. These are sources that provided information thus far.

Building a Core Print Collection for Preschoolers
Baby Read-Aloud Basics
Selecting Books for Children Birth Through Four : A Developmental Approach
Get the Picture: The Effects of Iconicity on Toddlers’ Reenactment from Picture Books


This evening, I’m going to make a read aloud video for my grand-girl of me reading Alma and How She Got Her Name. This brings a whole other element to reading aloud!

One thought on “PictureBooks: Reading Aloud to Preschoolers

  1. I’ve always found that the books my young child wanted to listen to, were the ones I found most enjoyable to read, they had a beautiful rhyme, and so that would capture and hold my child’s attention until they developed their own love of books. Great list!


Comments are closed.