Book Review: Katy Ray Wood’s In Pictures and In Words

I’ve been feeling like I need to know more about writing instruction in elementary schools for my Writing Project work. I had heard of Katy Ray Wood, so I decided to read her most recent book, In Pictures and In Words: Teaching the Qualities of Good Writing Through Illustration Study. What a fascinating read. Wood describes how teachers can use illustration work to help children develop skills that will make them successful writers. One of the things she talks about is the need to develop stamina–which is what kids are doing when they focus on their drawing for long periods of time. When we teachers use the language of writing and process in relation to children’s illustration work, we are helping them internalize, label, and draw on important composition skills.

Moreover, we are preparing students to become “intentional” writers when we have them analyze the illustrations in picture books and help them realize how many choices they can make when they draw. One of my favorite examples was from a picture book called Mud by Mary Lyn Ray. Wood and her students talk about one picture: a close up of feet with mud oozing through the toes. Wood helps her students analyze why an illustrator would choose to draw only the feet–not the entire body. They look at other examples that zoom in on a piece of something rather than the whole . . . and students begin to see this as a strategy they could use in their own illustration work. I love the adjective “intentional,” which, to me, signals not just the ability to be strategic but also keeping a specific purpose in mind to guide one’s choices.

Wood’s book is an enlightening read for teachers at any grade level. It helped me see illustration work in an entirely new way and suggested ways of talking about illustration that make the application to writing much more clear.

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