Picture books are great for teaching figurative language – similes, personification, metaphors, or hyperbole – for any age level! For one thing, there’s lots of figurative language in there, and also the great artwork in many picture books enhances the figurative language and makes the images seem even more real. The only difficulty is finding the particular kind of figurative language that you want to teach when you want to teach it. Sometimes that can be more difficult than you might think. You remember seeing those great images, but which book did you see them in?
So, in case some of you might find it helpful, I’ve chosen a few examples of each of these four types of figurative language from some of my favorite picture books, and I’m sharing them here.
Muddy as a Duck Puddle, written by Laurie Lawlor and illustrated by Ethan Long, is a picture book all about similes. Some of the similes are traditional expressions. Many of them are funny, and so are the accompanying illustrations. A couple of examples – “Dark as a pocket,” and “Jittery as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” These similes are easy to explain, making them perfect to use as an introduction to this type of figurative language.
For personification, I chose The Stinky Cheese Man, by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, a collection of those fractured fairy tales that middle graders love. The title character, the Stinky Cheese Man, is a wheel of cheese that runs away from its owner, leads everyone on a wild chase, and taunts them along the way: “Run run run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me, I’m the Stinky Cheese Man!” Much like the gingerbread cookie in the original fairy tale “The Gingerbread Man,” the Stinky Cheese Man is easily recognizable personification for students who are just learning the concept. In fact, “The Gingerbread Man” would be another good choice. It’s available in a number of picture books, and you can also easily find the story itself online.
Owl Moon, a picture book written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, has some lovely examples of metaphors that are short and simple – perfect for introducing this more difficult type of figurative language. “The moon made his face into a silver mask.” “They (the shadows) stained the white snow.” You’ll also find nice examples of other figures of speech in this book, and unlike much of the figurative language in children’s books, these are not meant to be funny, just pretty language.
My first choice was Shrek, by William Steig. After all, Shrek himself is one big exaggeration. “Any snake dumb enough to bite him, instantly got convulsions and died.” However, since the hyperbole is basically the whole story, it’s a little difficult to isolate specific examples that students can easily explain. For really obvious hyperbole to use as examples, I’m going back to another classic story, “Babe the Blue Ox,” one of the Paul Bunyan tall tales. Like “The Gingerbread Man,” it is available in a number of picture books and you can find the text of this story online too. I’ll end with a quote from the opening line, “it was so cold that all the geese flew backward and all the fish moved south and even the snow turned blue.”
There is one more problem with using picture books – and that is that there are just so many choices. (Actually, a great problem to have!) Luckily I enjoy reading picture books now as much as I ever did, and I’m looking forward to writing about more favorites in the future. Do you have favorites that you like to use as mentor texts each year? Any titles that work especially well with certain poetry or story elements? I would love to hear your ideas, too!
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