In praise of picture books

So I read a shocking article in the New York Times last week.  Apparently, picture books are losing favor with parents, because they want their kindergartners and first graders reading chapter books!

The picture book, a mainstay of children’s literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading. It is not going away — perennials like the Sendaks and Seusses still sell well — but publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering.

As an enthusiastic fan of the well-written picture book, I was surprised and sad to hear this news.  I thought it might be because we read less and less each year as a culture, but no, it’s because of the trickle-down effect of the rush to push kindergartners to read.  Parents think that picture books are a waste of time and are pushing their children toward chapter books.

“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little,’ ” said 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.”

Argh!  Parents, please know that if you really want to get your children into Harvard, you have a much better shot at it if you read lots of wonderful picture books to them.  Picture books are a child’s introduction to literature, and have so much to offer.  Picture books can be so fantastic that they make a child fall in love with books, and if that is not a recipe for success, what is?!

Here’s the saddest sentence in the whole article, about a 6 1/2 year old boy who can read chapter books, but wants to read 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.

That poor child.  What do you want to bet that by the time he’s 8 he will hate reading?

Here is what he could be reading — books that will make him think, laugh, cry, and fall in love:

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2 thoughts on “In praise of picture books

  1. I went to a (non-education) writing conference this summer, and in the picture book workshop, a woman complained that her four year-old isn’t really understanding The Mouse and the Motorcycle. It took all of my self-control to not shout out, “Because it’s for fourth graders, not four year-olds.” Why do parents think pushing their kids into books they aren’t ready for are going to make them better readers?

    • How sad….why are we pushing our children(students) into doing something that they may not be developmentally ready for? What is the big hurry? What’s wrong with reading picture books? These children are really missing out on a wonderful part of childhood. The picture books allow the stories to come to life and help with the comprehension. Let reading be fun!

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