5 Winter Picture Books to Teach Figurative Language

In college, my beloved Reading Methods professor read us picture books at the beginning of class. As twenty-something-old college students, we relished those five-ten minutes it took for her to read a book. We could relax, get lost in something other than student teaching hours, seminars, and projects, and just enjoy a good story. When she read us a picture book for the very first time, she asked, “Did you enjoy that?” Our response was, “Of course, we did!” She went on to say that if we, as grown adults, enjoy a picture book this much, then don’t discount it for older elementary students, middle schoolers, or even high schoolers. It was one of those ah-ha moments I’ve clearly held onto ever since. Today, we are going to dive into 5 winter pictures books to teach figurative language.

As a teacher who has taught all three levels of students: elementary, middle, and high school, her philosophy has proven true as I have used picture books quite often to teach concepts, as a brain break, and to ignite a love of reading and writing in students.

Picture Books as Mentor Text

Picture books are being used as mentor text more and more. Just because a book is written for younger students doesn’t mean the author didn’t devote hours to that piece of writing, perfecting every word, every character, and every storyline. Just because it’s geared toward younger students doesn’t mean that the writing isn’t amazing. Using picture books to teach students how to write is the beginning of students connecting authentic, real-world literature to their own writing.

When teaching writing, I love to teach figurative language, a concept explored in literature classes as we analyze stories and novels. Think about your favorite author and you probably don’t think about how many similes or metaphors they used; however, you do think about how descriptive their characters were or how they got the setting just right for you to imagine it clearly. Great authors use figurative language so smoothly that you don’t even realize it. Figurative language takes descriptive writing to the next level. It adds a creative flair to help readers understand the words and descriptions even more clearly. That’s a writing skill I hope my students can grasp.

The following picture books can be utilized as wonderful mentor text to teach figurative language. Plus, they’re based in winter, so it fits in nicely with the season, and if your students are writing a winter story, these books will be great inspiration.

1. Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book breathes figurative language. It is in almost every sentence. This book paints such a lovely, timeless, still scene of winter. It is a soothing picture book that students will enjoy and glean a lot from on how to use figurative language.

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird. But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is. Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relationship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading around and sharing at bedtime.

Examples of figurative language:

Simile: The trees stood still as giant statues. / Somewhere behind us, a train whistle blew, long and low, like a sad, sad song. 

Personification: A farm dog answered the train, and then a second dog joined in. They sang out, trains and dogs, for a real long time. And when their voices faded away, it was as quiet as a dream.

Alliteration: Our feet crunched over the crisp snow./ He looked up searching the stars.

Metaphor: The moon made his face into a silver mask. 

These are just a couple of examples from Owl Moon. This book is a wellspring of figurative language. 

2. Snowflakes Fall, by Patricia MacLachlan

Snowflakes Fall is a wonderfully descriptive picture book all about the beauty of snow, the winter season, the children who enjoy it, and even the blessings found at the end of the winter season. Not only does this book contain a blizzard of figurative language, but the deep meaning and motivation behind this book are also inspiring. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: Snowflakes fall to sit on gardens and evergreen trees. / Frantic, icy snowflakes scratch the window glass./ Branches fly and shadows darken dreams. 

Simile: Snowflakes fall, drift, and swirl together like the voices of children. 

Alliteration:On its loved library, And its familiar flagpole 

3. Bright Winter Night, by Alli Brydon

This adorable picture book has beautiful illustrations, incorporates the forest animals working together as a team, and has rhyming words. All of these elements will intrigue students, but it also has some great examples of figurative language. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: The forest calls, and creatures come: big and small, one by one. They sense there is a task to do as night descends, replacing blue. On one bright winter night, a group of woodland creatures emerges from the forest. Despite their differences, they start to build something together, using items found on the forest floor. What are they making? And how quickly can they build it? Something special is happening tonight, and soon the animals are off—in a race to catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most astounding wonders! With lyrical text and sparkling artwork, Bright Winter Night is a celebration of the joy and beauty of nature and the special gift of friendship and togetherness.

Examples of figurative language:

Metaphor: The wolf pack launches with a start and races through the forest’s heart. 

Onomatopoeia: The sleigh careens, the rabbits jump as the rest go BUMP BUMP BUMP. 

Personification: The colors dazzle, glow, and blaze-the flashes sizzle, shock and amaze!/ The magic in the winter’s air drifts all around them, everywhere. 

