A while back, the New York Times published a story called Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children. It broke my heart to read about the boy who was forced to read chapter books while longing for age and interest-appropriate picture books. As a school librarian and reading teacher, I’m struck by the shortsightedness of the many people who think they are supporting literacy by zipping children past picture books.
Books, and especially picture books, entice and excite children as they find value (and joy) in reading. Picture books provide both the deep satisfaction of connecting with a great story or the power that comes from learning new information. Picture books teach children about themselves, each other and the surrounding world. This is especially true for pictures books, which can be very simple or quite complex. These books can offer rich language, varied styles of artwork through illustration, great stories, new information and thought provoking ideas worth talking and thinking about together and alone.
Picture books get and keep kids reading, writing, thinking and sharing. These are important life skills, all of which appear on standardized tests. But the long-term goal of reading is not a test score but the ability and willingness to read frequently for entertainment, information, and the joy of language, while making sense of the world. Ultimately, if we do our job well as educators, kids will read frequently, with gusto, throughout their lives.
There are many many benefits in sharing picture books with people of all ages. The act of hearing a picture book models fluency, expression, pacing, tone and the thought processes that make reading real, important and habitual. Good readers make predictions based on what is seen and known. They engage as they read. This happens after hearing and discussing thousands of stories.
All children who become readers move through developmental stages that begin with talking and singing. If books are available, most children will hear and eventually read a wide variety including picture and chapter books, poetry, plays and the vast world of nonfiction. No one genre or type of book is best, particularly for young children, who must be exposed to and guided through a wide variety of books.
Let’s consider the goal and what we need as a society. We certainly don’t need adults who can pass a test well or read books beyond their emotional and/or intellectual grasp in the name of advancement. We need adults who read frequently, enthusiastically and critically. This comes from reading all kinds of books-including those with pictures.