Teaching, Learning, and Living
Don’t Sell the Picture Book Short!

Don’t Sell the Picture Book Short!

If you are a parent, or a teacher of young children, how many picture books do you read to a child each day?  Can you imagine a life without picture books?  In my kindergarten class, the picture book and the characters within are the heroes of the day.  Twenty to thirty books probably pass through my hands daily, whether I am reading a book to the whole class or reading to an individual child.  In kindergarten, children are often still experimenting with text and they use the illustrations in a book to “read” the story by themselves or to a friend or sibling.  This is a very important step in the process to becoming a reader.  These children are gaining familiarity and confidence in relation to books.  They are developing the habits of readers…looking at the details, recognizing characters, setting, a problem and solution.  They are also developing the concept of a beginning, middle, and end.  Many of my students take great pride in also locating sight words they do know conventionally, again improving their confidence AND the understanding that print has meaning. Mem Fox, author of Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children will Change Their Lives Forever and many picture books says: “The attitude of reading comes first and the skills come after. Children need to feel like they CAN read by having successful experiences with predictable, rhyming text where they are “read guess” rather than “read see.”  The picture book allows this success to occur.

Now imagine that a four or five year old only has chapter books to “read” at home or at school.  Can this child experience success?  Does he ask for repeated readings of The Trumpet of the Swans?  While this is a wonderful book, it is not likely that it will be appreciated by a child who has never had engagement with a picture book and has never learned to imagine and recreate stories through illustrated scaffolds. 

A recent New York Times article reports that picture books are faltering in sales, in favor of the chapter book.  Parents of young children feel the academic pressure and are pushing their children to read chapter books at younger and younger ages.  In today’s market, there are plenty of age-appropriate chapter books on all reading levels, but that doesn’t mean that the picture book has lost it’s importance!  I cannot think of my childhood without thinking of favorite books like Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban or Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig.  I was beginning to read at age four, but that doesn’t mean that I was ready to jump to the text heavy chapter books I enjoyed later on.  Mem Fox is very vocal about the importance of reading aloud to children as the first and best way to foster readers.  Through read-alouds, children gain exposure to print and pictures together, they are introduced to vocabulary and book structure, and they are bonding with a parent or caregiver in a way that feels safe and inviting.  A precious time of day for me is after lunch when we read books before settling down for rest time.  The children select their own books to “read” or listen to on a CD.  Someone always plops down in my lap and asks me to read a book.  As I begin to read, more children gather around to look and listen.  We talk about the book, make predictions, laugh, and enjoy the time together.  We are reading socially and creating a bond through books.  Later we put the books away and sit in a circle as I read a chapter in a chapter book.  The two experiences both have valuable but different roles. 

Don’t let the picture book disappear.  Go to the library and check out some favorite picture books from your childhood to read at home or at school.  My students love to read books that I remember from childhood.  A good book will stand the test of time.  I still have many of the books that were important to me as a child.  They hold special memories for me and I still enjoy reading them!  There is also great value in a child having a home library.  According to Reading Magic, children need to hear 1000 books read before they go to school.  This is easy to accomplish by reading only 3 books a day for a year.  The more exposure a child has to books, the better prepared he is to read independently one day.  Scholastic also offers classic and new picture books and chapter books to the school market at very reasonable prices.  The company makes it easy to build your home library and to enjoy a wide range of children’s literature.  So, go find your favorite children’s book and share your early reading memories with your family. 

You can also share your favorite children’s books here!  I would love some recommendations!


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  2. bandcwilson

    As an elementary school librarian I am constantly finding new picture books that I love! This month it was two books by Don Freeman of “Corduroy” fame. His “Earl the Squirrel” is a delightful fall read for preschoolers. “Will’s Quill: or, How a Goose Saved Shakespeare” works from age four into the middle grades.
    I especially appreciate picture books for older children. Many of them are suitable for a wide age range. Children of all ages enjoy hearing them read aloud. For my money, the master of picture books for everybody is Patricia Polacco. A prolific writer, she excels at everything from tickling your funny bone to pulling your heart strings. Try “Ginger and Petunia” or “My Rotten, Red-headed Older Brother” for laughs. Be prepared for a tear or two when you read “An Orange for Frankie” or “Thank You, Mr. Falker.”
    I am especially impressed with authors like Don Freemen and Patricia Polacco who illustrate their own works. Some picture books say more in pictures than in words. When Lois Ehlert was a little girl her parents set up an art table and encouraged her to make her own creations. Today she is an acclaimed author and illustrator of picture books. During this season of autumn color try Lois Ehlert’s collage-style illustrations in “Leaf Man” and “Nuts to You.” Then let the children experiment with found objects to create a collage of their own. You may be contributing to the formation of a budding new artist.
    There are so many wonderful picture books that I could go on all night. Even though the genre is pricey in hardcover, the best ones eventually come out in paperback. The feel of a sturdy bound book in the hands of a child is incomparable, however. So give them to your child for special occasion gifts, read them over and over again, box them up carefully when the time comes, and pull them out to enjoy once more with your grandchildren. That day will come before you can blink an eye. Time flies when you are reading good books.
    Beth Wilson

  3. Meredith, Paul got word from J.T. that you had just started a blog too. I love it! This post was especially interesting to me! I know picture books are important, but I had no idea about the science behind it. I also love the aesthetics of your blog! It’s so clean and reader friendly. Well, if you’re readers are interested, I’m blogging about picture book recommendations. My favorites are the tried and true mentioned in your post.

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