NIE Educator Emphasizes the Use of Picture Books for Youth Emotional Growth

Little Red Wolf by Amélie Fléchais

Picture books have a long history of being a natural stepping stone for children learning to comprehend literature before graduating to graphic novels and prose novels. While this is still a core attribute to the medium, Assistant Professor Myra Garces-Bacsal of the National Institute of Education (NIE) recognizes the potential of picture books to "engage readers of all ages in a visual and emotional way."

Assistant Professor Myra Garces-Bacsal has a PhD in Clinical Psychology with a minor in Developmental Psychology and works for the National Institute of Education in Singapore in the Early Childhood & Special Needs Education (ECSE) Department. Her major research has focused on children's literature and young adult fiction, family relationships of high ability learners, programming for the gifted, psychology of artists and creative, socio-effective needs of gifted children, story telling, and more. She is also an international research fellow at the International Youth Library in Munich, the world's first and largest library of international children's literature.

Through her research and experience, Myra told Straits Times of Singapore that she hopes that "teachers can pay more attention to how [picture books] can be used to help students in their emotional development." She has found that multicultural and international picture books play a significant role in aiding young people in their social-emotional learning as these books often go beyond diversity in race and ethnicity, allowing for the inclusion of differences in religions, ability, gender, and identity.

There has been a growing movement in education worldwide in the social-emotional learning efforts of teaching children how to manage emotions, build empathy and relationships, and make responsible decisions. Despite this, after a two-year study conducted on teachers' reading habits, Professor Myra found that "most [teachers] are not aware of multicultural picture books" and that for many, reading is not a priority. Because teachers' reading habits can have a direct effect on how they teach, it is important to recognize the fallout that could be happening in teaching social-emotional skills to students. 

Pictures books have been the foundation for creating an immense impact on the advancement of social-emotional learning among students in Professor Myra's NIE classes. "There are so many layers you can unpack from a picture book," she states. "More than educating the mind, we have to educate hearts."