Text reading "teach summarizing picture books" in bold pink letters on a blurred background of printed words.

Choosing Picture Books to Teach Summarizing: Strategies and Tips

Summarizing is a critical reading skill that allows students to distill the essence of a story or text. This blog post explores how you can use picture books to teach summarizing effectively and provides a list of picture books as inspiration. Use them to teach how to find the most relevant parts of a story and dismiss what is irrelevant.

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What is Summarizing?

Summarizing involves condensing a text to its most important elements — the main ideas, key details, and underlying themes — while omitting less crucial information. It’s a skill that enhances comprehension and fosters critical thinking and information retention.

Benefits of Summarizing

  • Summarizing improves memory for what has been read.
  • Identifying the most important details, along with supporting details.
  • Reducing a large selection of text to improve understanding.
  • Summarizing is important in different academic areas.
Two children, a girl and a boy wearing glasses, teach each other summarizing while intently reading a book together in a library setting.

Teaching Summarizing with Picture Books

Summarizing is like retelling but requires determining the most important details of a text. It helps your students identify the book’s central idea and supporting details. 

Using picture books to teach summarizing means you can model how to identify key information and pick out important details, helping your students omit irrelevant information from their summaries. 

Dismissing irrelevant information means your students must understand the following literacy concepts: characters, setting, plot, events, problem, and solution.

It will help if your students are confident in retelling and sequencing before focusing on summarizing.

Why Use Picture Books to Teach Summarizing?

Using picture books to teach summarizing presents several benefits:

  • Visual Support: Picture book illustrations provide visual cues that help students identify key ideas and details, making summarizing more accessible.
  • Engagement: The artwork and narratives in picture books engage students’ interest and imagination, encouraging deeper interaction with the text.
  • Accessibility: With their concise text and vivid imagery, picture books are especially suitable for young readers or those struggling with more dense texts.


You can help your students identify the most important parts of a story by using these prompts:

  • Somebody: Who is the main character?
  • Wanted: What did the main character want?
  • But: What was the problem?
  • So: How was the problem solved?
  • Then: How did the story end?

Who – What – Where – When – Why – How

Group of children laughing and reading a book together in a library setting, as they learn to summarize the story.

Strategies for Teaching Summarizing with Picture Books

  • Pre-Reading Discussion: Begin by discussing the book’s title, cover, and illustrations to activate prior knowledge and predict content.
  • Guided Reading: As you read, pause to discuss the plot, characters, and setting. Ask questions that prompt your students to think about the story’s main ideas.
  • Identifying Key Elements: Use the illustrations and text to identify the main idea, characters, setting, problem, and solution. Visual aids, like story maps or graphic organizers, can be helpful.
  • Modeling Summarizing: Demonstrate how to summarize a story by thinking aloud as you condense a text into its main points. Highlight how to use one’s own words and connect key details succinctly.
  • Practice with Guidance: Have students practice summarizing parts of the book with partners or in small groups. Offer feedback and support as they work to express the story’s essence.
  • Independent Summarizing: Encourage students to summarize the book independently, either through writing or orally. This reinforces their understanding and ability to apply summarizing skills independently.

Questions to Use with Books to Teach Summarizing

  • What is the main idea of the story?
  • What information from the text is important to support the main idea?
  • Who are the main characters?
  • What is the setting?
  • What is the problem and solution?
  • What information from the text is irrelevant?
  • What happened after [event]?
  • What was the first/last thing that happened in the story?
  • What does [character] do during different parts of the story?
  • What actions and reactions took place in the story?
  • What are the most important parts of the story?
  • What details from the text and illustrations help us understand the story better?
  • How would you summarize the story to someone who hasn’t read it?

Picture Books to Teach Summarizing

Choose picture books rich in plot and character development but not overly complex. Books with a clear problem and resolution and those that evoke questions and predictions are particularly effective.

111 Trees: How One Village Celebrates the Birth of Every Girl by Rina Singh

In Piplantri village, Sundar Paliwal encouraged gender equality by asking villagers to plant 111 trees every time a girl was born. These trees provided food, water, and jobs for women.

Paliwal wanted to show that everyone can work together to help the environment, empower women, and build a stronger community.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Follow a group of children from diverse backgrounds through a day at their school where everyone is welcome in an environment of acceptance and respect for everyone’s unique differences.

All Are Welcome promotes discussions on embracing diversity, fostering inclusivity, respecting all cultures, and building unity in our communities.

A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon

Camilla Cream loves lima beans but won’t eat them because her friends hate them. A mysterious illness causes her to become what others think she should be. Only when she embraces her true self does she recover.

A Bad Case of the Stripes serves as a reminder that individuality should be celebrated and that personal growth stems from self-acceptance and the courage to resist societal pressures.

Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Day Parade by Melissa Sweet

Tony Sarg, a puppeteer, created Macy’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons. He invented giant helium-filled balloons that would float above the city streets, and the parade became a beloved tradition that continues to this day.

Balloons Over Broadway explores creativity, innovation, perseverance, dedication, curiosity, and problem-solving skills.

