Grits and Purls

Spinning yarns about the grit of life

The Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. The 2010 Caldecott Medal was awarded to Jerry Pinkney for The Lion and the Mouse.

Recently, The New York Times ran an article stating that publishers are accepting fewer picture books and book sellers are allocating less shelf space to them. Parents are encouraging their young children to read text-heavy chapter books at an earlier age. I can’t help but wonder if by scrimping on picture books, parents are pushing children to skip or cut short an important developmental stage.

As the Times article relates, picture books often introduce children to serious topics. And they often use a larger, more challenging vocabulary than chapter books, the link between text and illustration helping children to learn new words.

Imagine a world without Dr. Seuss and his lively cast of cartoon characters. No Shel Silverstein and his funny line drawings. No Tasha Tudor, the eccentric American artist known for her lush borders and ubiquitous Corgis. Do we want our children to miss out on these and all their talented successors?

Emily Dickinson said, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” Picture books do that for young children. Not only do they amuse and entertain, they spark the imagination. They encourage flights of fancy, creativity, and artistry. Illustrations are a child’s earliest training in art appreciation. They train the eyes  – of both young and old  – to notice details. Picture books encourage their audience to be aware of wonder.

I believe picture books help children fall in love with reading.  Their early encounters with beautiful and gently challenging picture books are a necessary step toward reading more text-heavy books.  Studies have shown a correlation between reading and writing ability and academic achievement and for adults, athletic and civic involvement. We need creative thinkers and problem solvers. Businesses list the ability to write well at the top of their lists of desired skills for prospective employees. So let us not scrimp on the development of future readers. Encourage children to read picture book and when they are ready, any other book they can find. Stop by the library or the book store, curl up with an old classic or a new favorite, add a pinch of pixie dust, and let the imagination take flight.

4 thoughts on “Fewer Picture Books? Say it isn’t so!

  1. Michele says:

    Hi Terri,

    As the NYT article points out, the vocabulary associated with picture books is often more complex than that associated with the simple “chapter books” that so many are pushing these days. One only has to pick up a copy of The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell to realize the complicated vocabulary that children can learn through the combination of words and illustrations.


    1. terri says:

      Oh, yes. i guess i didn’t state that clearly. sorry. i dothink the combination of text and pictures really helps with intuiting meaning and cementing the meaning in memory.

    2. terri says:

      On second read, I did state that quite clearly. I just hate to think of kids missing the sheer joy of these beautiful pieces. not to mention missing the learning experience.

      1. Michele says:

        Hi Terri,

        You’re right. I see it too now. Guess it’s time for new reading glasses…but still, it doesn’t hurt to emphasize the point about vocabulary and analytical skills and creativity. You should hear my daughter “read” Good Night Gorilla.


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