Students in the intermediate grades have a lot to learn as readers. They need to
- pay attention to the small details in a text,
- keep track of multiple characters,
- understand how time and place affect plot and character development,
- develop theories about the deeper meanings in a text, and
- revise those theories as they read.
Of course, this list could go on and on.
When we teach students to notice character development, symbolism, the passage of time, or the way a text is structured, sometimes it helps to take a detour and explore this concept in picture books. A detour helps students understand the literary element or device and gives them several opportunities to think about the deeper meanings in the text when the text length is only 32 pages. Once we see that students have a better understanding, they “give it a go” as they read their chapter books.
Picture books bring complex literary elements and devices to life in fun and compelling ways, and besides, we don’t want middle-grade readers to miss these fantastic books. Here are three new picture books we’ve added to our collection of “detour texts.”
Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung
Reading this book reminded us of when there is adult humor in a kids’ movie—the kids in the theater are silent, but you can hear the adults snickering all around you. Mixed: A Colorful Story feels that same way. It is profoundly funny and also touches your heart.
The symbolism of the color choices, the messages about race and acceptance, and the multiple meanings of words add many layers of meaning to this text. From the character names, the places, and the play on words, middle-grade readers can analyze the “whys” behind Arree Chung’s craft moves to develop their own interpretations.
If your students love Maniac Magee, Clancy the Courageous Cow, or The Other Side, you will want to read this book alongside those titles. Just like these books, Mixed: A Colorful Story will help you open up conversations about race and the divisions that societies set up to keep people apart.
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell and Corinna Luyken
Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse belongs in a text set with Each Kindness and The Hundred Dresses. The main character, Adrian, lives in town and does not have much money. Each day at school, he tells his classmates that he owns a horse, and his classmate Chloe gets tired of his lies. In the end, it is Chloe who learns a valuable lesson.
This is a beautiful story that shows how choosing to be kind is more important than being “right.” With warm illustrations and a simple story line, Adrian Simcox Does NOT Have a Horse will be a “go-to” text to show students how an author reveals a strong message in a text through their characters’ actions, thoughts, and dialogue. Listen to the antagonist’s words as she decides to change:
I could feel some words coming up in my throat and tangling in there, like when I swallowed something and it went down the wrong pipe. You. Do. Not. Have. A. Horse. But I didn’t say it because of how Adrian was looking and how it reminded me of when I told those little kids he was lying.
This is a great book to bring out at writing workshop to show students how to develop a turning point and slow down a moment. Don’t let students in grades 2-5 miss this one.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb
This book was initially published as a poem in the newspaper, and Nicola Davies decided to turn it into a picture book when refugee children were denied welcome into the United Kingdom. The Day War Came gives young readers a glimpse into the horrors of war to help them understand what refugees may have suffered and how kindness can change lives.
We will read this book aloud before students read historical fiction texts such as Refugee by Alan Gratz, Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate, Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, and Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. The Day War Came can help students grapple with the difficult topic of war in a developmentally appropriate way before they read longer, more complex texts. Readers can also see the message of hope in this poem and how one child’s act of kindness changed the life of someone else.
In the end pages, Candlewick Press shares information about an organization helping refugees. Go the website www.helprefugees.org to learn more. Thank you, Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb, for putting this vital book out in the world.
Once students explore detour texts and learn a bit more about specific literary elements and devices, they begin to notice more nuances as they read. The detour texts help highlight the intentional moves writers make and encourage readers to pay attention and think in new ways: “I noticed that the author did ____________. Now I’m thinking __________________________.”
As students share their thinking with each other, in partnerships or in book clubs, the way they think about reading grows. These detours help them understand complex text elements in new ways.