Biblioburro: A True Story from Colombia by Jeanette Winter

A true story of Luis Soriano Bohórquez, who loads his books onto two burros (donkeys) and treks into the remote countryside of Colombia to distribute books to children who don’t have access to them.

Biblioburro inspires discussions on a love of reading, the power of education, community service, perseverance, and creative problem-solving. This is the first of two picture books to teach summarizing by Jeanette Winter.

Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed

Bilal invites his friends to help cook a traditional Daal dish. Amidst his excitement, Bilal worries about his friends’ reactions to this cultural experience.
Bilal Cooks Daal promotes discussions on cultural diversity, patience, community building, open-mindedness and making connections.

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin

When Farmer Brown’s cows stumble upon a typewriter, they type letters demanding electric blankets. Things escalate as the cows strike, and Duck is the mediator. But the peace doesn’t last long when the ducks have their own demands!

Click, Clack, Moo story promotes dialogue about fair negotiations, communication’s power, and compromise.

Don't Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller

Aria loves her hair but doesn’t like it when people touch it without permission. She realises she needs to be assertive and clarifies that her hair is a part of her personal space, and people must respect that.

Don’t Touch My Hair! promotes discussions on respect for personal boundaries, self-esteem, assertiveness, and consent.

Drawn Together by Minh Lê

A boy and his grandfather cannot communicate through words due to language differences. They discover a shared love for art, transforming their interactions from frustrating silence to vibrant storytelling.

Drawn Together explores communication, open-mindedness, and identity and emphasises the power of making connections through non-verbal communication.

Elmer by David McKee

Elmer, a patchwork of colours, is different from the other elephants. He changes his skin to grey to fit in but discovers he enjoys being different. The other elephants accept Elmer for who he is, and he realises it is okay to be different.

Elmer promotes discussions on individuality, acceptance, self-awareness, open-mindedness, and the importance of being oneself.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

When Jeremy moves into the neighbourhood, he snubs the protagonist. The boy’s father suggests making an enemy pie, but it will only work if he spends the whole day with his enemy (Jeremy). They end up having so much fun the boy doesn’t need the pie.

Enemy Pie promotes discussions on making friends, overcoming prejudices, resolving conflicts, and reevaluating first impressions.

Flotsam by David Wiesner

A boy stumbles upon an old camera on the beach. Developing its film reveals an underwater world beyond imagination, a visual narrative linking children across time and space.

Flotsam, a wordless book, inspires discussions on perception, perspectives, curiosity, and observation. This is the first of two picture books to teach summarizing by David Wiesner. 

Four Feet, Two Sandals by Karen Lynn Williams

Living in a Peshawar refugee camp, Lina and Feroza each find one yellow sandal, forming a perfect pair. They alternate wearing them. When Lina and her mother emigrate to America, Feroza insists they’ll share the sandals again one day.

Four Feet, Two Sandals explores belonging, compassion, the power of hope, social awareness, and the realities refugee children face.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost by Flavia Z. Drago

A timid ghost struggles to make friends because he is invisible to others. Despite his fears, Gustavo courageously invites everyone to his violin concert on the Day of the Dead. In doing so, he makes new friends and learns to overcome his shyness.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost promotes discussions about overcoming fears, Hispanic culture, and making friends.

How to Catch a Leprechaun by Adam Wallace

A timid ghost struggles to make friends because he is invisible to others. Despite his fears, Gustavo courageously invites everyone to his violin concert on the Day of the Dead. In doing so, he makes new friends and learns to overcome his shyness.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost promotes discussions about overcoming fears, Hispanic culture, and making friends.

Joni: The Lyrical Life of Joni Mitchell by Selina Alko

Joni Mitchell expressed her creativity through music and painting as a child despite suffering from polio. She inspired a generation with her emotional and personal songs. Joni wrote a famous song about Woodstock because she could not attend.

The book captures Joni’s determination to beat societal norms and her evolution into a feminist and folk icon. It explores determination, resilience, self-expression and the power of music.

The Librarian of Basra by Jeanette Winter

Librarian Alia Muhammad Baker saves her library’s books from destruction during the conflict in Iraq by transporting them to her own home with the help of her community.

Alia’s courage and perseverance resulted in a victory for the library, allowing people to access the resources and stories within. This is the second of two picture books to teach summarizing by Jeanette Winter.

Little Beauty by Anthony Browne

A lonely gorilla learns sign language to communicate with his zookeepers. They bring him a tiny cat called Beauty, and the two become inseparable. When the gorilla gets angry, his keepers threaten to separate the pair until the kitten keeps them together.

Little Beauty promotes discussions, communication, friendships, kindness, loneliness, and self-management. This is the first of two picture books to teach summarizing by Anthony Browne.

Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport

As a young boy, Martin witnessed the harsh reality of segregation. Inspired by his father’s preaching and his mother’s assurance of his worth, Martin grows up to use his ‘big words’ to fight for equality and justice.

Martin’s Big Words promotes discussions on social justice, racial segregation, advocacy for equal rights, bravery in the face of adversity and resistance, and the power of words.