The intention of a picture book and that of a beginning reader chapter book are very different. It used to drive me nuts when teachers would read books to kids that were intended for children to read themselves. If the goal is to share great stories with children, there are so many extraordinary picture books from which to choose that will do a much better job. When my son was in preschool, his teacher was reading the Magic Tree House series to the kids. Why? That series is a great series for kids who are starting to read chapter books on their own. The language is simple, the sentence structure is simple but the stories are exciting and it feels like a real chapter book for the early reader.
But the intention of a picture book is different. Reading picture books to children allows them to hear stories that they won’t be able to read for many years, but has language that they can understand now, vocabulary that is sophisticated and that they can learn plus extraordinary illustrations. Often, the pictures tell more of the story than the words. What picture books do is far different than books that are meant to develop reading skills.
A couple of years ago there was an article in the New York Times about the “Death of the Picture Book”. It was so sensational that it seemed to miss the true point of the picture book. Perhaps they were just focusing on sales numbers, but they discussed how parents want their children to read more complex books than “picture books”, which I imagine they view as “for babies”. I had to explain the difference between a picture book and a beginning reader at a curriculum night meeting at my son’s school because of that article. The richness of language the story, the vocabulary and the beautiful illustrations are what distinguishes the picture book from the beginning reader. Many picture books are sophisticated enough for the older reader and they can still benefit from the experience. Check out Hiroshima, No Pika about the nuclear bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima as a great example of a picture book for an older child.
As a practioner in this field, I am attempting to marry the lush images of the picture book with the emergent reader. But we should not lose sight of the difference in language between the two. Recently I came across Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children—NY Times by Tania Sheko, an Australian based blogger, who explains this issue brilliantly, and gets into several core issues.
Love the picture book, respect the purpose of the beginning reader. Give kids a lot to read with beginning readers and read to them often with picture books.
Do you have a favorite picture book to read with your child? Or does your child have a favorite book that they enjoy reading by themselves? Let us know in the comments!