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Reading with Intent: Picture Books to Teach Author’s Purpose

Picture books simplify complex ideas through engaging narratives and lively illustrations, making them perfect for explaining why authors write the way they do. Whether a story meant to entertain or a factual book designed to inform, each page reveals clues about the author’s intent that readers can decode.

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Using Picture Books to Teach Author's Purpose

Picture books are powerful tools for teaching the concept of the author’s purpose. Understanding why an author writes a piece is crucial for developing critical reading skills.

Picture books, with their rich illustrations and engaging narratives, offer an opportunity to delve into this concept in a way that is accessible and enjoyable for children.

Teaching author’s purpose helps your students understand why an author wrote what they did. The three most common reasons are to persuade, inform, and entertain. However, an author may have multiple reasons for writing a book.

Persuasive text is trying to convince the reader of something. Readers may come across facts, reasons, statistics, or the author stating why they believe something. They must consider whether the author is trying to convince them of something or change their opinion.

Informative text helps the reader learn something or make an informed decision. It could include teach, state, tell, explain, or inform. These words also warn the reader they may have to analyse what they have learned.

Unlike persuade and inform, entertaining text doesn’t have specific words to look out for. What is more important is how an author writes, including using fun words, punctuation, onomatopoeia, descriptive language, interesting characters and settings, attractive illustrations, and an exciting plot.

A woman concentrating on writing in a notebook at a table by a window with books for teaching author's purpose in the background.

Why Picture Books Are Effective for Teaching Author’s Purpose

  • Visual Cues: Picture book illustrations provide visual cues that help children infer the author’s purpose. For instance, a book with vivid, whimsical images might be intended to entertain, while one with detailed, realistic drawings could be intended to inform.
  • Engagement: Picture books’ combination of text and illustrations captivates readers, making engaging with the material and understanding an author’s purpose easier.
  • Simplicity: Picture books often convey messages in a straightforward manner, ideal for teaching beginners the author’s purpose.
  • Diversity: Many picture books cater to various interests, cultures, and age groups. This diversity allows you to choose books that reflect students’ experiences and interests, making the lesson on author’s purpose more relatable and effective.

How to Use Picture Books to Teach Author's Purpose

  • Selection of Books: Choose various picture books that exemplify different purposes. Include a mix of stories to entertain, inform, persuade, and express feelings or ideas.
  • Discussion and Questions: After reading, engage your students in discussing the book’s purpose. Ask questions that prompt them to consider why the author wrote the book and how the illustrations and text support this purpose. (Questions below)
  • Comparative Analysis: Encourage students to compare and contrast books for different purposes. This can help them understand the nuances of each purpose and how they affect the reader’s experience.
  • Creative Projects: Have students create their own picture book with a clear purpose. This activity reinforces their understanding of the author’s purpose and encourages creativity and expression.
Interior of a cozy bookstore with stacks of colorful books for teaching author's purpose prominently displayed on tables and shelves.

Questions to use with Picture Books to Teach Author’s Purpose

These prompts and questions will help your students become familiar with thinking about the author’s purpose as they are reading:

  • The author’s purpose was _____.
  • The author wants me to learn _____.
  • The author’s purpose was _____ because the text said _____.
  • How has the author shown their intent? Do they show that the book is [to inform, entertain or persuade]?
  • What does [word] tell you about the author’s purpose? What other [word or phrase] could the author have used?
  • Why has the author done [effect]? What does it make you think about?
  • Can a picture book have more than one purpose? Give an example.
  • Why is it important to know the author’s purpose when reading a book?
  • How do the illustrations enhance the author’s intended message?
  • Do you think the author’s purpose affects how a picture book is illustrated? How?
  • What differences do you notice in picture books intended to inform versus those meant to entertain?
  • Can the mood or tone of a picture book give us clues about the author’s purpose?

Picture Books to Teach Author’s Purpose

14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy

Kimeli, a Maasai tribesman, and his community gifted 14 cows to the people of America as a symbol of compassion and hope after the September 11, 2001 attack.

14 Cows for America highlights themes of empathy, unity, human connection across cultures, kindness and understanding in the face of adversity.

I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun

Told from the perspective of the Seoul subway in Korea. Each stop brings onboard new characters with different stories, dreams, hope, fears, and memories.

I Am the Subway, translated from Korean, promotes discussions on different perspectives, first-person narration, setting, making connections, and hope.

