Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: Illustrators We Love to Study
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Slice of Life: Illustrators We Love to Study

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hWay back when…. we taught visual literacy. We remember spending time teaching our students about the elements of art and the decisions illustrators make when designing an illustration.  Visual literacy is sorting out, recognizing, and understanding visual information. The development of aesthetic response to the art in children’s books is the goal of making explicit the artistic elements and the elements of book design. Visual literacy in children’s literature also refers to the integration of text and pictures in children’s books that enhances, interprets, and extends meaning.” (Kiefer, 1995) We do not hear as much talk about visual literacy in classrooms today.  As we reflected on our slices of teaching we realized that visual literacy is really part of Standard 7:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Picture books are a powerful medium to support our students in learning how to integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats. When we are asked about this standard, the question is typically framed in terms of technology. While technology is one way to explore and apply this standard, we also interpret this to include illustrated fiction and nonfiction.

Illustrators intentionally use visual elements to enhance and add layers of meaning to a text. When we explicitly teach and invite our students to notice how the illustrations are crafted we are supporting their analytical and inferential thinking. Students first need to understand the elements and how they are used to add layers of meaning.

Visual Elements

  • Colors
  • Lines
  • Shapes
  • Texture
  • Composition

Once we name the elements our students actively engage in using the pictures to understand the characters’ feelings, thoughts, motivations and intentions, as well as the mood and tone of the text. Illustrations help our readers visualize the setting and the action of a fictional text. They also provide information, details, and explanations in a nonfiction text.

Our readers need to be made aware from a young age that pictures are important, not just to help them figure out unknown words, but to closely read and analyze the deeper meaning of a text.


Here are some of our “oldies but goodies” for studying visual literacy with our readers:

Ed Young:

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Chris Van Allsburg:


Barbara Berger:


Do you study an illustrator with your students? Who are your favorites? We would love to hear your perspective.


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    Posted at 11:19h, 23 June Reply

    Hmm, we have an author study in third grade and us picture books, so I could squeeze in an illustrator study then. At my last school we had an art unit, so the students were very familiar with all of the elements of design, but I need to get back to that!

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    Posted at 11:42h, 23 June Reply

    This is just fantastic. And, yes! I’ve only thought about meeting this standard through technology. You have really set up a way for students to study and write powerfully. I just picked up Wall by Tom Clohosy Cole. Such an amazing text to use with this kind of teaching. Thank you Tammy and Claire!

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    Posted at 12:51h, 23 June Reply

    Speaking of illustrations (and picture books), you should take the class I took on picture book art at the Highlights Foundation (in conjunction with the Eric Carle Museum). Not sure if you read my post about it last fall, but here it is if you’d like more information, https://twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/2014/10/20/carlehighlights/. I went with Lynne and Rose and the three of us thought it was an incredible learning experience.

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    Posted at 17:58h, 23 June Reply

    This is fabulous – getting at characters ,setting and mood via visual cues. Thanks for sharing a lovely set of texts to begin this work, too.

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