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.