Alan Turing by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara

Alan Turing’s life as a mathematician and code breaker changed our lives. Unfortunately, he was not treated with the respect and compassion he deserved. His wartime calculations, which were thought to have saved over 14 million lives, were kept secret for decades.

A close-up of a boy holding a marble.

Back of the Bus by Aaron Reynolds

A boy gets on the bus with his Mama in Montgomery, Alabama. Sitting at the back, the boy plays with his marble until a commotion breaks out further down the bus. He sees the police arrive after Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat.

Read Back of the Bus to promote discussions on Civil Rights, black history, segregation, point of view, discrimination, perseverance, and social justice. This is the first of two picture books for teaching author’s purpose by Aaron Reynolds.

Beyond the Horizon by Carolina Celas

Beyond the Horizon is a wordless book that takes us across diverse horizons. Presenting different horizons opens up a world of imagination and broadens our students’ understanding of perspectives.

This wordless book fosters creativity and exploration and allows students to interpret the illustrations and understand different viewpoints.

The Cat Man of Aleppo by Irene Latham & Karim Shamsi-Basha

Alaa, an ambulance driver in war-torn Aleppo, chose to stay and aid the wounded. He began caring for the city’s abandoned cats, involving his neighbours. When his deeds gained global attention online, donations poured in, allowing him to create a sanctuary for Aleppo’s displaced cats.

The Cat Man of Aleppo sparks conversations on kindness, compassion, and the power of community, even in the face of hardship.

Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman

Change Sings tells the inspiring story of a young girl and her group of friends who work together to bring about positive change in their community.

The book teaches your students that age is no barrier to making a difference and that their unique voices can bring about positive changes in the world. This is the first of two picture books for teaching author’s purpose by Amanda Gorman.

Choose Love by Nicola Davies

This collection of poems showing what it’s like to be a refugee was part of a project with the Refugee Trauma Initiative, which gave Nicola Davies real-life stories.

Nicola used those stories to write poems about people who had to leave their homes and migrate to a foreign country. This included the hard journey they had to make, the border controls they had to go through, and not getting a warm welcome when they arrived. This is the first of two picture books for teaching author’s purpose by Nicola Davies.

Claire Malone Changes the World by Nadia L. King

Claire does all she can to make a difference in the world, but it doesn’t work out how she wants. Before burning out from the worry, she decides to work on issues closer to home and even learns to have fun.

Claire Malone Changes the World promotes discussions on being well-balanced, empowered, compassionate, persistent, knowledgeable, and the effects of technology.

Creepy Underwear by Aaron Reynolds

Jasper Rabbit believes he’s grown up enough to wear eerie-looking underwear, but they are more than he bargained for. He grapples with his fear and learns to appreciate the “cool” factor of his creepy underwear.

Creepy Underwear promotes discussions on overcoming fear, growing up, and the unexpected consequences of our wants. This is the second of two picture books for teaching author’s purpose by Aaron Reynolds.

Dear Greenpeace by Simon James

Concerned about the wellbeing of a whale on her pond, she writes to Greenpeace for advice. Despite their insistence that a whale can’t live in a pond, Emily continues to write, seeking the best help for her beloved whale.

Dear Greenpeace promotes discussions on persistence, environmental consciousness, the power of communication, and empathy and concern for animals.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy

Throughout her lifetime, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an unwavering advocate for justice, equality and ending unfair treatment.

I Dissent details Ruth’s journey in standing up for what is right, championing women’s rights, striving for equality, and how one person can make differences through.

The Fossil Hunter: How Mary Anning unearthed the truth about the dinosaurs by Kate Winter

Despite poverty and lack of recognition, Mary Anning made significant contributions to palaeontology. Her fossil discoveries in Dorset’s cliffs shifted scientific perspectives on the past, shedding light on extinction and prehistoric life.

The Fossil Hunter explores women in STEM, pursuing passions, curiosity, persistence and resilience in overcoming challenges such as gender roles and poverty. 

Girl on a Motorcycle by Amy Novesky

A girl on a motorcycle travels the world meeting new people and visiting unique locations. She learns and grows, demonstrating resilience in facing challenges, and she is a beacon of courage and perseverance.

Girl on a Motorcycle explores the representation of female characters, exploration, resilience, overcoming adversity, defying traditional norms, and pushing boundaries.