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Reading Scenes: Let’s Take Pictures!

By MaryAnn Kohl

When I was a very little girl, my dad brought me a new book every week from the bookstore where he worked. Most of them were Little Golden Books, and I still own every single one. Those books brought magic into my life and lovely daddy-daughter time to me as an imaginative little girl. I treasure both the books and my time with my dad who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 50.

One of the ways I used to like to play with my books was to set up my toys in scenes and arrangements based on favorite stories, like playing dolls, but more. I was building the scenes from my books, like setting the stage for a great play or story. I would move the characters around and make them talk, reliving the book and adding my own twists to the story.

When I was satisfied with playing, I would bring out my Brownie camera (this was film, not digital, everyone! It was in the 1950s!) and take a picture of the scene. The pictures took about a week or more to develop and be returned to me. The waiting wasn’t so hard, as there was plenty to do to keep busy during the interim.

When the pictures arrived, I selected which scenes would go into my scrapbook, really just a notebook with photos taped in, and tape them in. Though sadly I don’t have any of those pictures today, I do have the memory of my play time with my books as the inspiration and my dad smiling over me and asking me to tell him about the photographs in my notebook. Retelling the stories was a good part of the enjoyment.

So I’d like you to try this, your kids will love it! I call it Portraiture, an idea from the book, Storybook Art, authors MaryAnn Kohl and Jean Potter, and also in a different way from Great American Artists for Kids by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga.


To Do:

  1. A child (children) reads a favorite book (listen to a book or read it on their own).
  2. A child (children) sets up a scene with whatever toys, figures, blocks, and so forth on hand.
  3. Take a digital picture of the scene.
  4. Choose to move the scene about and take a second or third picture to tell a story in sequence, but most kids are happy with one picture.
  5. Print out the picture.
  6. Save it in a notebook or scrapbook.
  7. Take dictation about the picture from the child if they are very young, or encourage them to write something about it if they are old enough.


Some kids like to actually dress-up in costumes and put together some background or props to re-enact a favorite book or one of their make-believe times. Do the same: Pose, take a picture, print it out, save it in a notebook.

These pictures show scenes as well as children dressing up and posing:

The squirrel is reading the baby frogs a bedtime story. The two children who posed the scene gave a short dictation of what was happening to the squirrel and frogs.

Jake and Sydney posed themselves in costume with props to show how difficult it is to have a cup of tea when the toys are not behaving.

Foil figures squeezed from aluminum foil can make fun characters to pose in a story. This foil man has found himself a marker and is setting out to draw his own personal story on white paper.

This post was contributed by MaryAnn Kohl (pictured on the left at about the age of Brownie cameras and book scenes). MaryAnn is the renowned author of over 20 books about art for children. Her books are published both by Gryphon House and by her own company, Bright Ring Publishing. MaryAnn enjoys speaking internationally and working with groups of children all over the US. Articles by MaryAnn can be found at the Barnes & Noble Parents’ Expert Circle as well as her own blog. MaryAnn lives in Bellingham, Washington.

Categories: Activities Art Children's Books Literacy & Language

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3 replies

  1. What fun it is to be a child! Acting out books is a magical, inspiring way to encourage literacy. I hope everyone will bring the digital camera into their children’s playtime. For a monthly newsletter with more art ideas, sign up on my website

    Thank you, Gryphon House, for sharing my “reading scenes” activity. It’s great for all ages, from toddler to high school!

      1. Marie, can’t wait to see what your kids come up with! They love setting up toys in scenes, but I can promise you, they love dressing up and BEING in the scenes even more!! Let us know how it goes.
        ~ MaryAnn Kohl

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