Slice of Life Story Day 15 Celebrating Words and Pictures When Reading Aloud

In picture story books the details of the illustrations create a cohesive picture that informs the reader in ways that the text alone can ever hope to do and for this reason it is important to teach students to read all around the page. Today. I was reading Anthony Browne’s wonderful picture story book , ‘Piggybook’ and I marvelled at the way the children seated before me listened and looked with obvious intent. Their enthusiasm for searching out all the details on the page inspired me to greater efforts with my read aloud. I savoured every word as it poured from my mouth. When we read to students we are performing a special craft. I found myself well and truly in the zone.

Anthony Browne’s book tells the story of the Piggott family. Mrs Piggott becomes tired of being treated like a domestic drudge by her unappreciative husband and sons. Without warning she leaves them to fend for themselves. That’s when the Piggott men undergo a most extraordinary transformation in their attitude as well as their physical dimensions. The clever illustrations show the gradual metamorphosis of the characters and their surroundings as the story unfolds. From the front cover illustration there is the symbolism of the mother effectively carrying the whole family. Rich discussion developed around this before I even began reading. Predictions and questions readily came from the think-pair- share that took place before I launched into my reading role.

As I continued reading I was taken by the faces of the students before me. Their eyes alive and alert, looking for clues and signs as I revealed each amazing illustration. The link between words and pictures was so cleverly interwoven with porcine references littered through the text.
‘When is Mum coming home?’ the boys squealed after another horrible meal.
‘How should I know.’ Mr Piggott grunted.
- And later, ‘Well just have to root around and find some scraps,’ snorted Mr Piggott.  

The students were clearly indignant regarding Mrs Piggott’s treatment.
‘They’re treating her so badly.’
‘They are not a sharing family.’
‘They are so lazy.’
“They’re behaving like pigs!’
The message from this text was coming through loud and clear. The children were able to identify the author’s message; the author’s intent.

I once sat under a tree in an amphitheatre in Darwin among a group of two hundred educators as Mem Fox read ‘Hunwick’s Egg.’ Mem held us under her spell as the words tumbled forth. Each one presented -special delivery. Words whispered, words stretched, words squeezed and words exulted. The magic of the read aloud was present in that place. It’s interesting how no matter how old we are, we love having someone read to us. It is a moment I will never forget. Thank you Mem.

Have you noticed how we read so much more passionately from texts we know and love? Over the last few years, Piggybook has become a touchstone text for me. Thank you Anthony.

* If you want to discover more about those powerful illustrating-writing connections I highly recommend, 'In Pictures and in Words-Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study by Katie Wood Ray.
'If teachers show children how an illustrator's decisions about pictures are a lot like a writer's decisions about words, they form a bridge of understanding that nurtures children as writers.'
Katie Wood Ray


  1. Alan,
    I really enjoyed this post. The power of story. I especially appreciated the phrase words whispered. Thanks for including the information about the books. I need to see if I can find the Piggybook. Katie Rays book sounds good to.

  2. Alan,
    You are so right that a read aloud is a performance. That performance can make or break student's interest in the book which can lead to desire to read. Also the talk before, during, and after the book is vital. Too often I have seen teachers just say the words of the book instead of really 'reading' and enjoying the experience. Love, love, love Anthony Browne books and I have Ray's book waiting for me to read it.

  3. Alan,
    Thank you for sharing this piece about your read aloud experience. To this day I love a good read aloud. I adore the sentence, "Words whispered, words stretched, words squeezed and words exulted. " This line breathes life into the words, much like our reading brings a book to life.
    Keep on writing!

  4. Yes I'm always talking with my principal about half of my job is theater - stage manager, prop manager, production. I read "I Ain't Gonna Paint No More" today and got those same rapt faces!

  5. Thank you for this: "Have you noticed how we read so much more passionately from texts we know and love?" I used PiggyBook with my freshmen last year.

    And -- Katie's new book is my very favorite this year. Using it soooo much and opening big doors for kids.

    Happy writing,


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