4. The Snow Dancer, by Addie Boswell

Not only are the illustrations gorgeous in The Snow Dancer, but the word choice is the perfect example of descriptive writing. The figurative language is also amazingly abundant in this story. Additionally, if you wanted to choose one book to focus on onomatopoeia, this one is it! 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: Young dancer Sofia wakes up to a quiet, white world—it’s a snow day! She makes her way outside to the neighborhood park, where a field awaits her, white and shining and open. It isn’t long before the rest of the neighborhood wakes its sleepy head—and the other kids make their way to the park, scattering all of Sofia’s beautiful silence. But with the help of a new young friend, Sofia is ready to show everyone what a snow dancer can do on a perfect day like this. With lyrical language and gorgeous art, this book sparkles with all the joy and beauty of a snow day.

Examples of figurative language: 

Personification: All through the night, they fell-frosting the rooftops, fluffing the sidewalks, laying fuzzy hats on the fire hydrants. 

Alliteration: She sniffed the cold, clean air. 

Onomatopoeia: Whooomph! She fell down the hidden steps./ Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. She hopscotched down the invisible sidewalk.  (There are so many more examples of Onomatopoeia!)

Simile: The sun shone like a giant spotlight. The soccer field gleamed like a giant stage. /Outside the world sparkled and glistened. 

5. Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter, by Kenard Pak

I love this series of books. Kenard Pak has a picture book that says goodbye to every season and hello to another. These straightforward books with gorgeous illustrations use personification for the entirety of the story, as parts of the season speak as if they are animate. Not only is there a plethora of personification examples, but the author uses other figurative language examples as well. 

Grab your copy today!

Publisher’s Synopsis: As leaves fall from their trees, animals huddle against the cold, and frost creeps across windows, everyone knows―winter is on its way! Join a brother and sister as they explore nature and take a stroll through their twinkling town, greeting all the signs of the coming season. In a series of conversations with everything from the setting sun to curious deer, they say goodbye to autumn and welcome the glorious first snow of winter in Kenar Pak’s Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter.

Examples of figurative language: 

Alliteration: Autumn afternoon/Setting sun/wispy winds/…Swept into the sky

Personification: Now that the wispy winds have come, we fall from the oak tree branches and are swept into the sky! (Leaves)/ Our pine-needle branches shiver in the wind while you sleep. (There are many examples of personification!)

Metaphor: Hello, snowflakes. Hello. We fall in a white, misty curtain and muffle all the sounds around you. 

Simile: Hello, clouds. Hello. We cover the sky like a downy, soft blanket. 

Activities: 

To further practice identifying and writing figurative language, check out this FREE Picture Book Figurative Language Activity we have!

Grab yours today!

We also have Figurative Language Posters available in our store as well!

Click here to grab yours today!

Conclusion:

Using winter picture books as mentor text to teach figurative language is a great way to provide authentic examples for students. Picture books can be utilized for any grade level as a way for students to see real writing examples that have figurative language and to practice identifying figurative language. Also, winter picture books bring just the right coziness that makes reading so fun and delightful. 

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5 Picture Books for Christmas – Part 2

Last week, we introduced our first five favorite holiday picture books. This week, we are going to show our final five Christmas books we adore! Some of these books are classics. On the other hand, you may not have heard of another book or two. That’s why we love these kinds of blog posts! Introducing you to new stories that you can share with your students is what warms our hearts, just like a cup of hot cocoa! Let’s dive into our 5 Picture Books for Christmas – Part 2.

#1 The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

A lot of our students know The Polar Express from the beloved and magical movie. When I would tell my elementary kiddos that it was first a book, some were quite shocked! Nevertheless, they quickly loved the book as much as the movie, if not more. The beautiful illustrations are just as enchanting as the motion picture. Chris Van Allsburg’s classic tale of a young boy on his journey to the true belief of the magic of Christmas captivates students as they also struggle with believing as they get older. The timeless dark train against the backdrop of the falling white snow creates a classic scene of Christmas. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: A young boy, lying awake one Christmas Eve, is welcomed aboard a magical train to the North Pole . . .Through dark forests, over tall mountains, and across a barren desert of ice, the Polar Express makes its way to the huge city standing alone at the top of the world, where the boy will make his Christmas wish.

