Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Power of Persuasion

Last weekend, I had the privilege of leading a discussion of five humorous picture books at Book Fest at the Bank Street College of Education in New York. A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes, was one of them. The discussion group included teachers, public librarians, school librarians, college instructors of children’s literature, and reviewers. My favorite comment came from a school librarian.

At first, she did not love the book. But because it was on our discussion list, she read it and reread it. She began to change her mind about the book. Then she thought, “This would be a great example of persuasive writing for the fourth grade teachers to use with their students.” When she told this to the group, you could see the idea spread like a virus through the room, indicated by the “aha” expression that lit up everybody’s faces. A sixth-grade teacher had said as we introduced ourselves that she was using picture books to teach examples of good writing to her students. She looked particularly pleased.

I’ve thought a lot about that librarian’s insight. It reminded me of Avi’s observation at an NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) conference that humor books rarely win the awards, but humorous writing is very hard to do well. (Avi went on to win a Newbery Honor, but not for his humor books—it was for a historical novel The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.) Why not cite A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea as an example of persuasive writing? After all, one of the greatest examples of using humor to make a persuasive argument is, as far as I know, still taught in higher institutions of learning, and it dates back to the 18th century: Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” (And even at the pigs’ most piggish they could never achieve the kind of repulsive reaction that Swift’s proposal might from its more literal-minded listeners.) With Pig Parade, we can get children started at a far younger age to think about creative ways to make their arguments, and the kind of comical examples they could employ in service to their causes.


  1. I'm so pleased to hear that librarians and teachers are using great "picture books" to teach upper elementary grades. Too many adults choose to close the door to great choices because they feel "picture books" are not appropriate for children past kindergarten age. Thanks for sharing and encouraging.

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  3. Thank you for writing, Lisa! When I taught, I often used picture books with older students, and who knew we'd be in a position of defending the use of picture books with the audience for whom they're intended! You may have seen the front-page NY Times article last month that declared the death (my word, not the author's) of picture books. My favorite rebuttal came from Lisa Von Drasek, children's librarian at the Bank Street College of Education:

    Again, my thanks for writing! Long live picture books!