ERIC Identifier: ED412168
Publication Date: 1997-03-00
Author: Manifold, Marjorie Cohee
Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
Picture Books as a Social Studies Resource in the Elementary
School Classroom. ERIC Digest.
As we enter the "information age," our need to process volumes of data
quickly and efficiently increases. The adage "a picture is worth a thousand
words" suggests the expressive power of images. Elements of design--line, shape,
color, value, and space--are the lexicon of images. Organized and ordered by the
design principles--balance, emphasis, harmony, variety, gradation, movement,
rhythm, and proportion--an image's expressive qualities are determined by these
factors. Visual literacy, the ability to comprehend meaning in images, requires
critical viewing skills. Unlike moving images, images in picture books allow the
sustained viewing time necessary for developing critical viewing skills through
exploration, critique, and reflection. Although commonly considered part of the
literary arts, picture books are useful tools for teaching many abstract and
complex concepts of the social studies at the elementary level.
IMAGES AS ALLEGORIES
Images may function as allegories
which provide intuitive understanding of complex events or relationships. A
powerful image may become a mental "bookmark" of a historic event by capturing
and freezing the essence of the represented event in visual allegory. Critical
viewing will reveal not only the facts of the event, but also the artist's bias
or point of view which either concurs with or stands in contrast to pervasive
public opinion of the event. A two-volume series--"Photos that Made U.S.
History, Volume I: From the Civil War to the Atomic Age," and "Volume II: From
the Cold War to the Space Age," both by Edward and Daniel Wakin (1993, Walker
& Company)--presents bookmark historic images followed by text which sets
the scene, introduces the photographer, and describes how each photograph shaped
public sentiment and government policies. Photographs, posters, paintings, and
primary documents from the archives of the Library of Congress are organized in
a series of thematic books by Martin W. Sandler: "Pioneers" (1994), "Cowboys"
(1994), "Civil War" (1996), and "Immigrants" (1995, HarperCollins Publishers).
HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPHERS AND ARTISTS.
"Shadow Catcher: The
Life and Work of Edward S. Curtis" by Laurie Lawler (1994, Walker & Co.)
examines the life work of Curtis and his ethnographic documentation of native
North Americans. "Dorothea Lange" by Robyn Montana Turner (1994, Little, Brown
& Co.) chronicles the life and work of the photographer whose work includes
the "Migrant Mother," an image which came to epitomize the anguish and despair
of the Great Depression. "Capturing Nature: The Writing and Art of John James
Audubon," edited by Peter and Connie Roop and illustrated by Rick Farley (1993,
Walker & Co.), introduces an artist-explorer of the American frontier and
his watercolor documentation of native American wildlife.
ILLUSTRATED STORYBOARD NARRATIVE
Rather than encapsulating
events in a single image, artist/illustrators may present a series of images
that creates a storyboard narrative of the event from beginning to conclusion.
This method is particularly effective when the described events are of a
magnitude or complexity that otherwise would be difficult for young learners to
grasp. Although sensitively composed illustrations may allow audiences only a
surface understanding of an event, the spiritual essence of the story is
maintained. "Aunt Harriet's Underground Railroad in the Sky," written and
illustrated by Faith Ringgold (1992, Crown Publishers); "White Socks Only" by
Evelyn Coleman, illustrated by Tyrone Geter (1996, Albert Whitman & Co.);
and "The Feather-Bed Journey" by Paula Kurzband Feder, illustrated by Stacey
Schiett (1995, Albert Whitman & Co.) all present difficult periods or
experiences of social history through illustrations and text that offer gentle
explanation while inviting contemplation and further exploration of the themes.
Timelines are frequently used in
teaching to show sequence and continuity. When images are used to describe
relationships, comprehension of multilayered, intricate, and integrated
connections is enhanced. DK Publishing produces a variety of picture books which
encourage young viewers to make connections between various experiential
understandings and cognitive knowledge. Among these publications are "Chronicle
of the World" (1996), "Steven Biesty's Incredible Explosions" by Richard Platt
(1996), and "Incredible Comparisons" by Russell Ash (1996, DK Publishing).
Usborne picture books, "The Usborne Time Traveller Books" (1993) and "The
Usborne Book of World History" by Lisa Miles (1995, Usborne Publishing, Ltd.),
expand the notion of the timeline by including many annotated images which
present each historic era from multiple perspectives. "The Greek News" by Anton
Powell and Philip Steele (1996, Candlewick Press) and "The Roman News" by Andrew
Langley and Philip DeSouza (1996, Candlewick Press) present ancient history in a
contemporary format which encourages identification with universal human
experiences and emotions through time.
MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION THROUGH DIVERSE SOCIO-CULTURAL IMAGES
When text is integrated with image, a symbiotic interaction occurs.
Excellent illustrations are an extension of literal text, and integral to
comprehension of the narrative. This is a particularly important consideration
when selecting picture books which present multicultural images.
