Monday, October 18, 2010

The Benefits of Picture Books

I'm part of a children's literature group on Goodreads (which I love!) and links to a NY Times Article were posted there. The article talks about how and supposedly why picture book sales have been declining. I say supposedly because while I think there is some truth in what the article says, I think the article was very slanted and only considered one possible reason for the decline. Anyway,if you want to read the article here's the link:
NY Times Article

I want to point out a few things. First, the parent who was quoted in the article was misquoted and has written a response explaining her position and telling more about her children's reading lives. Second, I think the article was written in an alarmist method. I do think that many parents feel pressured to get their children reading early and to push them too soon... I have talked with friends that feel that way and I have felt it on ocassion. One friend told me that all the kids in her neighborhood were reading before they started kindergarten. My guess would be that not all of them were, but at least quite a few. Now some children do read early and some don't...and really we should enough to make her and others feel pressured. I think we should all relax a little because ultimately it doesn't matter that much whether your child starts reading at 4 or at long as they do learn to read and in my opinion, as long as they learn to love reading. So I wish parents could take some of the pressure off themselves and their kids. I love the song "Let them Be Little" by Billy Dean and wish I was better at remembering that they are only little for a short time and not to try to rush them through these stages.

After thinking about that article and reading 2 responses to it (One of the responses was especially excellent... you should check it out: Book Moot) and discussing it on Goodreads, I wanted to move beyond the article and express my thoughts as to why picture books are valuable. Here's what I said on Goodreads:

"While I still find the article a little sad, I guess I like to focus on what I can control. I certainly can't control how other people choose to spend their money (and I can't afford to buy enough picture books to personally make much of a dent in picture book sales! :)) but I can read aloud great picture books to my students and my children. I sometimes blog about my favorites and review them here on Goodreads. I also sometimes pass especially good ones on to other teachers. And if those of us who love picture books do those things then we'll raise a generation of kids who love picture books and see the value in them."

So, in no way am I trying to get kids or parents to stop reading chapter books. I love chapter books, and Michelle is thrilled to be reading chapter books now. But I would discourage pushing kindergartners and first graders to read chapter books...if they are ready and they choose them, that's okay, but I would keep a big emphasis on picture books. And I would have my kids keep reading picture books as long as they are willing and I would read picture books aloud to them until they are at least 8-10 years old. Here is why:

**Picture books cover a wide range of genres. Often once kids begin reading chapter books, they get hooked on a series or specific genre of book. This is not fact in many ways it is good. But you can often get children to read a picture book from a genre that they might not take the time to read in a chapter book. This exposes them to many new ideas and ways of seeing the world.

**Picture books contain amazing illustrations. Exposing children to great artwork engages their brains in a different way and is enriching.

**Picture books contain beautiful language. Few children reread chapter books over and over, but kids fall in love with the language, rhythm and cadence of well-written picture books and these books are read over and over. Repeated reading of well loved books increases vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, understanding of text structure, etc. OH and perhaps most importantly, it leads to engagement and enjoyment!

**Many picture books actually contain more difficult vocabulary and concepts than early chapter books.

** Reading picture books aloud builds family togetherness, bonding, etc. It leads to great discussions and strengthens love and builds an eagerness for reading. Honestly, as a teacher (and a parent) if I could get every parent to do one thing it would be to read to their kids.

**Picture books come in a wide range of levels. Some are aimed at very young children but some are truly aimed at preteens, teens and even adults. I can literally say that many picture books have brought me to tears.

A few examples are Thank You, Mr. Falker and Junkyard Wonders, both by Patricia Polacco as well as She Taught Me To Eat Artichokes by Mary Kay Shanley and illustrated by Paul Micich.

Not only have picture books caused me to cry, they often make me laugh. I love rewritten fairy tales with a modern twist or fun new perspective. I'm writing a post on my other blog with some of my favorites listed.

And want to get in a holiday mood? NO matter whether the approaching holiday is Halloween, Christmas or the Fourth of July, there are darling picture books to get you in the mood. Gary Gustafson brings one picture book to read to the Young Men and Young Women (ages 12-17) each year before beginning our ward's Secret Santa. And they listen and feel the Spirit and are touched by how much they have as he reads and his eyes fill with tears. I fill my classroom and home with holiday books and it adds to the excitement.

I know that reading chapter books feels like a rite of passage for many kids. So, here in my home, what I do is let Michelle read aloud to me from her chapter book and then she and Ella each pick a picture book for me to read to them. When we go to the library, they can each check out one chapter book but up to 8 or 10 picture books. I certainly don't think you should make a child read picture books, but every child loves to be read to. As a teacher, I have read aloud picture books to kids in first grade up to sixth grade. And in fact, I've seen a junior high teacher read aloud picture books to kids...and that teacher had them enthralled, on the edge of their seat and eager for more! So what I'm hoping is that as parents, we keep reading and buying and checking out picture books. We are the models for our children. If we fill our homes and our lives with great books...both picture books and chapter books, our lives will be richer and so will our children's lives.

I hope that you will also read the Book Moot link. She had great things to say about picture books... as well as reviews on all kinds of books. I put 10 books on hold after browsing her site. :)