The Death of Picture Books?

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A good friend of mine, Gale, sent me a link to a New York Times article from last year. It about broke my heart, and actually I had a few tears in my eyes as I read it.  The article?

 Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children.

I quote:

"Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools. 

 “Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

I have met these parents and thousands like them. Thousands you say? Yes. I have talked to tens of thousands of parents, homeschooling and traditional schooling parents, and have heard this same thing. It is heartbreaking. What about the great picture books that I shared with my kids when they were little? What about the common family culture and enjoyment you get when you share picture books like...

  • Bill Peet books
  • Dr. Seuss
  • Make Way for Ducklings
  • Classic Fairy Tales
  • Berenstain Bears
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Peter Rabbit Stories
  • Anything illustrated by Eloise Wilkin
  • Go Dog, Go!
  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel [Mary Anne]

I could go on. These are the very essence of childhood, the foundation for appreciating the arts, cultural literacy and making sense of the world we live in. Children and adults who will never go on a safari can experience one through picture books. And how about historical picture books such as the D'Aulaire books? These are wonderful for children of all ages. I still love these books and my son Scotty just about wore out his D'Aulaire's Book of  Greek Myths  when he was in late elementary/early middle school.

Picture Books! Most of you know I am a grandma now, and oh how lovely it is to pull out the picture books again. Though my two granddaughters are still at the board books stage, they are starting to be interested in my beloved picture books.  Old friends come out to meet us as we share these books. Curious George is still curious; The Dogs still have the Big Dog Party in the tree that charmed me as a child; Mary Anne is still Mike Mulligan's best friend; the Pokey Little Puppy is still rolling "pell-mell," and on and on.

What a rich heritage to share with our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews. The article went on to say--and this is the part that really wrenched my heart because I know it is true...

"Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington. “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

And this makes me cry.

Let us rob our children of the joy of picture books--let us rob ourselves of the joy of sharing picture books with our children, because of what? College???

Please!

We don't need more kids who can read at 5th grade level when they are 4 years old, we need more kids with imaginations who get to cuddle up with mom or dad on the couch to share great picture books. It makes me weep to think that we are so busy trying to get our kids ready for college that we miss the joy of childhood and family and relationships along the way. I am not saying that the death of the picture book is going to destroy families as we know them, but this trend of pushing and pushing and pushing our kids through childhood is not good.

And this next quote, should come as no surprise:

"... Laurence is 6 ½, and while he regularly tackles 80-page chapter books, he is still a “reluctant reader,” Ms. Gignac said. Sometimes, she said, he tries to go back to picture books.“He would still read picture books now if we let him, because he doesn’t want to work to read,” she said, adding that she and her husband have kept him reading chapter books" 

Oh, how I long to take Laurence into my office and let him read the myriad of picture books I have on the lowest shelves, just waiting for young friends.  I would love for him to be able to read the "Barely There" books by Steven Cosgrove which enchanted my son Chad all those years ago, with their flowery language and intricate artwork.   How I wish I could make his parents understand how they are depriving their 6 year old son of the magic of books and the wonder of reading, by forcing him to always WORK to read.

I can read hard-technical books, just like Laurence can read chapter books, but I also love to read juvenile fiction and to re-read the Little House on the Prairie Books and I read The Great and Terrible Quest every single year--sometimes twice a year. Does that make me a slacker? I guess you don't have to worry about me getting into Harvard, though, since I am already a college graduate.

It is just not my Grandma/Momma heart saying this. The article goes on to say,

"Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills.

"To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.” 

"Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex. 

“Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,” said Kris Vreeland, ...“The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.”

I believe this. I believe in picture books and the ability to educate, enchant and engage children in a way that a chapter book cannot.

Here's to the picture book. May it never die.

Take care,
Jill

For some great ideas of picture books to read to your children, or for older children to read to themselves, I have to recommend Sonlight's Preschool Collections

Fiction, Fairy Tales, and Fun for Little Learners 

I helped develop this curriculum.  Amy and I worked together to create a program for young children that incorporates lots of great picture books, some activities and a few games. This is a great program for 3-4 year olds.