Styles of depiction which identify an era or reflect a culture enhance
cognitive and aesthetic understanding. An example of this is found in "Dia's
Story Cloth: The Hmong People's Journey of Freedom" by Dia Cha (1996, Lee &
Low). A traditional Hmong art form created by Chue and Nhia Thao Cha presents
the story. Assemblages and paintings by Paul Morin reflect a Native American
culture and illustrate the story of "The Ghost Dance" by Alice McLerran (1995,
Clarion Books). Cultural art expression is incorporated in both the visual text
and the narrative of "Abuela's Weave" by Omar S. Castaneda, illustrated by
Enrique O. Sanchez (1993, Lee & Low) and "Luka's Quilt," written and
illustrated by Georgia Guback (1994, Greenwillow Books); while synthesis of
culture and art are seen in "A Prairie Year" by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet, art by
Yvette Moore (1994, Tundra Books) and "Heartland" by Diane Siebert, paintings by
Wendell Minor (1989, HarperTrophy).
DEVELOPING SOCIAL EMPATHY THROUGH PICTURES
line, value, color, and the artist's style of characterization convey messages
that guide young audiences to empathic understanding of contemporary social
issues and/or global experiences. The varied hopes, dreams, fears, and
experiences of child immigrants are expressed in equally varied artistic styles
in "Leaving for America" by Roslyn Breenick-Perry, illustrated by Mira Reisberg
(1992, Children's Book Press); All the Lights in the Night" by Arthur A. Levine,
illustrated by James E. Ransome (1991, Tambourine Books); and "The Little Weaver
of Thai Yen Village" by Tran-Khanh-Tuyet, illustrated by Nancy Home (1986,
Children's Book Press).
"Someplace to Go" by Maria Testa, illustrated by Karen Ritz (1996, Albert
Whitman & Co.); "Baseball Saved Us" by Ken Mochiziki, illustrated by Dom Lee
(1993, Lee & Low); and "Friends from the Other Side" by Gloria Anzaldua,
illustrated by Consuelo Mendez (1993, Children's Book Press) present painful
experiences in muted colors and dark tones. These picture books may be launching
points for discussion of difficult and controversial social problems. "Crack in
the Wall," by Mary Elizabeth Haggerty, illustrated by Reuben de Anda (1993, Lee
& Low), relies on sparse visual detail to convey poverty, while translucent
watercolor hues suggest the universal theme of hope and wealth in human
affection. A similar theme is addressed in "Amelia's Road" by Linda Jacobs
Altman, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez (1993, Lee & Low); "Calling the
Doves" by Juan Feliz Herrera, illustrated by Ely Simmons (1995, Children's Book
Press); and "Going Home" by Eve Bunting, illustrated by David Diaz (1996, Joanna
Cotler Books, HarperCollins Publishers). Each looks at the experience of life in
a migrant worker family from a different perspective.
FOCAL POINTS OF LESSONS ON HUMAN SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
The beautifully detailed images of "The Children of China: An Artist's
Journey" by Song Nan Zhang (1995, Tundra Books) reveal both the variety and
universality of certain cultural, family, and childhood experiences. "Abuelita's
Paradise" by Carmen Santiago Nodar, illustrated by Diane Paterson (1992, Albert
Whitman & Co.); "Sachiko Means Happiness" by Kimiko Sakai, illustrated by
Tomie Arai (1990, Children's Book Press); and "The Spirit of Tio Fernando: A Day
of the Dead Story" by Janice Levy, illustrated by Morella Fuenmayor (1995,
Albert Whitman & Co.) look at intergenerational relationships and adjustment
to loss of loved ones through the eyes of children from different cultures.
Learning to write one's name is a landmark experience of self-discovery.
Becoming literate opens the door to the world beyond the daily experience. The
transcending excitement of literacy is described by Ted Lewin, who builds rhythm
of line and detail to a climactic ending with dramatic chiaroscuro in "The Day
of Ahmed's Secret" by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland (1990,
Any of the picture books suggested here might be used as a focal point of a
social studies lesson or unit. As the literal narrative initiates discussion,
the images may be critically read and contemplated for greater understanding of
the topics they present. In doing so, young students may come to celebrate
similarities and differences among people of many cultures, recognize that basic
human problems are globally shared by children of diverse cultures, and come to
empathize with the universality of the human condition in an environment of
tolerance and acceptance.
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES
Farris, Pamela J., and Carol
J. Fuhler. "Developing Social Studies Concepts through Picture Books." READING
TEACHER 47 (February 1994): 380-87. EJ 477 417.
Harms, Jeanne McLain, and Lucille J. Lettow. "Criteria for Selecting Picture
Books with Historical Settings." SOCIAL EDUCATION 58 (March 1994):152-54. EJ 485
Marantz, Kenneth, and Others. THE PICTUREBOOK: SOURCE AND RESOURCE FOR ART
EDUCATION. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association, 1994. ED 377 130.
McCoubrey, Sharon, ed. LINKING ART AND BOOKS: BCATA JOURNAL FOR ART TEACHERS
33 (Summer 1993). ED 398 653.
Mitchell, Florence S. "Introducing Art History through Children's
Literature." LANGUAGE ARTS 67 (December 1990): 839-46. EJ 419 758.
Stewart, Loraine Moses. "Integrating African-American Literature in the
Elementary Social Studies Classroom." READING HORIZONS 35 (1995): 414-21. EJ 508