A recent New York Times article suggested that children's picture books have become less popular. The article cited the recent economic downturn as a possible reason, but also suggested that parents are pushing their children to get into chapter books earlier.
It sparked a large number of positive and negative responses but also a renewed interest in the importance of picture books for children.
What exactly is a picture book? A picture book is a book with pictures that are as important as the words. In fact, often the text does not make sense without the pictures.
The reader gains information from the pictures, the words, and putting the words and pictures together. In a well-written picture book, the reader looks at the pictures and reads the text in a back and forth motion that becomes the rhythm of the book. Usually the reader can sense when he or she needs to look at the next picture.
An illustrated book, on the other hand, has text interrupted once in awhile by illustrations, but can be understood without them. A picture book is a storybook that has a simple story line and is usually about 32 pages long. It may have about 200 words, but also may have no words at all.
People of all ages enjoy picture books, not only because of the intriguing pictures, but also the rich language in the text and the meaningful themes.
By reading pictures books, children will begin to want to learn to read and hopefully learn to love reading. When parents read picture books with young children, they show children the process of reading by demonstrating how to hold a book, turn the pages, pause to look at pictures, follow the words across the page, and guess what is going to happen next. This provides the needed experience with books before children can read on their own.
Other skills are developed when reading picture books. Motor skills are developed by holding the book, turning the pages, and pointing to the pictures. Visual skills are developed by looking at the pictures, thinking about what they mean, and looking for details in the pictures that were mentioned in the text. By naming things in the pictures, vocabulary is also developed.
Experts agree that children receive many additional benefits from reading picture books, with parents and alone.
They develop socially by exploring relationships and observing why people do what they do. They develop intellectually by gaining information, thinking creatively, using their imagination, and asking questions.
They develop emotionally as they learn to accept themselves and how to handle difficulties. They develop culturally when they learn about how other people live and how other people and families are similar or different. They develop artistically by learning to appreciate color, shapes, and design.
If parents are purchasing fewer picture books because they are pushing their younger children to read chapter books sooner, they are missing out on these important benefits, besides the pure joy and entertainment from reading them. If parents are purchasing fewer picture books due to finances, this could easily be remedied by borrowing books from the library.
At the Bismarck Public Library, Traci Juhala, head of Children's Services, has not seen declining interest in picture books.
In 2010, about 3,500 picture books and 2,000 chapter books were checked out each month. In 2009, about 3,000 picture books and 1,700 chapter books were checked out each month.
Not only has the use of picture books been on the rise through the Bismarck library, the use of all children's books has been rising. Picture books are about 20 percent of all of the children's materials at the library.
“When we renovated the Children's Library, we intentionally moved picture books to front and center because parents and children love to come in the library to browse through the books, the new ones and the old favorites. We wanted to make them more accessible," Juhala said.