My husband and I, after many failed attempts at a compromise for the theme of our nursery, settled on a general “books” theme. That way, he gets to incorporate elements of The Hobbit and I get to pay homage to Goodnight Moon and everyone’s happy. Imagine my dismay when I happened across an article from 2010 called Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. It was disheartening, to say the least, thinking that my son will have fewer picture books to help cultivate a lifetime of reading.
In the article, it discusses how picture books just aren’t selling well, and publishers don’t put out nearly as many as in the past. One of the reasons that they explain is an expectation for kindergarteners and first graders to be reading chapter books—a time when they’re just developing their independent reading skills! Beyond that, picture books develop a different set of skills than books filled with text do, and those skills are very important for reading.
Books with lots of images not only help support the story when a child needs context in reading the text, but the illustrations also allow children to participate in the story through “reading” the pictures. It’s okay if the story they create from the pictures doesn’t match up to what the author penned. It’s helping build children’s creativity, analytical thinking and ability to fill in the gaps from what is shown in the picture (dialogue, plot, character motivation, etc). These are skills that are critical when they transition to books without pictures.
That’s where we come in as educators. Let children explore the books that draw their attention. If that’s a chapter book, great! You can support them by describing how the pages feel to an infant or toddler (let them describe it, too, if they can), showing a preschooler how the words are written left-to-right/top-to-bottom or fostering a school-ager’s reading comprehension skills through open-ended questions. If it’s a picture book, that’s great, too! You can support them in many of the same ways: describe the pages and pictures with the infant and toddler, ask open-ended questions to the preschooler about what they think is going on in the story from pictures and extend the experience for the school-ager with opportunities to form opinions and inferences from the pictures.
All types of books, whether that’s picture books or chapter books or the dictionary, stimulate reading skills in children. It’s important not to set aside entire genres simply because a child had reached a chronological age. In the meantime, I’ll keep searching for picture books to add to the nursery’s bookshelves and my son and I will get to listen to my husband’s baritone voice recounting the tales of Bilbo Baggins. As long as we can accept some drool, teeth marks and taped-together pages through the process, I think we’ll all be just fine. What are your thoughts about picture books for children of all ages? Please share them in the comments!