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The importance of picture books

Last night, our Admissions Director, Maile Uohara, sent me a link to an article, with the comment that it made her sad. It makes me more than sad. It makes me downright angry. The article, from the New York Times, is entitled “Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children” and the synopsis is “Publishers are scaling back on picture books as more parents favor text-heavy chapter books for their young children. The article listed a number of causes for a decline in sales, such as the economy, or other growing markets, but a large reason is the push for young readers to tackle chapter books. As an independent school educator, I believe this is a huge mistake, as picture books develop so many other pathways in the brain and are essential for drawing students in to and maintaining a love of reading. Even now, I can appreciate an excellent picture book and look forward to my daily reading with my daughter as she grows up.

Picture books allow students of all reading levels to connect with books from different angles. They allow children to develop their visual interpretation skills as well as their decoding.  They show the realm of artistic possibility. They bring stories to life and even the simple ones can be complex. Talking about illustrations can lead directly to skills needed to compare, contrast, and connect in later years. Picture books can often be read in one sitting, and show the value of being succinct yet engaging. They aid in our aim of creating global citizens, as they open doors to cultures far and near. They set imaginations afire and are loved and treasured by all readers.

Yes, novels can do much of this as well, but pushing children into reading long and arduous texts, or texts that seem more “grown up” (even if they are simple) just because they are long and lack illustrations, can turn children off of reading. If it is quantity we strive for, I think it is more valuable to read a multitude of engaging picture books of different genres and backgrounds and talk about the connections.

I hope you’ll take a look at the article, but I hope even more that, regardless of the age of your child (or you), you’ll take a moment this weekend to pull out a favorite picture book and let its magic wash over you.  Maybe even go buy one from your local bookstore to give to someone for an upcoming holiday gift.  But mostly, enjoy it, see its value, and share this with your child.

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