Caldecott Logo

Visual Storytelling

Caldecott winners and other visually-rich books provide wonderful examples of visual storytelling. Get your students involved with using photographs, line drawings, paintings and other images in storytelling.

Amazing BoneBooks Come To Life

Seek out video versions of award winning books. For some students, the addition of animation and audio can bring the stories alive. Use the video to kick off the lesson and encourage students to read the book. For instance, The Amazing Bone by William Steig Farrar from Straus & Giroux is the Caldecott Honor Book 1977. Provide children with screen shots or scanned images from the book and ask them to retell the story. For some students, the visuals will facilitate their retelling.

Wordless Books

Stories without words allow children to tell their own story. These books are a great opportunity for children to write scripts for their own audio books. Use the open source Audacity software to record the audio and share them on the web or record them in PowerPoint. Set up a learning center with these student-produced audio books. Ask students to identify a sound that can be used to direct readers to turn the page. Wiesner is known for his wordless books. Explore the David Wiesner: The Art of Visual Storytelling website from Houghton Mifflin to learn more about these. Incorporate the following Caldecott books into a wordless book activity: Flotsam, No! David, The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher, The Red Book, Sector 7, Time Flies, Truck, Tuesday. Also, check out a list of wordless books or nearly wordless books. Read Creative Writing Through Wordless Picture Books for more ideas.

Share your wordless works at the Wordless Works Wiki.

wordless books

Pictures from Words

Sometimes stories start as words. Illustrators are often charged with creating pictures to go with existing words. Choose text and create your own illustrations.

In His Own Words. Read Henry's Freedom Box. Compare the original story written by Henry Box Brown to the picture book. How are they alike and different?

Well-Known Stories. Some stories are told over and over again. Each time the illustrator takes a different view of the content. Read The Spider and the Fly. Think about all the ways the spider and fly could be visualized. Also read The Stinky Cheeseman, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, and The Three Pigs. Find other versions of these stories to compare. How are they the same and different? Read tell the Old Lady story. Download a PowerPoint (PPT) project to get you started.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's EarsFables, Fairytales, and Folktales. In Caldecott Medal honor book Muraro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe, two beautiful daughters are presented to the king who will choose a wife. Check out the Reading Rainbow episode focusing on African tales. Also, explore other African tales such as Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, Jafta and the Wedding by Hugh Lewin, Who's in Rabbit's House by Verna Aardema, Also check Caldecott Medal honor book Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears written by Verna Aardema and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon.

Read Caldecott books that use fables, fairytales, and folktales in their storyline: Rapunzel, Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest, Stinky Cheese Man & Fairly Stupid Tales, Swamp Angel, Tops & Bottoms, The Three Pigs. Explore illustrations of different versions of fairy tales. How are they alike and different?

Compare different retellings of this story like Rapunzel. Go to The Annotated Rapunzel for ideas.

Trickster Tales. Read Raven: A Trickster Tale from the Pacific Northwest. It's an example of a trickster tale. Read all of McDermott's Trickster Tales. Then, write your own! Learn about ravens and their role in Native American stories and cultures. Choose a creature and write your own tale.

Read Tops & Bottoms. It's a trickster tale and also a fable.

Retell your own cultural stories. Create an illustration for a child's retelling of a fairy tale.

Fractured Tales. Many tales are modern or alternative versions. Read some of these and write your own version of the story. Watch the movie Shrek. How does this movie satirize fairy tales? Create your own movie satire.

Learn more about fractured fairy tales:

Revisiting the Past

Many stories are set in the past.

Cultural Experience. Read Grandfather's Journey. Examine how the Japanese culture is shown in the book. How is the culture alike and different from your own cultural experience? Compare the homes, clothing, landscapes, and daily experiences. Also compare "now" and "then". How have both cultures changed in the past 60 years?

Family Memories. Collect family members through interviews, drawings, and photographs. Write a story about your family history. In the Caldecott honor book A Chair for My Mother, Vera B. Williams tells the story of a family who saves their money to buy a new chair after a house fire. Check out the Reading Rainbow episode.

In Caldecott Medal winner Owl Moon written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, a father and daughter journey into the words to go owling. In search of the Great Horned Owl, try enjoy a winter hike under a full moon.

Historical Fiction. Read a historical fiction novel set in the Middle Ages. Use the Castle books to visualize the setting.

When? Can you tell the setting and time period of a book based on the images? Examine Grandfather's Journey. Compare photos of the time period with the illustrations in the book. How accurately do the illustrations reflect the time?

True to Life. Does this book do a good job reflecting the life of Duke Ellington? What's missing? What would you add?

Like the Original. Explore primary source documents and visuals related to Galileo. Compare them to the book. Can use find visuals that may have been inspirations for the book? What about the following books?

Fact or Fiction. Read The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Create a list of those things that are fact and fiction in the story. Use photos to compare the real places and things to the story and illustrations.

Public Domain Characters

Let's say you want to sell a story that included a Disney character or a character from your favorite television show. Would this be legal? Probably not. The copyright law prevents people from using the characters created by others. However some characters are in the public domain. For instance, Pinocchio was used in a Disney film, but the character is in the public domain. Check out the Public domain characters page at wikipedia. Use one of these characters in your own story. For instance, read the book Rapunzel. This character is in the public domain. You can decide how you'd like to represent it visually.

Animals as Characters

From bears and mice to dogs and cats, animals have always been a favorite source of characters for children's books. For instance, Hondo & Fabian, The Stray Dog, and Officer Buckle and Gloria all feature cats and/or dogs. Provide photos of dogs and cats that could be used as inspiration of characters.


Fictional Animals. Use the lists of fictional animals from Wikipedia to locate fictional animal characters. Be sure to check specific lists such as fictional rabbits, fictional mice and rats, fictional cats, fictional dogs, fictional pigs, fictional bears, and rabbits and hare.


Many of the Caldecott books contain stories about fictional animals such as Tops & Bottoms, My Friend Rabbit, Hondo & Fabian, Jumanji, Officer Buckle and Gloria, The Three Pigs, Tuesday, and Olivia.

Fictional Characters

Storytelling Teamwork

Many illustrators work with an author to produce a children's book. Work with a classmate. One person is the author and the other is the illustrator. Work together on the words and the text.

Go to the Creative Kickstart page and choose one of the exercises from the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Create a story and illustration.


| eduscapes | Literature Ladders | Activate | 42explore | About Us | Contact Us | © 1998-2008 Annette Lamb and Nancy R. Smith