In August, I attended the Decatur Book Festival. My favorite session by far celebrated the picture book and included author and children’s book historian Leonard Marcus, author Laurel Snyder, author Mac Barnett, and author/illustrator Chris Raschka.
Here are some notes I took while listening in:
Last year, a front-page New York Times article talked about the picture book being on the way out, due to the digital revolution and ambitious parents interested in bypassing them all together.
Yet picture books still have an important place. They are a “gateway to a life-long appreciation of art and literature” and are “an authentic meeting place for parent and child.” Author Laurel Snyder believes picture books are the “most innovative form of writing [she’s] ever encountered.” Mac Barnett spoke of the “sweet spot” blend of literary and commercial literature that isn’t available in any other genre.
The simplicity of the picture book is deceiving. There is a tension between the text and image that is something bigger than the work the author and illustrator create. It is as if the two together equal more than the whole. Both adults and children make up the audience for these books, and the most effective satisfy both. There’s the “rhythm of the page turn” to consider, as illustrator Chris Raschka says.
“Your language becomes clear and true when you take words away.” – Laurel Snyder
“If I’ve written a picture book that works without pictures, I’ve failed.” – Mac Barnett
Carolee Dean says
I was at a workshop earlier this week for speech-language pathologists and the professor, Gail Richard, Ph.D., was discussing how the brain develops in order to be ready for reading. She said that although some kids read precociously at age 3, that doesn’t mean they understand what they are reading. She said the brains of most kids aren’t ready until age 7, but sometimes much later (as late as age 10) and that to force kids to read before they are ready is not helpful.
So long live the picture book!
Caroline Starr Rose says
To forgo the rich vocabulary, the rhythms, and the work of the picture and text together in order to “advance” a child is a very sad thing.
I love picture books and they are for everyone at any age. My kids — 12, 10 and 7 — still read picture books! The art itself is worthy of the book purchase in some picture books. It’s also a complete story in 36 pages. The parents who think those repetitive chapter books are “more advanced” and “better” than picture books are completely misguided. Also, there are such great advanced picture books that have reading difficulty levels of chapter books. One Morning in Maine is one example. Mirette and any book by Patricia Polacco or Emily Arnold McCully.
Caroline Starr Rose says
Agreed and agreed. There are a number of picture books I used in my middle school classrooms. And when you think of it from strictly an art perspective, it’s a very inexpensive purchase you can enjoy again and again.
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
You are so right about a picture book being an inexpensive piece of art. I’ve often thought that.
And Carolee’s thought about kids learning to read later . . . so true. That happened with my middle child who knew the alphabet, devoured books, could sound out words, but would NOT read on his own and had no fluency. It finally kicked in when he was 9 years old – and he practically gave me heart failure with worry. But he jumped from three letter word stories to reading Jurassic Park in about 6 months. It was mind-boggling. There are a certain percentage of kids who do this and I’m so glad I was homeschooling him at the time because I fear he would have ended up in Special Ed – where I knew he didn’t need to be. He’s now my biggest reader of all three boys.