The little girl peeked over my shoulder as I unloaded the carton of new books. We were both captivated by a beautiful picture book, so I pulled it out and we pored over it together. When the bell rang, I suggested she take it home. She sighed sadly and said, “I can’t. My mom said picture books are for babies and I can only bring home chapter books.”
I strongly believe, however, that picture books are for everyone!!! Some are written specifically for toddlers and preschoolers, of course, but just as many are only appropriate for older audiences. Picture books are meant to be read aloud, so they use richer, more complex language and their structure is more sophisticated than leveled readers and early chapter books.
Board books are one of the first ways that children learn to pay attention and listen, and they help them understand that words convey meaning long before they are aware of text.
Picture books allow children to practice the sounds of language and fall in love with words. Repetition (“I’ll huff and I’ll puff…”) encourages them to anticipate rhymes and make predictions. Listening to stories also develops story sense: Children learn that every story has a beginning, a middle, an end, and a problem and solution.
Picture books also have beautiful art! Illustrations are the perfect way into a story for nonreaders; the pictures can help them figure out what they are reading.
But most of all, picture books are meant to be shared. They allow parents and children to take a deep breath at the end of the day. Talk about what happened in the story, ask about the characters, how they are feeling, and events that took place, and that may open up doors to conversations beyond the book, even from the most tight-lipped.
Teachers use picture books in all subjects and at all levels:
• Elementary school teachers use them to help build background knowledge. A child who has never been to a national park or seen the Eiffel Tower can still learn all about them by exploring picture books.
• “The moment I start reading a picture book, all the students stop what they are doing and start listening. Whether I am teaching a concept as easy as characterization or one as difficult as theme, I know I have their attention. I use picture books for both my youngest students and my oldest students. You are never too old to be read to, or too old to enjoy a well-written picture book.”
• Speech and language teachers, as well as those working with children with social and emotional challenges, reach for picture books often. As one teacher explained, “Animals and characters in a book can allow children to acknowledge and express different thoughts and feelings.” They also introduce complex concepts in a safe environment, and repeated readings allow children to access that information at their own level.
• Writing teachers use picture books to teach more difficult concepts like similes, metaphors, analogies, parts of speech, etc. They help build vocabulary, nurture students’ imaginations, and allow them think about how other people live.
It’s unfortunate that some parents are pushing their children past picture books. Encourage your children to get their hands on everything they can, including picture books, graphic novels, and comics. It doesn’t matter what they read as long as they’re reading! — Ann Chase Karel, Director, Library Media Center, Eagle Hill School-Greenwich