a) While the classic picture books (e.g. 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar', 'Where the Wild Things Are') and the famous picture book authors (e.g. Dr Seuss, Mem Fox and Eric Carle) continue to be sold, it is harder for less established authors to publish.
b) Many parents move their children on from picture books very quickly, encouraging their children to read chapter books almost as soon as they become proficient and fluent in reading. In an age when many parents are sold on the idea that 'Your Baby Can Read' from 6-12 months, there is an urge to move them quickly on to novels.
c) Book shops are displaying less picture books, and many new titles don't even make it to a book store, and even award winning books disappear quickly from books stores in as little as 3 years if the author doesn't have another immediate successful follow-up book.
d) Some parents seem to move their children on too quickly in their often well-motivated quest to help their children succeed as readers. Bosman notes that sometimes the motives are confused and quotes the manager of a major children's department in Washington who says:
“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’....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.”Myths about Picture Books
Where the Wild Things Are' is a single sentence that is extremely complex, with a mix of embedded clauses, direct speech, unusual verbs and rich metaphor. Good picture books often use complex metaphors to develop themes, and the limitations of the number of words used requires the author to use language with an economy and power that many chapter books simply don't attain. The subtle use of image, word, page layout, colour, and text layout variations can create sophisticated texts.
Myth 2 - 'Illustrations make it easy for children to read and reduce the demands on the reader'. While illustrations do work in harmony with the words and can make 'stripped down' language make sense, the interplay of illustration and words is often extremely complex, allowing the reader to discover new meaning each time they re-read the book, often over a period of many years. So a child can read John Burningham's classic book 'Granpa' as a simple story about a little girl and her grandfather, but can revisit it years later and discover that it tells of the death of the little girl's Grandfather. And many adults may never see the underlying themes in children's books, like that of death in 'John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat'.
Emerging Comprehension'). Picture books present multiple sign systems in one text. The parallel use of language, image and many other devices (e.g. colour and print layout), stimulates creativity and the imagination in ways that chapter books cannot. A book like Graeme Base's 'The Sign of the Seahorse' uses language, brilliant illustrations, a play text structure and other devices (including a map and hidden clues), to offer a complex text to be explored, read, enjoyed, 'worked out' and revisited many times.
Myth 4 - 'Picture books are just for children'. Not so! While the majority of picture books are designed for readers under the age of 7 years, more and more are written for much wider readerships and the rapidly developing genre of the 'Graphic Novel' (see previous post here) because they allow the author to use word, image and other modes (including related audio, video and music) to create more complex tellings of the story the author has in mind. For example, books like 'My Place' and 'Requiem for a Beast' and 'When the Wind Blows' were never meant just for little children. In fact, Matt Ottley's book was actually meant for high school readers. The great thing about picture books is that children and adults can both enjoy them, sometimes separately, and sometimes together. The latter is an important way to grow in shared knowledge and understanding as well as a key vehicle for helping children to learn as we explore books with them.
here), including 'Linguistic Intelligence', 'Spatial Intelligence', 'Logical-mathematical intelligence', 'Bodily-kinaesthetic Intelligence' (e.g. 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar') and even 'Musical Intelligence' if it integrates early rhyme and music (Matt Ottley integrates a complete musical!). In fact, arguably, every form of intelligence can be potentially integrated into the picture book. This is not to suggest that chapter books only emphasise 'Linguistic Intelligence' - for example, 'spatial intelligence' includes abstract, analytical abilities that go beyond simply seeing images - but their potential to do this is more limited for the young child.
Picture books are important for children aged 0-12 years, so don't neglect them or discard them in a perhaps well-intentioned but misguided desire to improve your children as readers. Remember, books are foundational to language, writing, knowledge, thinking and creativity as well. They represent one of the best ways to offer children multimodal experiences with text.
Julie Bosman's article in the New York Times (20th October) HERE
Previous post on 'Requiem for a Best' and graphic novels HERE
Previous post on 'Emerging Comprehension' HERE
Previous post on 'Multiple Intelligences' HERE