Friday, November 14

Why Picture Books Are Important

As part of National Picture Book Month, asks a different author/illustrator each day to explain why picture books are important. Today, for instance, is Anna Dewdney, of Llama Llama fame, and she focused on the human-interaction of it. Really though, all of the explanations this month are varied, from the humorous to the serious and personal to educational.

So with that in mind, I thought I'd answer the question. Why are picture books important? Seeing as I have based my entire career on sharing picture books, I feel rather invested in the answer. But seeing as I simply love picture books, the answer will not be completely professional. No, this will be a nice blend of completely biased opinion and some fact-based evidence.

Shall we get started then? In my humble opinion, picture books are indispensable, priceless, and genius. They are the gateway drug to a life-time addiction to reading. Granted, not all picbooks are made the same, but I am speaking generally. Quite simply, I will state my position as follows: Picture books are important because they are designed to engage children with literature, they are educational on a multitude of levels, and....wait for it....they're FUN. They provide a fun way to learn to read, because no one was made an extensive reader through boredom.

Engaging Children with Literature
Bright pictures, beautiful artwork, or intriguing illustrations—they draw the child's eye. Whether or not they can read, kids can comprehend pictures. And so they have their first interaction with a book. Fascinating illustrations can really engage a child's mind. But beyond the pictures alone? Well, here's a popular quote: "Children are made readers on the laps of their parents" (Emilie Buchwald). The point is, by sitting with someone who reads, a child can now comprehend the pictures in the context of a story. The words on the page mean something, and their engagement with the book is strengthened. Being read to is so vital for a child's literary-enjoyment. Enjoying literature now means better reading skills in the future.

Educational Beyond Words
So the children have grasped the concept of reading. That's great! But guess what else they're learning through these stories? Yep. Everything. Anything that can be written down and illustrated can now be learned by a child. This includes abstract ideas—social interaction, emotions, morality/ethics/values, humor, pure imagination—and the obvious lessons. They can even know how to act in new, real-life interactions based only on previously-read picture books (it's true, according to American Psychological Association). Beyond the story itself is how the book is read. A child will notice if his/her parent reads the sad part sadly, laughs at the humorous parts, or reads the all-caps IN A REALLY LOUD VOICE. Thus, a child can now infer deeper meaning in the words of the story.

A Fun Way to Learn
The National Association for the Education of Young Children is rather adamant that "the picture book is a major resource in children's acquisition of literacy." Why? Because it's FUN. There is SO MUCH to be read. So many wonderful pictures to examine. Reading picture books with children is not a chore! It's exciting and hilarious and moving and joyous and so much more! When a child can sit with a picture book, being read to by an enthusiastic reader, that child will be having fun. And when learning is fun, there is a firm engagement of the mind. Education is taking place. The child is learning to read...and so much more.

And that's basically it, really: picture books are a child's education of everything. They're an enjoyable way to learn and grow. So go and read a picture book today!

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