Engage Readers with the Whole Book Approach

The Whole Book Approach is a read-aloud model that engages learners to gather clues from illustrations. Readers become active participants as they look closely at the artwork from cover to cover. This model is important because learners use their schema to synthesize information. They share what they see. There are no right or wrong answers. Everyone has a voice, and all ideas are considered.

Megan Dowd Lambert developed the Whole Book Approach in association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. She is a senior lecturer in children’s literature at Simmons University. Her book, Reading Picture Books with Children: How to Shake Up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They Seeis one every librarian should study. Lambert explains how to look at book design to transform the read-aloud experience. As a result, learners become invested in the contents and develop a deeper understanding of the story.

Let’s try the Whole Book Approach as a pre-reading activity. We’ll use Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall to illustrate this work. We’ll consider the shape, jacket, cover, and endpapers.


Did you know that the mere shape of a book can give readers pre-reading information? It’s true! Lambert discusses how a book’s landscape can infer movement, evoke feelings, and highlight topics. Hello Lighthouse is the perfect book to illustrate this point. The portrait (vertical) orientation gives focus on the subject.

Introduce the book by asking the following questions:

  • What do you notice about the shape of this book?
  • Why do you think the book was designed this way? What makes you say that?
  • How would the illustration change if the book was short and square?
  • Think about how you take pictures of tall things with your parent’s cell phone. How do you hold the phone to take the picture? What would happen to your subject if you held the phone horizontally rather than vertically?


Some picture books use the entire jacket to give information about the book. Hello Lighthouse uses the front and back cover to give clues. The Caldecott Medal on the front cover delivers even more pre-reading information. The following questions will provoke learners to look closely at the details:

  • What do you notice about the illustration on the front jacket of Hello Lighthouse? Now, take a look at the back jacket. Is there new information we can gather?
  • What does the illustrator want us to know about the man in the lighthouse? Why do you think she included the man on three different levels of the lighthouse?
  • Take a look at the medal on the front jacket. What do you already know about this medal? What can we expect to see based on this award?


I hope you can remove the jacket from your copy of Hello Lighthouse. There is more work to be done on the front and back cover of the book! Learners can compare and contrast the front cover and the back cover. They can further explore the covers by comparing them to the jacket illustrations. Engage learners to think critically about the artwork by asking the following questions:

  • What do you see happening on the front cover of the book? Compare the illustration with the front jacket. What is happening on the covers?
  • Take a look at the back cover. What is happening? Now, compare the back cover with the back jacket. What is different?


Hello Lighthouse delivers even more pre-reading information on the endpapers. The front endpapers offer snippets of the lighthouse keeper. Readers will find a spool of thread, needlework of a whale’s tail, a sinking boat, a photograph of a wedding, and a letter in script. The following questions will set the stage for the story:

  • What do you see on the front endpapers? What do we learn about the lighthouse keeper from these objects? Why do you think this artwork was placed on the endpapers?

It’s clear that Lambert’s experience at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art influenced her work. Reading Picture Books with Children looks and feels like an art publication rather than a professional development book. The shiny, heavy stock paper brightens featured images from favorite picture books. Lambert uses an engaging voice to describe lessons in book discovery. It’s as if Lambert is walking you through the Eric Carle Museum, imparting information on book design. Handwritten labels point to the different parts of a book, and colorful pull quotes highlight interesting points. It’s a gorgeous book you’ll want to visit time and time again.

I hope you’ll consider adding Lambert’s Reading Picture Books with Children to your professional development collection. It’s a book for all educators who want to transform their read-aloud experiences and engage learners.

For lesson ideas supported by the AASL Standards Framework for Learners, please visit Library Lessons.


Author: Maureen Schlosser

Author: Lessons Inspired by Picture Books for Primary Grades and Social and Emotional Learning for Picture Book Readers published by ALA Editions
Blogger: https://LibraryLessonsWithBooks.com
Skillshare Teacher: https://skl.sh/3a852D5

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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