The Importance of Picture Books by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
I write picture books. I love them. They are important to me, and I want them to be important to other people.
That used to be a no-brainer. I mean, who doesn’t like picture books? But, sadly, picture books have been suffering from bad press in the last few years. News organizations, including the New York Times, have declared them on the decline. There is an increasing number of parents who want their children to skip past picture books to “smarter” books like leveled readers.
It would be a heartbreaking world, indeed, if we were to lose picture books. I can’t possibly tell you in just one blog post all the reasons why picture books matter – but I am going to share some of the things that make picture books matter to me.
As parents, when we want our children to become better readers, we are not just talking about the functionality of sounding out words. We want reading and comprehension to go hand in hand and increase together. Reading picture books helps kids comprehend because the illustrations provide visual hints. In school, teachers regularly instruct their students on how to use context clues in the text to figure out an unfamiliar word or phrase. For young children – for whom so much of the world is unfamiliar – the illustrations give those valuable context clues. Getting the story from the words is text reading; getting the story from the pictures is visual reading. Visual reading supports text reading.
We also, as parents, want our children to enjoy reading, to make reading a part of their lives, because reading correlates with learning, and learning correlates with success. That’s why we don’t use the phone book to teach reading – while that is filled with text that could be used to demonstrate how to read, no one reads the phone book for fun. If it isn’t enjoyable, people – especially kids – won’t do it if they don’t have to. Picture books use richer, more complicated language that books intended for children to read alone, partly because there are hints in the illustrations for decoding the language. Beautiful language makes the book more enjoyable to read – and that’s what fosters a love of reading. Reading is a learned pleasure.
(By the way, for parents who are afraid that their “smart” kids should be reading “harder” books than picture books, they should consider something: the richness of language in a picture book means a child who can independently read and comprehend a picture book is actually working at a much higher grade level than if he were reading a lot of the early leveled readers.)
As we get older, reading becomes a solitary form of recreation, something to do lounging on the beach or commuting to work on the train. But picture books are meant to be shared between an adult and a child, something that is read to a child rather than read by the child. (That’s another reason picture books get away with a richness of language.) Picture books are a shared experience. They help us form bonds with people we love; they facilitate communication between parents and children, or children and teachers, or any other group who shares them. The subject matter of picture books deal with issues that are developmentally relevant to children – communicating about these issues help children navigate the difficult terrain of childhood.
The last thing I’ll say about why picture books matter is this: they are art, and not just because of the illustrations. The way that words and illustrations come together to create something more than the sum of the parts – that is a thing of beauty.
The children in our lives deserve beauty. So, please, give them picture books.
Sudipta has graciously offered to giveaway 3 of her wonderful picture books.
All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below naming your favorite picture book from your childhood.
3 winners will be chosen at random on Monday, August 12 at 10PM PST.
ABOUT SUDIPTA – Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen is an award-winning children’s book author whose books include Chicks Run Wild, Pirate Princess, Hampire!, and Quackenstein Hatches a Family. She visits schools around the country to talk about the craft of writing to children of all ages. “Every book is an autobiography” is a favorite saying of hers, and a big part of her message is that everyone, grownup or child, has a story that is interesting and compelling — if you can find the right words to tell it.
Sudipta was born in Jersey City, NJ and attended the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, CA, where she received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degree in Biology. Instead of completing her PhD, Sudipta decided to leave science because she had stories to tell. A decade and over thirty books later, she is still writing.
Sudipta lives outside Philadelphia with her children and an imaginary pony named Penny. You can learn more about her and her books on the web: www.sudipta.com.
This post was written exclusively by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen for Bonbon Break Media, LLC and Mission Read
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