#2 Gingerbread Friends by Jan Brett

Any Jan Brett book is filled with gorgeous whimsical illustrations of the Swiss snowy countryside. Her books are filled with fun storylines, and beautiful imagery mirrored by detailed and enchanting drawings. When I think of a picture book that evokes Christmas and wintry magic, I think of Jan Brett. Gingerbread Friends is a sweet story perfect for the littlest elementary students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: This Gingerbread Baby is looking for friends and finds an adventure he’ll never forget. The Gingerbread Baby is lonely and decides to do something about it. At a bakery, he dances and prances in front of a sugar cookie girl, trying to make friends. But she just stares and doesn’t say a word, like all the other sweet treats he tries to meet. Discouraged, the Gingerbread Baby runs home, chased by a long line of hungry creatures, where Mattie has a fantastic surprise for him–gingerbread friends that fill a giant fold-out page.

Check out our Gingerbread Friends unit here!

#3 The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

Ready to cry in front of your students? The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey will do just that! This was a classic tale I read to my elementary students every Christmas season. Filled with heartache, hope, and redemption, this story is thought-provoking and moving for students and adults alike. This story contains depth as well, making it wonderful for older elementary to middle school students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Jonathan Toomey is the best woodcarver in the valley, but he is always alone and never smiles. No one knows about the mementos of his lost wife and child that he keeps in an unopened drawer. But one early winter’s day, a widow and her young son approach him with a gentle request that leads to a joyful miracle. The moving, lyrical tale, gloriously illustrated by P.J. Lynch, has been widely hailed as a true Christmas classic. 

#4 Radiator the Snowman by Tami Parker

Written and illustrated by my mother, Tami Parker, Radiator the Snowman is a wonderful tale with deep lessons of true friendship, celebrating uniqueness, and being comfortable with just being yourself. Students will fall in love with Radiator, the snowman, and his furry friends. The author, an elementary school librarian, truly knows how to weave a story together to capture to hearts of students. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Radiator the Snowman knew he was different from the other snowmen of his most distinguished village. These feelings had always been with him since he was first formed in the hands of the children of the local junk man to the present time period in which he was kept away from the finer snowmen on display in his village. However, Radiator’s chance to join this prestigious league soon arrives. Will he take this opportunity or decide to stay in the junkyard with his friends? Radiator the Snowman is a wonderful story to read to little ones when you want them to know how important they are to each person in their life and why they should never compare themselves to others.

#5 The Christmas Pine by Julia Donaldson

Newly published two months ago, the author of Room on the Broom has written a book that celebrates the joy and warmth of the holiday season as it follows the story of one Christmas tree on its journey to Trafalgar Square to become London’s official tree. The sweet and snuggly illustrations will charm your students as well as create that magical feeling around your classroom rug. 

Publisher’s Synopsis: Deep in a snowy wood stands a little pine tree with a special destiny: when it grows up, it’s going to be a fabulous Christmas tree! The tree travels far across the sea to shine in a city square. Crowds gather to admire it, children sing carols around it, and the tree brings joy and the spirit of the season to all who pass by. Inspired by the annual journey of London’s Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square, this story includes back matter detailing the tree’s history as a gift to the United Kingdom from the people of Norway in remembrance of the UK’s support during World War II – an enduring symbol of friendship and peace.

Conclusion:

December is a month full of wonderful opportunities to enchant readers with heartwarming holiday picture books. Take advantage of those cozy Christmas stories and create an atmosphere that highlights reading this holiday season in your classroom. It’ll make your heart melt like a gooey marshmallow in hot cocoa. 

Author of Blog

Perfect Picture Book for Middle School

One of the perks of being a librarian is to attend events in which the newest picture books are introduced to the world. I recently spent a day attending the SLJ Picture Book Palooza event of the year. This is an online event in which librarians and teachers are acquainted with the authors and illustrators of these lovely gems entering the world for the first time.  One gem that I did find and want to share is The Station Cat, a perfect picture book for middle school.

SLJ Picture Book Palooza

After attending each year, I chuckle when I hear someone say picture books are only for very young children. To me, it’s like someone strolling past a bookstore saying there’s nothing in there but a bunch of old books. Ahh. If they could only perceive the magical worlds they just paced past that both young and old would enjoy. 

The Creation of a Perfect Picture Book

Attendees are able to listen to how books are created through the minds of the authors. I loved each moment. One particular moment was when a distinguished author said while she was writing a biography, she kept hearing a voice. She said the voice said many times, “I didn’t talk that way.” As the voice got louder and louder in her mind, she did more research. It was then she realized that the person’s “at home” voice was very different than the one the public knew. To me, this was incredible. It was also a good lesson on how important “voice” is in our writing. 

The Perfect Picture Book Must Include Illustrations

Another aspect of the event that I loved was listening to and watching the illustrators. I perceive illustrators as just as important as authors. Many times, the illustrator seems to take a back seat to the writing of a book. 

