Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Saturday, October 9, 2010


According to a recent article in the New York Times, picture books have become unpopular ("Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children"). Bookstores, such as Borders and Barnes & Noble are apparently selling less picture books.  Some have "rearranged display space so that some picture books are enticingly paired with toys and games".  (Hmm...what goes around comes around - more on that later). 

The truest point the author makes is that young adult fiction (such as the TWILIGHT series, graphic novels, and other paranormal inspired romances) is universally growing by leaps and bounds.  Retailers make space for what customers are buying, creating less space for picture books.  This fact alone is cause for major concern and one of the main reasons why I started my blog!

The journalist who wrote the article noted that publishers are scaling back on picture books.  Their reasons?  He stated that the economy could be a major factor, but an additional reason is that "Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools."

So what's going on here? The quote above surprised me, because I think most parents and schools know the value of quality picture books and how they increase a child's desire to learn to read, help develop their vocabulary, and are a great introduction to art appreciation.  Also, the majority of picture books are targeted at preschoolers through second or third graders, so why the perceived push for "text-heavy" chapter books for that age?

Yes, the economy is down, so people are buying less in general - not just less picture books!  But yes, picture books are expensive (especially hardcovers). Parents of young kids make great use of libraries for picture books.  They also shop online websites that offer used books, which are a better value.  Parents might be finding ways to get picture books at less expense, but that doesn't mean picture books are becoming unpopular!  So what about the "little (children's book)shop around the corner"?

Have you seen the movie YOU'VE GOT MAIL?  It's about how big new bookstore chains took a lot of the book buyers away from the small bookshops.  The chains could buy in bulk, thus driving the price of their merchandise down for consumers.  But there are some drawbacks for consumers (parents and children, in this case).  Because of the bulk of merchandise in large chain-bookstores, picture books are no longer displayed with their covers facing out (other than a select few), but on deeper shelves with their binding out.  Now parents and children don't see the covers.  Also, employees of the chain-stores generally aren't as well versed in children's literature as the owners of small bookshops.

The publishers are directly affected by waning bookstore sales, but there may be another reason why picture books are not flying off the shelves and why publishers must scale back.  I'm not super-impressed with some of the newer picture books (aimed at 4-8 year olds) that publishers are pursuing and putting on the market today...many are written with a lot of sarcasm and cynicism - and the humor seems to be aimed more at parents and adolescents! (for more about this, read a post by my friend, Jane Meyer).

Parents need to search for good quality writing and artwork.  We vote with our purchases.  Which is why the classics have stuck around!  Thankfully, publishers often re-issue the classics that have gone out of print (Lois Lenski's books, for example.), so those are usually available at bookstores, not just at libraries or online websites with used books, such as Amazon or Better World Books.

No doubt about it, there is a time when a child is starting to read on his/her own, that he/she should be encouraged to read chapter books.  Silent sustained reading is easier done in a chapter book than through picture books. And with fewer pictures, a child can't depend on the illustrations to decipher the story for him.

But don't leave picture books behind and don't stop reading aloud once your kids are reading chapter books on their own.  Also, before your children are reading on their own, and still love snuggling up with you and a good picture book, don't hesitate to snuggle up with them and read aloud a fun chapter book!   

Remember, there is a difference between "reading level" and "listening level".   Readers might love pouring through an almost wordless Peter Spier picture book (R.L. ages 4-8) with you, as much as non-readers might enjoy hearing you read aloud a chapter book like LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS (R.L. ages 9-12).  Publishers and bookstores/booksites could really help parents out by making this distinction more apparent!

"A picture book is text, illustrations, total design...a social, cultural, historical document; and, foremost, an experience for a child. As an art form, it hinges on the interdependence of pictures and words, on the simultaneous display of two facing pages, and on the drama of the turning of the page. On its own terms, its possibilities are limitless." -Barbara Bader, from AMERICAN PICTUREBOOKS.

1 - Children are exposed to excellent works of ART in quality picture books!
2 - Picture books increase language development.
3 - Children are exposed to a variety of writing styles through picture books.
4 - Kids are introduced to literary elements, such as plot, characterization, setting, theme and style at an early age through quality picture books.
5 - Being introduced to beautiful picture books increases a child's desire for independent reading.
6 - Picture books are great extentions to art, drama, music, math and science activities.

So to parents and writers and illustrators, publishers and booksellers:  we need good books, but especially good picture books, to start our innocent, young non-readers on the road to reading & learning, and to continue to inspire and guide them as readers to stay on the road that can lead to strength of character, thoughtfulness, and creativity.

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