So, I opened up my Minneapolis StarTribune the other day and found the article from The New York Times that has been stopping hearts in chests of children’s book lovers over the past few days. I admit. I think I gasped audibly when I read it!
For those of you who have not seen it, this was an article published October 7, mourning the downward trend in picture book sales, and the parallel upswing in parents who are pushing their children at young ages to abandon picture books for something …thicker, tougher, wordier…more likely to vault them into an Ivy League school. Picture books, it seems, are just not rigorous enough for 4-year-olds!
Much could be said about the multiple notions which swirl together to create such an unfortunate mindset among parents today. Lest I climb way up high on a soap box, however 🙂 I will try to confine my comments to…
1. Picture books are soooooo enjoyable!
And guess what: Reading for pleasure is what will hook a kid on life-long reading.
2. Picture books beg to be shared.
These are the books you snuggle up with, you and your child, to read together, to point out things to one another about the pictures, to take turn turning the pages, to share all the cozy wonderfulness with. Yes, we share chapter books together, too, but not as often do we read chapter books while our kids snuggle on our laps.
3. Picture books contain some of the best writing out there.
I am not talking about Sparkle Princess Goes Shopping, or Star Wars, Episode 965, of course. I’m talking about books written by gifted authors who have honed their skills to the point where they are capable of writing for the demanding audience of children. Where plots and details and language and humor and character all are condensed to a very limited number of pages and words. Writing for children is harder, not easier, to do well. When your children are exposed to the fabulous wordsmithing done by these authors, they are unconsciously absorbing fantastic language skills which will greatly improve their thinking, reading, and writing.
4. Picture books are usually vocabulary-rich.
Because the author assumes someone is reading to the child, s/he is free to use a magnificent array of words. Great vocabulary builders. I recall my two-year-old, having heard George and Martha by the fabulous James Marshall, looking at her daddy one day and telling him, “Daddy, you look so handsome and distinguished with your new glasses!” These little mynah birds pick up lots of delicious words from picture books!
5. Picture books contain glorious artwork.
Have I saved the best for last? Hard to say. But…the artwork in picture books is extraordinary. So. Much. Fun to gaze at these pages with your kids! Widely-ranging styles and mediums, colors and textures, perspectives and interpretations are waiting like treasure in picture books! Illustrations extend the story, inspire us as artists, and spur our imaginations wonderfully.
All this to say…
Please! Do not pressure your children to give up picture books just because they are able to read on their own. Enjoy these miniature masterpieces with them as long as you can!
P.S. I just have to add a postscript about the children’s lit blogger quoted in the NY Times. I went to her site to find her response to the article. It seems her remarks were taken out of context and written up to convey quite the opposite of what she had intended. I am sorry for the tirades she has had to face because of this. Please don’t judge people based on a quote in a news article!
And here is the link to the article in the Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1