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Picture Books and CCSS Standards for Older Students


When I worked in the public schools, SLPs and special education teachers were often required to link goals and objectives to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). With that in mind, I thought it might be interesting to look at how one picture book could be used across grade levels to address specific standards. I hope this information will be especially useful for professionals who want to use the same book with students of a variety of ages and ability levels.

The picture book I chose was Watercress, written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin. Earlier this year, Watercress, a picture book based on a childhood memory of the author, won both the 2022 Caldecott Medal as well as a Newbery Honor. Since Newbery titles are typically for older students, this book is a perfect example of a story that is appropriate for students of all ages. Watercress also won the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature in the picture book category, making it an excellent book to connect to the social studies curriculum. Find details about Watercress at Neal Porter Books, Holiday House for Young Readers.

Picture of the Watercress book front cover featuring a girl standing in watercress

For a discussion about the difference between memoir, autobiography, and autobiographical, see my post titled Memoir Vs. Autobiography

For printable downloads of the educator guides in this blog post along with additional educator guides and freebies, visit the Teacher Resources page on my website at

I realize that not every state uses the Common Core. I have also created a version of this blog post that specifically incorporates the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). Whether you are a proponent of CCSS or not, it is intriguing to see how picture books can meet learning objectives for older students. In the activities below, I first describe a specific literacy reading standard and then share an activity that supports that standard.


In fourth grade, the reading standards begin to have a more direct correlation with the anchor writing standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9. In fourth grade and up, a student is expected to apply the grade-level reading standards to draw evidence from a text to support a written analysis. Therefore, the activities for fourth grade and up for reading may also be used for writing.

Grade 3 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.3.9 Students compare stories written by the same author, and/or stories on a similar subject written by different authors.

Activity: Compare and Contrast Watercress with Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, also written by Andrea Wang (illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz). Watercress centers on a personal experience of the author while Magic Ramen explores Momofuku Ando and his efforts to combat hunger in Japan after World War II. Discuss as a class how both books deal with hunger in very different ways. Have students write about a personal experience with hunger.

Grade 4 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.6 requires students to compare and contrast first and third-person narration.

Activity: Read Watercress as well as Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco. Both stories are about the personal experiences of the author, but Watercress is written in the first person while Polacco’s book is written in the third person. Discuss the two books and then write about how the different use of Point of View (POV) affects the narration.

For further exploration, share the picture book, The Hundred Year Barn, written by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Kenard Pak. Although it is written in the first person and sounds like a personal story, it is NOT autobiographical nor is it a memoir. Discuss with students how they can determine if a story is autobiographical by looking at the author’s notes and online interviews. Write a compare and contrast essay including point of view. Have students write an account of a personal experience in the first person. Then write the same account in the third person. Ask them to explain which version they prefer and explain why.

Grade 5 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9 By the end of fifth grade, students should be able to compare stories in the same genre specifically in regard to looking at how different authors handle similar subjects.

Activity: As in the fourth-grade activity, Watercress could be compared to the picture book, Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco. Both are picture books, and both are autobiographical, but Watercress focuses on one day in the life of the author, while Polacco’s book covers several years. Expand the conversation of point of view and discuss why each author may have decided to write the story in the time frame they chose. Have students write an account of a personal experience that takes place in the course of one day. Then write about a series of related experiences that take place over several days, weeks, or even years.

Grade 6 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.6.9 By the end of sixth grade, students should be able to compare similar subjects explored across different genres.

Activity: Compare Watercress to Brown Girl Dreaming, told in verse, by Jacqueline Woodson. Her book won the National Book Award and was also a Newbery Honor selection in 2015. It is written as a series of poems starting with her birth, highlighting her young years moving from Greeneville, SC to New York City, and ending with her resolve to become a writer with the encouragement of her fifth-grade teacher. It is recommended for grades 5-6.

For further exploration, compare both books to the chapter book, 26 Fairmont Avenue written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola. It is a 2000 Newbery Honor Book for grades 2-5. Discuss how a picture book, a chapter book, and an autobiography told in verse all written about personal author experiences all became Newbery Honors. Write an essay comparing the similarities and differences between the three books.

Grade 7 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.7.5 Students analyze how a story’s form affects its meaning.

Activity: Andrea Wang, the author of Watercress first wrote the story as a personal essay. She later rewrote the same story as a picture book. Building on the sixth-grade activity described above, discuss whether or not Watercress could have also been written as a poem, a song, a film, a graphic novel, or a chapter in a longer memoir? Would additional information be required? How would the various forms have affected the story’s impact? For a writing activity, have students use Watercress as inspiration and write about a day in their life. Then rewrite what they have written as a picture book, a poem, a page from a graphic novel, a scene from a play, or a short chapter. Discuss why they chose the form they ultimately picked.

Grade 8 Standard

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.5 By the end of eighth grade, students should be able to analyze multiple texts, discuss the different structures of each one, compare and contrast the texts, and discuss how the different structures affect the meaning and/or style.

Activity: All books listed below are about the personal experiences of popular children’s authors that were written by the author.

Option A: Choose two or three books from the selections previously mentioned or the additional listings below and write a compare/contrast essay focusing on the structure of each book.

Option B: Choose one of the books from the list below and then choose a work of fiction by the same author. Write an essay discussing how the author’s personal experiences may have affected their fiction. Also, discuss how the structure of their personal story differed from the structure of the fictional title selected.


Watercress written by Andrea Wang and illustrated by Jason Chin

Thank You, Mr. Falker written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

26 Fairmont Avenue written and illustrated by Tomie DePaola.

You may also want to add these additional titles
For teens consider adding

Hole in My Life by Jack Gantos

Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes

Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy by Sonya Sones


National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards (English-Language Arts). Washington DC: Author retrieved from

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