I’ve already written out ideas for how to introduce Depth and Complexity, but I’m often asked about stories or books to use. Here are two picture books I’ve used and one I would love to use if I had a classroom still.
⚠️ Note: you really only need one book to use. Once the prompts are introduced, move on to grade-level content (and beyond).
When picking a story to introduce or practice Depth and Complexity, I’d want it to meet just a few qualities:
- Short. This can’t be a month-long book study. I want to be able to read it aloud in one sitting.
- Interesting. We’re going to dig into the story, so it can’t be too shallow. The whole point is to work with depth and complexity, so the story has to inherently have depth and complexity.
- Re-Readable. We want to be able to re-read the story and try out other prompts. So I want the book to be enjoyable after multiple reads.
So, ideally, you’re going to end up with some deep and complex picture books. Here are my recommendations.
The Giving Tree
Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree was always my go-to story for introducing Depth and Complexity. It’s quick enough to read out loud in one setting, yet it is interesting enough to actually dig into. Read it every year, and you (as an adult) will see it in new ways. I try not to cry when reading this one!
Key Depth and Complexity points:
- The Tree has a 👄🚦 language rule: she always calls the main character “Boy” no matter his age.
- Broken Pattern alert! The Boy and Tree always spend time together. Until they don’t. (Broken Patterns are often key moments in stories).
- My students loved spotting 🌻 Details in the illustrations that the text does not reveal (What do the initials on the tree stand for? Is that… a girlfriend!?).
- A popular Unanswered Question: What happened to the wife?
I also enjoyed reading Allen Say’s Grandfather’s Journey. This picture book is about the author’s grandfather, a Japanese man who moves to America but then returns to Japan. He loves both places, yet never feels at home in either country. Another tear-jerker for me (my grandmother is a Japanese woman who moved to America).
This is one I’ve discovered while raising my own kid. Non-Stop from Tomi Ungerer is a picture book about a bizarre, post-apocalyptic future. My 5-year-old LOVES it and I know my 6th graders would have eaten it up. Judging by the Amazon reviews, some adults are scared of this one 😆.
My kid’s favorite 🌻 Detail is that the page says “branchless forest” yet the drawing has a single branch in the forest. If you’re also using the Content Imperatives, that would be a ↔️ Paradox!
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