If I had to compile a Top Ten Teaching Picture Books I’m not sure which Kathy Henderson title I would choose because they serve very different purposes.
I love The Little Boat (illustrated by Patrick Benson, one of my Top Ten Teaching Picture Books Illustrators) for teaching what a sentence is. I’m not fond of children being told that they should put a full stop at the end of a sentence when they might not yet have grasped what a sentence is. Having done years of Literacy intervention I can say that, as we all know, there will always be children who get to Year 6 not understanding what a sentence is. And of course the lower you go through the year groups, the more children there will be.
The Little Boat shows an author making a sentence last for a whole book – well, the text certainly starts with a capital letter, but there is no full stop at the end of it. There are no full stops at all. Each section of text is in fact defined by the picture that matches it, like this:
The picture here is not complete: what you can see above is the left-hand half of a double-page spread, and the right-hand side continues the illustration, illustrating all the detail mentioned in the text. That’s the format of all the pages.
What I find so useful in terms of instruction is that it shows how a sentence can be anything the writer wants it to be. Kathy Henderson makes hers a series of simple ideas – here, ‘the boat sailed out’ – combined with a great number of adverbials that both add detail and move the story forward.
You could use this section in pieces written on to pieces of paper- *start teaching* here’s the main idea (one colour), here’s a bit (in a second colour) that tells you where it went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you more about where they went, here’s a bit (second colour) that tells you where it went next, etc. How many pieces does the author use to describe this picture? Let’s put the words on the part of the picture that they go with. Let’s draw the bits from the writing that we can’t see (like ‘the skim of the wind’ and ‘the silvery fish’) on the picture by Patrick. Look how Patrick puts all of Kathy’s words in the picture. Look how Kathy puts her ideas on different lines. Let’s put these bits of sentence in a line. Let’s put the part of the picture that goes with them above. *end teaching*
Then you could experiment with punctuation. *Where could we end this idea? How do we show the end of an idea? If we put a full-stop here, how do we have to show that we’re beginning a new idea with the next word?*
Some of the pages mirror the list-type, close-to-speech writing of children who haven’t yet moved away from using ‘and’ to join ideas. The text above continues:
and it bobbed by
a tugboat chugging home
from leading a liner
out to sea
and it churned in the wake
still further out
of a giant tanker
as high as a house
and as long as a road
Here, you could ask *which ‘ands’ could we take out and replace with a full-stop?* You could then repeat with children’s own previous writing. I like to make it explicit that *grown-up authors can change the rules because they have had lots of practice and they’re very skilled, but you still have to follow the rules*.
All of this instruction makes feedback so much more meaningful: you’ve explained what a sentence is, deconstructed and reconstructed it, mapped it against a picture – and if feedback references all this teaching it makes it less a mantra *Don’t forget to put full stops at the end of your sentences* and more of an activation of previous concrete learning.
P.S. Where the Wild Things Are can be used in a similar way, though it does have more full stops.