I have another article to share with you. This New York Times article says that picture books are a dying breed, partly because parents are moving their children to chapter books at an earlier age. At least one book store manager mentioned the pressure parents feel for their children to succeed, equating letting them read picture books with diminishing their chances of getting into Harvard. I know those pressures; I want to get it all right, too. I worry about finding that balance between challenging my kids and not pushing them too hard, preparing them for the future and letting them enjoy their childhood.
Thankfully, the author of this article defends picture books, assuring us that they aren’t just a stepping-stone to more sophisticated material. And that’s the thing. There are plenty of dumbed-down picture books out there. But there are so many others that are genuine literature, filled with wonderful illustrations. Word count isn’t everything; think poetry with illustrations, illuminated texts, or narrated artwork and you’re closer to what a picture book can be. The interplay of art and text can be very sophisticated, allowing for growth and enjoyment on a range of cognitive levels. I think, too, that there’s a lot to be said for economy of words. With a 28-page limit, the text of a picture book is necessarily pared-down, and when done well can be a wonderful example of clear, elegant writing.
As for my family, all five of us love picture books. I think they are one of the best teaching tools I have for my four year-old in terms of language and cognitive development, not to mention what she is learning about art, creativity, and life. My eight year-old devours chapter books, but she still reads every picture book we bring home from the library, too, and I consider that to be enriching to her education and her personality. My ten year-old has been asserting his independence a lot lately, but he still sits in on family read-alouds, whether they are chapter books or picture books. And my husband and I, although we both read a variety of material, genuinely enjoy picture books with our kids. We spend time in the children’s section of bookstores even when our kids aren’t around—a habit that goes back to our first weeks of dating.
I guess I don’t understand the black-and-white thinking, the idea that picture books are something to “graduate” from. Why not layer them in? Our read-alouds consist of picture books and chapter books—sort of a necessity because of the age-range in our family, but it’s such a rich combination! I’m sure there will be a time when all three children will feel too old for picture books. I’ll deal with that day when it arrives, and I’ll tell myself that when they mature even more, they’ll appreciate all those books again in new ways. For now, I see no need to hurry.