FAQs about PBT

In what settings might Picture Book Theology be especially beneficial? The most obvious setting is in religious communities, especially in programs for children, but many books will be enjoyed by youth and adults. Another wide application is in classrooms that allow religious or spiritual conversations such as private schools and homeschools. A less obvious setting for these kinds of conversations with picture books is in therapeutic situations, such as in counseling or spiritual direction. This practice is called bibliotherapy.  

Why mostly secular picture books? Picture books about specific religious stories and concepts are easily accessed via search engines on-line and at local libraries. In contrast, the subjects of secular picture books are often more subtle and offer much to supplement theological understanding. Also, many who do such ministry do not have knowledge of the potential or range of picture books.

What about the "God Books"? The God Books that I’ve included I consider sacred, not secular. Many are not explicitly religious. They offer a valuable exploration of God’s nature and our relationship to God in ways that are broad enough to fit into many theological contexts. Many of these books would not be easily found by people unfamiliar with picture books so I highlight them here. To find them, type in the search box (top right corner) "God Book."

What’s the biggest advantage of PBT? Most picture books can be accessed easily and without cost at public libraries and on the internet. Many internet book sources offer used copies so there is little cost. They are often very fun, easy to relate to, easily used, and non-threatening. You can present a book in several ways so that you can adapt it to your plan and setting.

I’m not a theological person or person in ministry, but I love picture books too! Will your blog benefit me? Yes! Anyone who is interested in learning/teaching positive aspects about human beings will find books here that they will enjoy. Many of these books encourage positive human endeavors other than theological growth such as healthy eating, engaging with nature, and exploration of diverse cultures and people.

When might PBT be especially beneficial or relevant? Sometimes an emotional event happens in a religious group such as a crisis, tragedy, disaster, or a death. Using picture books to talk about difficult and emotional subjects is particularly non-threatening and helpful to sooth and encourage conversation with children, teens, and adults.

I found a picture book that I like. What do I do now? To see if it's at PBT, try searching in the top right corner via the search box. Simply type author last name or think of the book's themes and type a single word. Look for theme words in the labels at the bottom of each page. I have a series of posts highlighting 5 questions to ask about any secular book. To access this series, search "PBT Questions." Create a lesson by introducing your topic, reading the picture book, offering scripture (the order can be changed), and then encourage conversation that explicitly states connections between the book and scripture. It could be as simple as acting out the scripture, reading the picture book, then discussing the connections.

I have a book in mind. How do I see if it is on your website?
ype the author's last name in the search box in the upper right corner or think of the book's themes and type that word or look for the word in the labels at the bottom of each page. Click on it and search for the book.  

I have a particular topic. What do I do now?  Type a theme word in the search box in the upper right corner or look for that word (or a synonym) in the labels at the bottom of each page and click on it. You’ll be sent to the posts of all the books I’ve loaded on that word. Now and then the book will be about the opposite of that topic. For instance, You Will Be My Friend, is a hilarious book about a girl who wants to make a friend so badly that she is pushy. That book is loaded under labels such as “gentleness” and “self-control.” 

How do I introduce and end a book? Always say the name of the book, the author, and the illustrator before reading. It’s important to guide the listeners as to how they should approach the reading. Your expectations of their understanding should have in mind the level of your least mature listener. One straightforward method is to offer a couple of quick questions for them to consider during the reading or entice them to listen for specific components of the story that connect with the theological concept you are teaching. Then encourage conversation about connections between the book and your theological topic. Personal reactions and connections are very valuable too.

Must I read aloud the author and illustrator’s name? Yes, this is an issue of copyright law and ethics. If the book is being read and the pictures are being shown, say the name of the illustrator too. If you are telling the story, give the author credit.

Should I read straight through or stop reading at times? This depends on your audience and the length of the book.  If you see that attention is waning or a story’s plot is particularly complicated, then explanations, pointing to illustrations, and tantalizing questions can encourage better attention. However, if everyone’s attention is riveted, interruptions in the flow of the story may hinder the power of the narrative.

Won’t listeners get tired of picture books eventually? Yes, for this reason I don’t recommend that picture books be overused. Consider them a supplement to your usual instruction, a special treat, or your plan for summer programming when attendance is inconsistent. 

What if the picture book isn’t obviously about my topic? It is not necessary for the picture book to have your topic as its central idea. Sometimes the connections are subtle, but this can be fun for listeners. You can explicitly present the connection before and after your reading or you can invite more mature audiences to listen for the connection when it is not obvious. How you introduce the picture book is paramount. 

There are times when presenting a story about the exact opposite of your topic is intriguing. For instance, if your topic is honesty, reading a story about a character who is dishonest but then sorry and forgiven offers a very rich context to the lesson.

What about age-appropriateness for a picture book? I list only a beginning age & grade for each book because so many books are appropriate for adults. Adults and youth are often times quite open to being read a picture book as long as their knowledge and experiences are respected. Think of your youngest or least mature audience member. Then consider the length and concepts in the book. Keep in mind that young children, mid-elementary aged and younger, will often not understand abstract concepts. Connections between the content of your story, the lesson topic, and their lives will have to be presented repeatedly and concretely.

Is it necessary for children to be able to read to benefit from PBT? No, in fact, PBT works really well for toddlers and preschoolers who are used to books being read to them. However, it is crucial that the book is well chosen, not too long and a good match for your audience’s level of understanding.

Is it necessary to have multiple copies of the book? No. Ordinarily 1 copy of the book is enough, but it may mean you are moving constantly as you read to expose all of your audience to the illustrations. Having multiple copies of the book for small groups to see might be advantageous for older readers or large groups of children. Sometimes showing a video version of the book is best for a large audience, during worship, or for just a change in routine. Videos are sometimes on YouTube or in local libraries. Many are very good.

How do I know the picture book is the right length? Most picture books are 32 pages long and can be read in one sitting, but there are exceptions. Longer books are often better for older elementary children, teens, and adults. Also, some books have significantly more text than others. Practicing reading the book and noting the time is a strong recommendation. You can also tell the book while showing illustrations or tell portions of the book and only read that which is most applicable.

What if the book is too long or I don’t have time to read the whole book as planned?  Simply tell the story while showing the pictures. If your time is very constrained, limit the pages or your storytelling to a few key points where the connections occur. In a few PBT books, a label has been loaded that pertains to only a small but rich aspect of the book. Reading or telling just that portion might be better than reading the whole book.

What about non-English speakers? Spanish versions sometimes exist of the most popular picture books. On-line, search the title, adding "in Spanish." Sometimes I indicate whether I found a Spanish version of the book.
I like to use my tablet and videos. Is that a good idea? Only the most popular or newest books will have these options. Go to the website associated with your tablet and search with the name of the book. Check out YouTube, author and publisher websites, and local libraries for video versions. Sometimes on YouTube you'll find video of amateurs reading the book. Some of these are very good! 

Which format you should use depends on your audience and setting. For large groups, offering a video version of the picture book works best. Children and youth will especially appreciate a video or tablet version, but ease of use and size of the screen must be considered. Also, variety in presentation reduces the chances of boredom. I often indicate whether I had found a tablet version. 

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