Back to the Land of Picture Books

… Or Reality Flies the Coop in the NYT

If you’re still outraged by the supposedly dim outlook for picture books depicted in the much-criticized NYT article in October, take a deep breath. Thanks to Karen Springen’s recent Publishers Weekly’s article, we can put that distorted view to bed. Check the facts: Picture books represented 10.8 percent of the children’s book market, slightly up from 2005. Moreover, the NYT article ignored  library use. It’s up around the country, says Julie Corsaro, president of the American Library Association’s Association for Library Service to Children division. “And in many public libraries, picture books have the highest circulation.”

What do picture books do so well? Consider these features:

  • 1.    Children read them over and over and over.
  • 2.    Picture books encourage young ones to envision and to predict what might happen next (habits that help them become fluent readers).
  • 3.    Picture books teach visual literacy – a skill needed today perhaps more than ever.
  • 4.    Picture books can be used as models of narrative technique, point of view, skillful word choice, foreshadowing, symbolism, imagery, and plot development.
  • 5.    Picture books can tap higher-level thinking skills. Examples:  the crackling humor in Kevin O’Malley’s folktale-based Animal Crackers Fly the Coop or the theme of finding one’s place in the world in  How I Learned Geography.

In my years as a PK-5th grade librarian, I often found the vocabulary in picture books was more sophisticated, more memorable and more powerful than what typically occurs in chapter books for younger children. Additionally, the range of themes explored in picture books is astounding, as my reviews (Christmas in the Trenches, John’s Secret Dreams, etc.) on this blog indicate. Many are intended for and best appreciated by older readers.

I hope some special picture books tumble down the chimney for children across the universe. Those treats might inspire a whole new way of looking at the world. They could earn a treasured spot in someone’s personal library …  or nestle forever in a child’s memories.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. M. Howalt
    Dec 22, 2010 @ 07:15:00

    Lovely list of features of picture books. I remember learning how to read from looking at the pictures and the words when grown-ups read aloud to me when I was a child.


    • Janice Floyd Durante
      Dec 22, 2010 @ 10:20:25

      Thanks, M. I only wish every child would grow up to have such fond memories of sharing books with their family. I’ll never forget that magical moment when my older daughter picked up Ten Apples Up on Top and read every word of it to me. And everyone in our family had memorized Madeline by the time my younger daughter was ready to move on. What fun to recall those times.


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