Picture Books: The Importance of the Written Word

This past week, my daughter and I created an activity guide for the picture book, Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco. If you have never read the story before, it is about a feisty librarian willing to protest to the entire town the importance of reading and the power of the written word. We geared this book guide for grades 4 through 7 because we believe it is so important that older students get the chance to enjoy the beauty and power of a well-written and illustrated picture book as younger students do. 

Pictures books can and should be read to younger students and to older students as well. With more life experience, older elementary to middle school students are able to appreciate and better understand deeper themes of these picture books in a powerful way. Some picture books, although traditionally thought of only for younger students, carry such heavy and mature themes, that it would be a travesty for older students not to read and analyze them. After all, a picture book is just a short story with illustrations. 

With this, I wanted to share with you some well-written books that honor librarians who distinctly know the true power of the written word. These books will challenge your older elementary to middle school students, inspire them to make the world a better place, and show them the significance of the written word. 

Love to grab our newest Aunt Chip and The Great Triple Creek Dam Affair Book Companion Activities, geared for upper elementary and middle school students, please click below. Also includes a FREE WRITING AND GRAPHIC ORGANIZER SAMPLE in the PREVIEW.

The Library Bus by Bahram Rahman

What if there were no libraries? What if the libraries in our country were destroyed on purpose? In this story, The Library Bus, your students will be taken along a journey with a young girl traveling through Afghanistan for the  purpose of sharing books and teaching young girls English. This is a truly touching story to show your students the importance of having the freedom to learn and read, where many others do not have this privilege. One of the quotes from this book is so moving.

“Never stop learning. Then you will be free.” 

In addition, the artwork covering the pages takes a glimpse of what the country of Afghanistan now looks like. We see young girls with patched clothing lined in front of their tents, knowing these tents are their homes as well. 

This book is a touching tribute to the power of teachers and librarians willing to do whatever it takes to show the importance of the power of the written word. This book is a perfect starting point for many deep discussions within your classroom. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Author Bahram Rahman grew up in Afghanistan during years of civil war and the restrictive Taliban regime of 1996-2001. He wrote The Library Bus to tell new generations about the struggles of women who, like his own sister, were forbidden to learn.

It is still dark in Kabul, Afghanistan when the library bus rumbles out of the city. There are no bus seats—instead there are chairs and tables and shelves of books. And there are no passengers—instead there is Pari, who is nervously starting her first day as Mama’s library helper. Pari stands tall to hand out notebooks and pencils at the villages and the refugee camp, but she feels intimidated. The girls they visit are learning to write English from Mama. Pari can’t even read or write in Farsi yet. But next year she will go to school and learn all there is to know. And she is so lucky. Not long ago, Mama tells her, girls were not allowed to read at all.

Award-winning illustrator Gabrielle Grimard’s pensive and captivating art transports the reader to Afghanistan in the time after the Taliban’s first regime. Her rich landscapes and compelling characters celebrate literacy, ingenuity, and the strength of women and girls demanding a future for themselves.

This book would be a wonderful pre-reading source or supplement to I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. Read all about her book here in this last blog post.

Women’s History Month: 4 Activities for I Am Malala 

Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston

Aunt Chip in Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair by Patricia Polacco, knew the importance of remembering the past through the telling of stories and of taking care of books, a precious commodity. She knew books and stories were a significant way to hand history down to the next generation. In Triple Creek, it was almost taken completely away from the community because of decisions made by people who really weren’t thinking about the next generation or even history, for that matter. 

In the book, Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library, a young man who collected books, stories, letters, and more his entire life wanted to make sure the next generation knew of their heritage. He does this in such a special way by creating his own library, where he stored precious works of written words that he had collected his entire life. Why did he do this? What was his motive for collecting so many books and sharing them with others? This is due to when he was in fifth grade, he was told that Black children did not have a history. With this in mind, he spent the rest of his life proving otherwise. This is definitely an amazing book to explore.  

By the way, this would be a perfect time to let your students know what a bibliophile is. It is one who loves to read, admire, and collect books. With that, Mr. Schomburg, like Aunt Chip, was definitely that. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Amid the scholars, poets, authors, and artists of the Harlem Renaissance stood an Afro–Puerto Rican named Arturo Schomburg. This law clerk’s life’s passion was to collect books, letters, music, and art from Africa and the African diaspora and bring to light the achievements of people of African descent through the ages. When Schomburg’s collection became so big it began to overflow his house (and his wife threatened to mutiny), he turned to the New York Public Library, where he created and curated a collection that was the cornerstone of a new Negro Division. A century later, his groundbreaking collection, known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, has become a beacon to scholars all over the world.