Exploring God's World

I was privileged to be able to write hands on and developmental activities for this program. Sonlight trusted me with the awesome task of adding these types of activities. I consulted state standards for 4-6 year olds, interviewed a few early childhood teachers, read lots of books and articles in order to come up with meaningful activities with a purpose.

.

 

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9 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. I know in our home, picture books are a big deal. My "big" girls (10 & 8) will read The Hobbit one minute and Dr. Seuss the next. While we encourage them to be sure to read things that challenge them, our shelves are still packed full of those picture books, too! We love them!

  2. Margaret

    My daughter is almost 12 and although she reads heavy duty chapter books, we still have lots of our HUNDREDS of picture books she grew up on and will still sometimes flip through them!!!!! We love picture books and it is sad to think many don't see the need for them or the beauty of them.

  3. Helen

    We also LOVE picture books. It's brilliant when we grab a load from the library for the 4yo and the 7yo and 11yo enjoy them too. Plus have you seen the talent in those illustrators? Many picture books include an art lesson as you go! Michael Foreman and Christian Birmingham particularly spring to mind. And Patrick Lynch's illustration in the beautiful "The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey"

  4. Sandra Klassen

    My youngest is 15 and we still have picture books in our house. We don't read them every year, but they are friends and we cannot pass them along yet.

  5. Rikki

    While my DS(7 next month) is reading at a high level, I love for him to get picture books. The artwork exposure is so good for him. And why not let him read text that was intended for an adult to read to a child, what a good challenge for his reading skill. Yes, he wants to, and does read plenty of chapter books- he is currently more than half way through the Little House on the Prairie series, but he still loves the picture books. It is nice for me because I don't have to do as much pre-reading to see if there is a topic I'm not ready for him to encounter yet and nice for him because I can give him more free reign at at the library. It makes me sad to think that by the time he is an adult, picture books may have lost their place in the library. My husband bugs me occasionally to weed through the books we have and get rid of some, but it is hard to get rid of these books that have so brightened and broadened our children's world, so I get rid of a few of the "worst" ones and keep the rest.

  6. Michelle

    I've seen this too, and so has my sister-in-law who teaches first grade. How sad that parents can't see the wonderful prose and vocabulary in "simple" children's books! Something I've found encouraging, though: classroom teachers are more and more using picture books to teach writing skills to older kids. You can find some great teacher books just by googling the topic. There is an amazing introduction in one of these books, where the author so eloquently describes her love for children's picture books and how she came to discover their usefulness in the middle and high school writing class. You can read it by clicking on the book preview on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Picture-Writing-Scholastic-Teaching-Strategies/dp/0439556872/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328153129&sr=1-1

  7. ChristinaB

    I have three little boys, ages 4, 5, 6. Time and time again, when thinking and praying about what is best for their education and growth, I feel prompted to "read them good, innocent books". Picture books all day long, and then a great chapter read-aloud at bedtime. 12 year-old sister often is drawn right into our picture book reading sessions, and 14 year-old brother, who is autistic, loves a good stack of picture books at bedtime (his favorites are all the different versions of gingerbread man stories!). Thanks to him alone, picture books will never be dead in our home. Now, where to put them all???

  8. Jill Jill

    I love hearing all your picture book testimonials. I believe it is parents like you who will keep picture books alive in not only this generation, but in the generations to come. I have to believe that children who love picture books, even at an older age, will love to share them with their children and grandchildren.

  9. Elizabeth

    We all love picture books in this family!

    One of my daughters *was* that proverbial 4-year-old reading Little House on the Prairie because she loved it. But she also read piles and piles and piles of picture books, and still does. And *I* still do, as an adult!

    I'm more worried that the language of picture books will be "dumbed down" -- that the next generation of Curious George, Peter Rabbit, etc. will all have only simple words because the children will be expected to read them on their own instead of with a loving adult.

    And the length of picture books has decreased: compare McCloskey to the Olivia books (which I love, but they are VERY short).