However, I feel if we could place more emphasis on the illustrations, it would pull in the reluctant readers that we seem to lose. This is especially true when we introduce chapter books and novels to our students. 

Visual-Spatial Learners

In addition, illustrations draw in the interest of the artistic students. In the publishing world, there is a little secret. Did you know that 60% of the story is only told through words, and that the other 40% is told through the illustrations? For example, the author shouldn’t write “The sky was gloomy when the child entered the beautiful garden.” The job of expressing the gloomy sky and the beauty of the garden is placed on the illustrator, not the author. 

Magical Creation of Flowing Words

I will always say over and over again, picture books, or storybooks as I call them, are not only for the ones who are just beginning to read, but for all who love a good story, no matter the age. It’s for all who want to fall into another world and stop time until the magical creation of flowing words slowly comes to an end.

Storybooks to me are like short movies. They gently pull you in at the beginning, holding your emotions as they rise and fall, all the while carrying you tenderly to the end. It’s at this point in which you feel like you will never be the same person you were before you opened those well-written illustrated pages. 

For more information, click here…

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, does just this. I was introduced to this and many other picture books this year. 

The Station Cat is a story that begins its journey in a world full of grayness, void of any colors or joy at a busy, lonely train station. As the story progresses, we are introduced to a colorful kitten, a lonely, starving, little lady that no one pays any mind to. However, as time drifts past, one by one, slowly, ever so slowly, the sad passengers begin to notice her. As they do and begin to show her empathy, they realize how much this one little kitten changes them and opens their life up to a more colorful world.

Publisher’s Synopsis of The Station Cat:

A stunning picture book about the power of hope.

A lonely little kitten wanders into a dull, gray station, full of dull, gray people. Her colorful fur and bright green eyes bring warmth and life to this weary place, and soon people begin to notice the kitten. As she learns about the different travelers and their struggles from loss and loneliness, the little kitten wants to help fill their world with hope and color, too. 

In this timely and important book, author and illustrator Stephen Hogtun shows young readers the pride and sense of purpose that can come from helping others.

The Station Cat, by Stephen Hogtun, is the perfect book to bring the beauty and hope of a well-written story into your classroom. Full of beautifully written similes and metaphors, Hogtun’s writing takes the reader through a delightful journey. Warning: have your tissues nearby for the ending. Better yet, watch the faces of your students when they reach that final destination. Believe me, they will be given the priceless gift of empathy for others and how this empathy can truly make the world around them a more colorful place. 

Please enjoy the reading of this wonderful book by the author himself. A true gift.

The Art of Illustrating a Picture Book

One thing my daughter, who is a teacher as well, emphasizes is that not all children have the same interest. This is so true. For this reason, I pay just as much attention to the beautifully crafted illustrations for the budding artist in the class. Most of the time, if I have a reluctant reader, I go the other direction, and introduce them to the beauty of the paintings, the use of color, the light strokes, the heavy emphasis of the paint brush here and there. This opens up worlds of art for them, thus bringing them into the world of books too.

Colors Are Extremely Important

In the story, The Station Cat, perfect picture book for middle school, not only does Hogtun write the words, he brings those words to life through his beautiful illustrations. This is particularly true in the area of color. In the beginning, the young kitten is the only one full of color, or as we may imagine, full of hopes and dreams. Everyone else is dull, void of color, and life. As the story progresses, things begin to change. Color begins to flow through to the lonely passengers drifting by. 

This is one of those beautifully constructed books in which we could easily take away the words to only imagine the story through its illustrations. For the reluctant readers, placing emphasis on the illustrations will open up worlds for them as well. 

As a librarian, there are many joys with my job. I love being the first to view new books as they begin their journey. For I know the next ones to view them will be through the hands of my students. I love the classics. However, I put just as much, if not more emphasis on the newer books emerging from the presses. I know The Station Cat will be much loved along its journey. 

Conclusion 

If you ever get a chance to virtually attend next year’s SLJ Palooza of Picture Books, please do. It will open your heart to the world of picture books. Furthermore, t will also open up the possibilities of what you can do with them in middle school. Please do not let the age limits on these books stop you. I did check the age limit for The Station Cat. They recommended eight for the oldest reader. I dare to disagree. In my tender older age, I enjoyed every moment. I can only imagine the lessons I can create from its pages. Please consider attending next year’s event and let this wonderful world of perfect picture books open up for you as well. 

Author of Blog

If you would like to learn more about reading picture books in middle school, please visit our other blog post…

5 Picture Books to Read and Use in the Middle School Classroom