Newbery’s Nod to Picture Books!

37820-2Picture books are for all ages. However, there is great debate among educators about the role of picture books in the classroom, especially in upper elementary grades, middle school and high school.

This year’s Newbery committee confirmed what many of us believe and have been talking about on social media and at professional development conferences- picture books are for everyone- readers of all ages. This year’s Newbery winner, Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, reaffirms our belief that picture books are outstanding forms of literature for all ages and should be read in all classrooms- elementary, middle, and high school.

Matt de la Peña is the first Hispanic author to receive the Newbery award and the second author to receive the award for a picture book. In a Publishers Weekly article, de la Peña describes the 4:30 am phone call when he heard the great news:

“At 4:30, the phone rings, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, maybe it got the Caldecott Honor or something,’ ” he recalled. The book was, in fact, named a Caldecott Honor for Robinson’s artwork, but this particular phone call was not de la Peña’s agent, but someone else. “The guy on the phone said he was the chair of the Newbery Committee, and I thought he messed up and said the wrong word.” But when committee chair Ernie J. Cox delivered the news, “I just literally could not comprehend it,” de la Peña said. “To tell you the truth, I still can’t believe it. I threatened to kiss him and everyone on the committee when I see them. It was a huge, huge shock.” ~ Publishers Weekly Article

Like de la Peña, when the Newbery was first announced, my students were shocked. “A picture book?” they cried. “Can a picture book win the Newbery?” This news rattled our class and our Mock Newbery club. Surely the Newbery couldn’t go to a picture book, my students cried. “Isn’t it only for chapter books?”

I smiled. This was a terrific upset! It was going to change the way my students viewed the books we were reading. After a terrific discussion and some debating, we talked about the many ways that this year’s award is ground breaking. We discussed the important role of picture books in our classroom. We decided that our picture books are the heartbeat of our classroom library. They are the stories that bond us together like a family.

This year’s award affirms the belief that picture books are for all ages and readers. Thank you Newbery committee for helping students, teachers, parents, and administrators understand that the best literature for elementary, middle, and high school students doesn’t need to be a chapter book. It can be any form- picture books, graphic novels, poetry, verse books, etc. This year’s award opens doors for readers and writers.



Originally from Pennsylvania, Dana Johansen is hoping that Punxsutawney Phil will not see his shadow on Feb. 2nd and there will be an early spring. In the meantime, she spends her time teaching fifth grade in wintery Connecticut, sitting with her yellow lab on the couch reading YA Lit, and watching the tv show, The Big Bang Theory. She has taught elementary and middle school for fourteen years. Dana is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University where she studies blended learning in reading and writing workshop. She is the co-author of the books Teaching Interpretation and Flip Your Writing Workshop.