I taught a week-long, intersession course on Cynthia Rylant's books. Somewhere in my planning I decided to call it The Case of the Intersession Excitement. As a result, we focused a bit on her High-Rise Private Eyes series. I decided I wanted the students to be detectives some during the week. Of course, I decided this at the last minute and had no time to plan really complex, age-appropriate mysteries for them to solve. So, I headed to Amazon. I found You're the Detective. According to Amazon the reading level is for ages 4-8. I think that's fairly absurd, but I did manage to pick out four different mysteries I thought they could solve. (The book seems perfect for the upper grades.)
Each of the mysteries has a black and white drawing of the 'crime scene' on one page and a short story with prodding questions on another page. Each day I would read them the story, then give them each a copy of the picture and read the story again. I used some of the questions and added questions with hints of my own to get them rolling. Then I would walk away and have them talk in small groups to try and solve the mystery.
First of all, they were really into it. I truly enjoyed eavesdropping on the conversations. However, the thing that struck me the most was their impressive observation skills. As they looked at those pictures they saw things I had completely missed. I think part of this is due to their inability or only fledgling ability to read. They aren't as focused on text when they are looking at a book and they really take in the illustrations. As a result, their skills are much better for noticing details in pictures than mine. They may not have the background knowledge to make meaning of everything they notice, but they don't miss anything.
I've noticed this in my own two girls (a kindergartner and a two-year old). It strikes me when they notice certain balloons (Pooh or Dora) in a crowded grocery store or when they see a family member in the background of a photograph. Their eyes are sharper than mine in this way.
My oldest is just beginning to read. I am watching closely to see if her observation skills begin to decline as her reading skills increase.