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Teaching Power in Children’s Books

According to Michael O. Tunnell, chair of the McKay School’s Department of Teacher Education, children’s books are more than just enjoyable stories to read at bedtime; they provide powerful learning opportunities. During his lecture in the Power of Teaching Lecture Series, Tunnell explained five ways books can impact a child’s attitudes, skills, content knowledge, and abilities to think and create.


“Children’s books fairly pulsate with power when it comes to teaching,” Tunnell said. “There are endless ways in which these books power learning.”

First, reading to children reinforces literacy skills and creates positive reading attitudes, Tunnell explained. He stressed that reading to children from the time they are very young helps them have “warm-fuzzies” about reading when they grow older.

Second, a child can learn content from books, both fiction and nonfiction. Fictional content intertwined with historical events and figures can help a child more fully understand a time period. Children have long preferred fiction books, but “today’s nonfiction books, often called informational books, . . . are both attractive and appealing,” Tunnell noted. “The content is more up to date and presented in more depth than textbooks for elementary and secondary school students. Any teacher who doesn’t tap into this surfeit of literary and subject content wealth is missing out on one of the best and most intriguing educational resources on the planet.”

The third benefit Tunnell described was insight into the human condition, increasing children’s ability to understand the joys and pains of the human experience. Fantasy books can be particularly effective. Tunnell explained that because a fantasy novel is in large part a worked-out metaphor, a child’s mind can extend the meanings to develop new understanding.

For his last two points Tunnell discussed the benefits of picture books. He explained that books deliver an ideal way for children to absorb visual arts because they hear or read the words and look at the pictures, learning that both contribute to telling the story. Tunnell explained that in a modern world with more and more visual content, visual literacy will be increasingly important.

Finally, Tunnell taught how using quotations from famous authors and geniuses of past generations can stimulate creative thinking. The words and meanings emphasize the need for imagination and the openness to think creatively.

This was the last of the Power of Teaching lectures for this academic year. The series will continue, beginning in fall 2015. For updates on this and other news from the McKay School of Education, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @McKaySchool.