Jan 30, 2012

So What IS the Power in Picture Books?

Picture books have the power to produce good readers.

I want every reader to be a “good” reader, don't you?  Don't confuse that with labels on test results, such as “proficient” or “accomplished".  Real readers think, feel, react, and connect with literature.

Because fluency rate and word accuracy are easily measured and reported, does it mean we should use those measures to define success in reading?

Here’s an analogy I use in workshops comparing "learning to read" to "learning to drive".

Would you prefer drivers to learn, through example and practice, that the “best” drivers can move from point A to point B as fast as possible without having on accident? Or do the best drivers display good judgment and control across changing terrain, weather, and road conditions? Shouldn’t drivers move from point A to point B in the safest, most efficient way, staying fully engaged and alert? In addition, shouldn’t drivers know when the vehicle, the route, or the conditions dictate that they should stay off the road or stop and ask for help?

So what does this have to do with reading and picture books?

In the ever-accelerating pace of our lives, should we be teaching, directly and through the values our approach implies, that the “best” readers race through reading, skim rapidly over the surface, cover as much distance as possible, and get “right” answers to simplistic questions? Or should we help them discover how rich their world will become as engaged readers?

The power unique to picture books is that they are, by definition:


I think the time will come when the common term used to refer to “kids” will morph to “vids”. Visuals reach them, hold them, hook them at a gut level. Picture books have an  innate magnetism: the complex visual media, powerful language, accessible and informative text. Quality picture books offer readers a rich terrain and an irresistible hook to read deeply, to reread, to connect, and to appreciate. Picture books foster intense, satisfying engagement with books- the original hand-held app.

Let’s get over the mistaken assumption that picture books are only for babies.

As LeVar Burton  said on Reading Rainbow, “but don’t take my word for it…” Check out just a few of the invaluable online links about children’s books, beginning with Anita Silvey’s -Children’s-Book-A-Day Almanac,   and Alyson Beecher’s Kid Lit Frenzy If you’re an educator, don’t miss Keith Schoch’s Teach With Picture Books. 

 I’m always searching for new/undiscovered resources, so if you know some you want to recommend (or write a blog you’d like to share) include the link in your comments. Today's book recommendations link to reviews at some blogs you might enjoy.

And when it comes to Reading Rainbow, if you mourned its passing as I did, check out LeVar’s bold new plans for an iPad launch for the Next Generation of Reading Rainbow kids.

Picture books are dead? Disappearing? Irrelevant?
Check out these examples. Each title links to a recent blog review. All are among my personal favorites.

Drawing from Memory, by Allen Say, Published by Scholastic Press, 2011. Review at School LIbrary Journal.

The House that Baba Built, by Ed Young, published by LIttle Brown Books for Young Readers. 2011. Review at Picture Book Depot.

Mirror, by Jeannie Baker, published by Walker Books, 2010 Review at The Book Chook .

Peaceful Pieces: Poems and Quilts about Peace, by Anna Grossnickle Hines. Henry Holt and Co. 2011. Review at Waking Brain Cells.


  1. Great analogy, Sandy. I was thinking about this the other night as I am actually not much of a reader---at least I don't read as much as I could. Time is my biggest enemy. But your post put it in perspective. Why worry about racing through a book to say I read it. It's much more enjoyable to linger for a while---maybe even read small chunks until it's done. Eating a Thanksgiving meal every day would first not make Thanksgiving all that special and second would probably put us in the hospital inside three months.... Nice post.

    1. Thanks, Bill.
      There's a Beetle Bailey cartoon in which Beetle asks Zero (the supposedly "dumb" character) how his speed reading is going. He answers: Fine, but now my reading is too fast for my remembering". Pretty smart, I'd say.
      With the visuals of PB, and the luxury of reflection, I recall PBs much better than I do MG and YA, even when I loved them.
      Enjoy your reading in whatever serving size you can manage- without guilt or indigestion.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.