Picture Book Plea

| November 5, 2010 | Comments (11)

Children's Book on Loving Reading2010

Dear Parents, Teachers, Grandparents, Childcare Givers and Babysitters,

Please do not abandon me. A recent New York Times article says that picture books are fading from the literary landscape (an interesting observation coming from another format that is on a serious downward slide). It’s easy to blame the economy; picture books with their beautiful art, well designed pages and extensive use of color are expensive to produce, but the article points the finger at someone else: You.

Yes, You, the gatekeepers of household libraries. Apparently, you are rushing your children through the “picture-book phase” and onto chapter books at earlier and earlier ages. You want your child to excel, do well, become a great reader and apply that skill to every meaningful endeavor in life. I get that, but be careful. Just as you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, you can’t judge it by it’s reading level, either.

In her fabulous guide How to Get Your Child to Love Reading, author, teacher, readiologist, children’s book lover and librarian Esme Raji Codell explains the complicated math used to determine reading level. I don’t really know what it says, because that was the boring part of the book and it didn’t have any pictures to help explain it. I did, however, read this part with interest: “The process of leveling usually displaces picture books from the hands and hearts of older readers (including adults), even though an excellent picture book can model the highest forms of narrative and visual art and also offer multicultural perspectives.”

Do you need more proof? In an excellent post about the importance of picture books on books4yourkids.com, Tanya (an experienced bookseller) explains “a picture book can be a complex, engaging story in which characters develop and grow over the course of the story.” That’s everything required of a story, be it a picture book, a chapter book or the Great American Novel.

Picture books help develop critical thinking skills. By combining the craft of the writer with the art of the illustrator, picture books encourage children to make connections and draw conclusions that are not explicitly stated in the text or directly depicted in the illustrations. Those invisible connections are made by the reader and lay foundation for sophisticated critical analysis.

Back to reading levels for just a moment (ew): One of the most loved early chapter books is Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, which has an Accelerated Reader (AR) reading level of 2.0 (beginning of second grade). The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a beloved picture book generally geared toward toddlers, has an AR reading level of 2.9 (second grade, ninth month, or the end of second grade). How can this be?

Picture books are often read aloud by adults to children and frequently have a higher vocabulary level and more sophisticated use of language than early chapter books, which limit vocabulary to words that emergent readers can easily decode. When you read a picture book aloud to a child, your voice and tone lend meaning to the words, the illustrations add context, and your presence offers the opportunity for questions — all of which provide a richer learning experience.

I’m not eschewing early readers or condemning chapter books by any means. They are, after all, my siblings. I’m just asking — what’s the hurry? Children will grow into adults soon enough. In this hyper-accelerated world of instant access and immediate gratification, the pace of childhood has reached a state of frenzy. Please do not limit your family library by garage-saling us too soon. Keep us handy, treasure us, and return to us often. I promise that we will bring something new every time you read one of us.


Your Friend the Picture Book

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Category: arts, New Posts, School

About Alma K: Alma started her personal blog, MarketingMommy.net, in 2006--right around the time her firstborn began speaking in sentences. She now has two girls, 5 and 3, and lives in a 100 year old house in Oak Park. Husband Josh works from home part-time, which makes the juggle of working full time as a creative at a large downtown ad shop that much easier. The daughter of a Foreign Service officer, Alma spent her childhood moving from place to place. She moved to Chicago for college at age 18 and never left. If it wasn't for the winters, she'd never dream of leaving. Follow Alma on Twitter @marketingmommy. View author profile.

Comments (11)

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  1. Lisa says:

    I have to say that while my older sons are reading chapter books on their own we still read a TON of picture books, partly because my youngest is not quite three yet but also because they make for great family reading (ie bedtime) because without so much text we can talk about the pictures and ask questions etc. I LOVE picture books and won’t be rushing my kids out of them anytime soon. I have such an obsession for kids books I started my own kids book blog. I don’t really read on my own (books) but I have a LOVE for kids books and we have a huge collection of them.


    • Susan @ 2KoP says:

      Picture books are certainly great for reading to mixed aged groups. They can be infused with multi-level meanings, often with the occasional wink and nod to the adult reader.

  2. Don’t you worry, dear Picture Books. We still love you in this house. And when I read to my kids, it’s to all of them, from age 11 to 5. And we ALL look at the pictures!

  3. Cindy Fey says:

    Picture books are an art form as essential as film, which they resemble in their sound + image magic. John Updike’s “A Child’s Calendar” illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman blows my mind every time I experience it again. Rediscovering amazing, complex and gorgeous picture books as an adult is yet another reason I am grateful I became a parent. Oh, yeah, and The Tree of Life, written and illustrated by Peter Sis? Astounding!

    Take a look:

    Updike: http://books.google.com/books?id=sYI9kD-QQukC&printsec=frontcover&dq=john+updike+a+child%27s+calendar&source=bl&ots=WRs70117m8&sig=vOYMn3vwi1zU7iHkGkfHWskb5-s&hl=en&ei=PjXXTM-gDdConQeI2rimCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Sis: http://www.petersis.com/content/tree_ex.html

    • Susan @ 2KoP says:

      Isn’t wonderful to be able to relive the joys of childhood, renewed when we see things again through our children’s eyes and excited to discover things as an adult that we didn’t see or understand during our own childhoods.

  4. I love pictures books and I frankly enjoyed reading them to and with my children more than I enjoyed reading chapter books aloud. I still grab a few now and then knowing they if I leave the around, someone will take a peek.

  5. Carol Covin says:

    Dear picture book, You give a Grandma hope.

    I have been writing photo-illustrated books for my grandchildren since they were born five years ago. I was afraid I’d have to switch to chapter books soon, a task for which I am not suited at all.

    By contrast, by just picking a theme at the beginning of the year, like Hats! or Feet! or, more recently, Patterns! and Time!, I can take photos of them all year long around the theme, add a few words to explain how the photo ties into the theme, and we have Grandma’s custom-made books with pictures of themselves to enjoy.

    This is a great discussion highlighting the balance between the more difficult reading level picture books can accomplish versus the simpler vocabulary of early-readers.

    • Susan @ 2KoP says:

      Go Grandma. What a cool gift you give to your grandchildren. I’m now working on a picture book for advanced high school readers and beyond. It’s a fascinating medium.

  6. We love picture books too. We are even finding picture books (without words) for my older son who gets use his imagination as he makes up different stories.

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