In her book Tough Boris, Mem Fox tells the story of a pirate who mourns the death of his pet parrot. In this short, 71-word text, she uses words like “massive” and “scruffy” and “greedy” and “fearless” to help readers know that Boris von der Borch is a stereotypical pirate. However when Boris “cried and cried” at the loss of his parrot, the stereotype is shattered and readers are reminded that it is human to feel sadness at the loss of a beloved.
Part of teaching children to read closely is learning to ask, “Is this it? Or is there something more?” While it’s hard to imagine that in 71 short words, there could be anything more, Tough Boris offers the perfect opportunity to help introduce children to the relationship between author and illustrator and train them to look
carefully at the details and nuances present in the pictures.
When readers look closely at the illustrations in Tough Boris, they may notice new details. For example, on the dedication page, there is a picture of a boy holding a violin case on a cliff overlooking the sea and an island with a windmill. Later in the book, we have a close-up of Boris von der Borch’s feet wearing wooden shoes. In another picture, the pirates are fighting over what appears to be the same violin case from the dedication page and Boris has his sword wielded to slay the pirate that takes it from him.
The illustrations of this book are rich with details that support a sub-story that causes readers, young and old, to wonder who the boy is? What is the significance of the violin? Is this book only about a man whose parrot dies or is Boris von der Borch mourning the loss of something else as well? Close, careful scrutiny of the pictures and the words invites speculation and conversation and when it is over, readers awe at what a truly amazing story they didn’t notice the first time they read this book.
Tough Boris is one example of a book that presents students with interesting problems to solve. It forces readers to look and look again and wonder about what they understand and question if there is still more to learn–hallmarks of critical thinking. If there is one goal that defines close reading, it is to lead readers to deep understandings of texts. When we carefully select text that gives readers much to think about, rich conversation and deep thinking are inevitable.
Because today’s post looks specifically at closely reading text and illustrations, we thought it would be helpful to curate a list of recommendations of similar books, those in which the illustrations carry as much weight of the story as the text. What titles do you suggest?