The Death of the Picture Book?

I read an article in the New York Times today that stopped me dead in my tracks. No pun intended, speaking of the title of this post. The article was entitled Picture Books Languish as Parents Push ‘Big-Kid Books’, and I found it completely sobering. Amongst the choice quotes in the article was this one from a bookstore manager in Washington, D.C.: “I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling — that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.”

I admit, the “she won’t get into Harvard” hits a sensitive spot with me. In my high school, there was so much pressure to go to a great college, Ivy League especially, Harvard the most. Not that anything is wrong with Harvard, I had a number of good friends go there, and I have nothing against the school itself. But, I do think parents have to think twice about whether the end-all, be-all mark of success for their child (or for themselves as the parent) is whether or not their son or daughter has gotten into a “good college.” Is that really the goal we want to promote in our families and amongst our children?

So grab those picture books, I say. Buy a few from the bookstore so publishers know that not everyone wants to push their children to chapter books. I think the best way to help children love to read is to help them fall in love with books. Chapter books have their place in that process, but a beautifully illustrated picture book can awaken the mind and imagination of a youngster, which will serve him or her well beyond childhood. Some children are strong readers, like my eldest, who naturally gravitated to chapter books at a young age. But some are like my 5-year-old, who’d rather just run and jump and roll around all day instead of read. When I sit down with him and share a picture book, I can see that he is engaged and interested, at least for the short time it takes to read it! If I were to push a chapter book on him, I am pretty sure it would kill all joy of reading whatsoever. I want my kids to grow up loving to read, and loving to learn. Those are qualities that will last them a lifetime…no matter if and where God leads them to college!

What do you think about the potential death of the picture book?

10 Comments on “The Death of the Picture Book?

  1. Well said – I completely agree. Can you imagine pushing chapter books on a toddler? So why can’t an “older” child enjoy picture books, too? I still enjoy many picture books as an adult!

    On a related note, I sometimes struggle with my middle child ONLY wanting to read books about vehicles and transportation – but I have to remind myself that, if they keep him interested in reading, that’s great. Broader interests will come with time.”

  2. Helen, I saw the headline for the article this morning but didn’t read it.

    My first thought was that it is because picture books are so darned expensive. More like a coffee table book, not a child’s book. On the other hand, pictures are the way children “see” stories in the beginning and even my 11 and 12 year olds still love to be read to and wish there were more pictures in the books I read to them.

    On the Harvard note: funny story. At a YMCA dinner for little girls playing basketball they told a story of girls getting scholarships to college because they play basketball. A friend of my daughter (I think eight or nine) said to me “I won’t need that, I’m going get an academic scholarship and go to Harvard.” Wonder where she go that idea??

    I like your site so far!


  3. Hi Helen-

    I’m just stumbling upon your website via a friends’ Facebook posting!. I’m excited to explore more. In response to this particular entry, it is sad that seemingly intelligent people don’t appreciate the spectrum of ways people are gifted and intelligent! Musically, visually, emotionally, physically, mathematically, spatially, etc. I’m amazed at the ‘intelligence’ my two and a half year old displays when looking at pictures and making up her own stories! Who knows what kind of school she will attend, but I’m pretty confident she will be engaged with the world around her in a healthy, curious way! Comments by parent suggesting that picture books are substandard are as insightful as parents who think play and make- believe are a waste of time!!

  4. I had no idea that they were dying. That is so sad to me. Who are these crazy parents! Picture books are the best. The saying a “picture is worth a thousand words” is so true and some of my favorite books (yes, I’m a 30+ year old mom) are those by Peter Spier or Flotsam by David Wiesner where there are no words, just pictures. They actually make me think and tell a story that’s not already written and set in the box. They make me observe more and smell the roses versus just try to get to the end of the book. (I’m a chronic, flip to the end of the book reader.)

    Helen, you are totally one when saying that we need to help our kid’s build skills like play, make believe and observation and seeing that the world can be seem from various points of view versus one that’s written in text.”

  5. Hi.

    I stumbled upon your blog this morning and I can see this is a place where I’d like to hang out :-)

    As for the death of picture books: Not in my house! Oh, to imagine our lives without Mo Willems, Arnold Lobel, Dr. Seuss, Peggy Rathman, Judith St. George . . .

    Snuggling on the couch under Comfy Blankie with my two boys and a stack of library treasures on our lap and at our feet–these are my fondest memories of motherhood.

  6. Jen–my son Jason, who you know of course, LOVED all those non-fiction books about trucks and cars when he was younger. I could never get him interested in fiction or picture books! But now, I can’t get him away from Harry Potter! So I agree with you that even those children who seem single-track minded (like Jason was, car-crazy from 3-5 years!) will definitely broaden their interests over time. And I totally enjoy a well-written picture book myself! Sometimes it takes more skill to do an excellent picture book than to write a less imaginative chapter book, right? Thanks so much for stopping by!

  7. Melody—oh, I’m feeling a little sad for that friend of your daughter. I hope she doesn’t get totally burnt out by school before she is age 10! Kids can absorb so many values from their parents, and even Christian parents can unintentionally send messages that are not necessarily Scriptural–such as, “you are in control of your own future; success is measured by achieving certain milestones at a certain level.” I think it’s important to encourage our kids to develop and nurture their God-given gifts, but not for their own glory!

    Thanks so much for visiting and for your encouragement!”

  8. Laurie–thanks for visiting! I’m with you completely…there are so many ways that a child learns and as parents we can affirm those various ways without pushing “book learning” as the only and best way a child can grow! And I am also with you in your comment about parents who don’t believe in play and make-believe. Play is fast becoming a lost part of childhood–not just for younger, preschool aged children, but for older children as well. Childhood is such a special, once-in-a-lifetime part of a person’s life, and I don’t want for my kids to miss it–even if it means they may be “behind” their peers by not doing as many activities. In my mind, part of being “missional” is to stand against the cultural trends that are pushing our kids to “excel” when what they should be doing more of is playing!

    Glad you stopped by!”

  9. Esther, I love that you love picture books! Me too! Sometimes I think I enjoy reading them with my kids more than they enjoy it. =) You can learn from picture books at any age, and those Peter Spier books are wonderful!

    I also thought of something from my own past…My parents did not read to me much that I can remember. I always thought of reading as a very solitary activity. One thing that I’m loving that we are doing more in our own family is making reading a family activity. So I also think that reading books with your kids–picture books, read-alouds, and yes, even chapter books!–is not only great for their development in so many ways, but will help build memories and strong bonds between parents and their kids. And what parent wouldn’t want that, right?

    Thanks for visiting, Esther!!

  10. Linda, I’m glad you found the site (and that you want to hang out here!) You know, I love that picture you painted of yourself and your boys and your books (picture books included, no doubt!) =) And what’s even more precious is that they are not only your fondest memories of motherhood, but they will also be among your sons’ cherished memories of childhood! I appreciate your visiting the site and hope to see you again here soon!

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