As November winds to a close and winter begins in earnest, take a minute to celebrate Picture Book Month. It was initiated in 2011 by picture book author Dianne de las Casas in response to an article published in the New York Times in October 2010 about the declining role of picture books in the lives of children and, perhaps more pointedly, in the publishing marketplace. Libraries, authors, illustrators, bloggers and publishers have since banded together to celebrate the unique role of picture books.
Much to my dismay, I recently have been fielding an increasing number of questions from parents, grandparents and caregivers about appropriate chapter books for toddlers and preschoolers. While reading chapter books to toddlers and preschoolers isn’t necessarily “wrong,” I worry that well-meaning adults are rushing to longer books and missing the wonderful window picture books provide into a completely different kind of experience.
For starters, picture books are largely visual. Picture books are stories with (or without) words, told in illustrations. The famous Caldecott Award, which celebrates its 75th year in 2013, is awarded to picture books primarily on the quality of art. Picture books increase a child’s exposure and awareness of art. Art inherently elicits questions and conversation, which is an important piece of reading with children.
For visual learners, picture books can mean the difference in the experience they have with books and that they associate with reading. Not all children are predisposed to learn the same way and some youngsters naturally gravitate toward things they can “see.” Picture books can help to nurture visual learners in a way that longer chapter books may not.
I hear from many parents that their children are ready for longer stories. What I suspect is that often youngsters are responding to an adult’s desire to read a longer, sustained story (as well as the extra time it takes to read longer stories). Children, like most of us, thrive on attention — and chapter book reading provides them with more attention, which most of them realize.
Ultimately, when adults ask, my response is that the most important thing they can do, regardless of whether they read a picture book or chapter book, is to make reading fun! In other words, reading should not be a cruel march to the bitter end of the book. Reading is an opportunity for parents, grandparents and caregivers to spend time with children in their lives. Picture books provide a tool to have conversation about the world around them. Celebrate the joy of reading and choose from the hundreds of wonderful picture books at the Sequim Library!
Recommended reading: “Extra Yarn” by Mac Barnett and illustration by Jon Klassen; “Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs” by Mo Willems; “Jangles: A Big Fish Story” by David Shannon; “More” by I.C. Springman and illustrated by Brian Lies; and “Mossy” by Jan Brett.
Jennifer Knight is Youth Services librarian for the North Olympic Library System.