Please enjoy Schomburg: A Man Who Built a Library read by the author herself, Carole Boston. This beautifully written book of poems teaches the life of Schomburg. It definitely should be shared with all readers. 

In addition, I must note the beauty of the gorgeous illustrations. Velasquez’s richly detailed oil paintings aptly capture Schomburg’s zeal for learning and for teaching others…A must-read about a bibliophile extraordinaire. Horn Book. 

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence

In the book, Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Dam Affair, we see just how important reading is to a community. The community had done away with books on their own free will, all except Aunt Chip, of course. However, how heartbreaking and tragic would it be for a whole community to not only lose the ability to read its language, but to actually speak those words as well. That is just what has sadly occurred in this picture book for all ages, Stolen Words by Melanie Florence. 

In this beautifully, heartbreaking story, we catch a glimpse of time between an innocent granddaughter as she gently learns some of the things her grandfather experienced at her exact young age. She learns of why her grandfather doesn’t know his true language of Cree, a language that was taken away from him after he was taken from his home and his mother. 

However, we then see the beauty of love as the granddaughter brings her grandfather a book from her school’s library, titled Introduction to Cree, the language he first knew. We experience how the words in the book flow through time and help heal the old man’s heart as he begins to speak his true language for the first time since he was a child. 

Who says picture books are only for the very young? As a librarian, I fully do not believe a very young child can appreciate the beauty or understand the extent of a book such as this. This book is definitely meant to be shared with older students in upper elementary and middle school. It is meant to touch their hearts and show them the importance of the written word. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

The story of the beautiful relationship between a little girl and her grandfather. When she asks her grandfather how to say something in his language – Cree – he admits that his language was stolen from him when he was a boy. The little girl then sets out to help her grandfather find his language again. This sensitive and warmly illustrated picture book explores the intergenerational impact of the residential school system that separated young Indigenous children from their families. The story recognizes the pain of those whose culture and language were taken from them, how that pain is passed down, and how healing can also be shared.

My Librarian is a Camel: How Books Are Brought to Children Around the World by Margriet Rurrs 

Have you ever wondered what other libraries look like? Would you like your library books delivered to your students in a wheelbarrow or by an elephant? I have often jokingly remarked that I hope they never put the library on a cart. However, after reading this, I see many possibilities. If I have to use a cart, I want that elephant to go with me down my halls. Nevertheless, in this amazing non-fiction book, you will explore the world of libraries all over the world. I am sure your students will tell your librarian all about it the next time they visit. 

Publisher’s Synopsis

Do you get books from a public library in your town or even in your school library? In many remote areas of the world, there are no library buildings. In many countries, books are delivered in unusual ways: by bus, boat, elephant, donkey, train, even by wheelbarrow. Why would librarians go to the trouble of packing books on the backs of elephants or driving miles to deliver books by bus? Because, as one librarian in Azerbaijan says, “Books are as important to us as air or water!” This is the intriguing photo essay, a celebration of books, readers, and libraries.

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” Toni Morrison. 

I must admit that I saved this one for last. In this beautifully written and illustrated picture book, we learn of the life and times of a librarian and storyteller, Pura Belpre. She first began her happy and content life in Puerto Rico, but soon traveled to Manhattan for her sister’s wedding. Once there, she finds work as a seamstress, but it just doesn’t fit. Soon she leaves this cramped job to work in a library as an interpreter. This is especially awesome since she speaks 3 languages. 

However, while putting books on the shelves and telling stories to children, she realizes that she doesn’t see any books written for children with a Spanish heritage. Well, if you don’t see the book you want, then you must write your own. With that, she does. Soon, she leaves the library to travel the world, sharing her writings and her love of books with many, many others. However, in due time, she returns to the library and her one true love: to share her written works with the children so desperately wanting to hear her stories. 


Picture Books: The Importance of the Written Word begins with a picture book about Aunt Chip, one feisty lady who stood against a community to protest a television tower. She did this because she felt it would destroy the love of reading in her community. On that same note, we finish with the life and times of a bilingual librarian storyteller who changed the world for so many through her love of the written word as well. Picture books are so elegantly written, full of verse, and full of the beauty of language. Please share these wonderful books with your students. Maybe, just maybe, their power will be the one thing that will make the world a better place.

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To read more about reading picture books in upper elementary and middle grades, please visit our blog post…

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

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