There’s Good News and Good News About Picture Books

The recent New York Times article, “Picture Books no Longer a Staple for Children” set off understandable ripples of concern, anger, worry, and dismay.  But I have to say it didn’t bother me because what I see in my little corner of the reading world has me certain that the picture book is alive and well.  What I do see as changing is a broadening (not narrowing) of the age of the audience and a wonderful extending of the concept and form of the book itself.

First the good news about age.  I’ve been teaching fourth grade for over twenty years and I have definitely seen a shift in what children have read before they come to my classroom.  Yes, as was noted in the article, kids are reading longer books younger.  Many of the books that were staples of my classroom twenty years ago are now staples in first, second, and third grade classrooms.

The most dramatic change was after the fourth Harry Potter book came out. The media frenzy had been enormous and kids of all reading levels and tastes came into my fourth grade classroom that fall lugging the monster book along with them, insisting they loved it and wanted to read the whole thing. Knowing that it wasn’t for everyone (whatever the media said) I repeatedly assured them that they could read whatever they wanted to. After a few weeks when they saw there was nothing to prove, those whose taste ran to other sorts of books quietly abandoned Mr. Potter and picked up the books they really wanted to read. In the following years kids came in having already read the Harry Potter books and other large works of fantasy (Tolkien was big when the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out) and the reading landscape of my classroom permanently shifted.

So, yeah, I think there is a trend for kids to read longer books younger, at least in the sort of community I teach in.  But I don’t get the sense that this causes them to abandon picture books earlier.  Rather, they read both.  In my classroom today I’ve loads of picture books and the kids love for me to read them and to read them again and again on their own.  Twenty years ago I focused pretty much exclusively on chapter books.  So while kids seem to be reading chapter books younger they are also enjoying picture books when they are older.  Good news, I’d say.

Now the good news about form.  It may be that traditional picture books are a harder sell these days, but how about those in new forms?  I understand the anxiety associated with e-books, but I also am intrigued by what folks are doing digitally.  The iPad seems to have gotten some creators revved up about new ways of presenting text and art together for children.  I’m a fan of graphic novels and am thrilled to see more being created for younger kids.  Kids love novelty books, the kind with flaps, things to move, pop-ups, and such.  I’m delighted that there are more of these than ever.

I’m excited about where books of all kind are going these days whether they are the kind made of paper or something else.  Good news all around, I say.

Also at the Huffington Post.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “There’s Good News and Good News About Picture Books

  1. I agree that picture books aren’t going anywhere soon. But it’s also true that publishers just aren’t publishing as many as they used to. While this may not have a great an impact at present, it will a few years from now. Picture book authors and illustrators that I’ve known for years report that their manuscripts are being rejected. They’re told that the picture book market is too slow, too risky, too whatever. The result, I fear, is that these writers and illustrators will give up. In fact, a dear friend, after more than 20 years in the business, did just that, returning to school to become a social worker. She could no longer make a living at her craft. When Jon Scieska complains of shrinking sales (as he did in the Times article), you know the picture book industry is in trouble!

  2. A wonderful and measured response to an article that had my heart aching. Thank you! I’m sharing on facebook as well.

  3. Wonderful article, and well written, too! I also taught 4th grade and now write children’s books in retirement. I read picture books daily to my class for years, whether it was part of our 4 blocks reading requirement for a 10 minute daily read aloud, or to enhance every part of my curriculum…math, health, social studies..everything. I was always buying picture books. Picture books are an amazing resource for the upper elementary student to teach a myriad of skills. I used them as a way to prompt student’s writing also. Thanks for this uplifting article.

  4. Picture books aren’t just for little children any more – think of “When Jessie Came Across the Sea” for example – written at about a 6th grade reading level, this story of immigration and tradition is a beautiful one. Picture books are the kindling that begins the flame of literacy – how can we do without them?

    I wonder if this reduction in publishing picture books is a response to the decline in families taking time to read with their young children – I love what Mem Fox says: if everyone with a child in their lives read three picture books a day to that child, we’d wipe out illiteracy in a generation and a half. I believe that! I also wonder if this is connected somehow to the reduction in budgets at schools and libraries???

  5. I am glad to see you are hopeful about picture books. I think it is a shame that some parents feel the need to move their children into chapter books at a young age. Picture books provide delightful reading experiences that children will carry with them for years to come. Our kids have many, many fond memories of their favourite picture books and can recall funny, meaningful passages years after they have read them. There are some interesting innovations in electronic books, but an e-book reader does not offer the same opportunity for bonding and cuddling that a bright, colourful, touchable picture book does.

  6. Pingback: Transcript 14/11 November « Picture Books Only

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