This is surely, one of the saddest articles I have read in a very long time. New York Times: Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children by Julie Bosman.
It must be in the air
I have encountered many people recently who, in a hushed voice but with great pride, have told me the age their children started reading. It has happened so frequently in the last few weeks that I have wondered if I have tumbled into some kind of Reading Readiness drinking game. Apparently the age for exceptional kids to start reading now, is three years of age, four years old if they are late bloomers, I guess. When Bosman wrote that Amanda Gignac's "youngest son, Laurence, started reading chapter books when he was 4," I felt like I should hoist a tasty beverage to my lips.
For years I've had discussions with parents who have assured me that their little "Hortense" or "Horatio" must quit checking out picture books and move up to "chapter books" because picture books were just too doggone easy for them. I changed the name of that section in my library from "Easy" to "Everybody" for just that reason.
Not so easy
Picture books are NOT easy books. Limited (usually) to thirty two pages, only the best words and writing will do. The illustrator imagines and creates pictures and layouts and colors and textures that carry the story forward. In the best picture books the illustrations and text work seamlessly together. They offer a feast of ideas, art and story that engages the brain and the eye.
I have a very warm memory of handing Rosemary Wells's Language of the Doves along with a box of tissues to one worried but willing mother. Greg Shed's warm illustrations glow with the love between a grandfather and his granddaughter in this story. Thirty two pages later, the mother was mopping tears off her face. " Not an easy book, is it?" I asked her.
Without experiencing the joy of picture books, a child's imagination may never learn to supply the mental pictures needed to carry them through those much vaunted chapter books. My most vivid memories of books from my childhood are of Garth Williiams's mermaids, elves and fairies, Leo Politi's swallows, and Eloise Wilkins's children and families.
Trina Schart Hyman's fierce and elegant renderings of the legend of Saint George and the Dragon are probably responsible for the birth of another legend in my household.
Is this trend away from picture books an economic thing, a bizarre equation of Value = number of words per dollar spent? Picture books are more expensive. Are they too much for families who are weighing every penny during these hard times? Perhaps.
Are parents evaluating books by the number of pages now? Why not just hand the six year old Atlas Shrugged then? That is a 1200 page value. Stuart Little for a 4 year old seems equally daft, to me.
Parents! Picture books are read over and over and over and over and OVER again. Value = time x #of re-reads x enjoyment= Priceless.
Is this some kind of parental competitive one-upmanship? Why push kids in this part of childhood that begs to be enjoyed and savored?
Certainly we should offer new reading challenges but to exclude a child from picture books if they want to read them seems just plain foolish. Our media saturated culture encourages passive, eyes-glazed-over reception. Picture books train the eye to engage and discern.
My home is stuffed with books of all kinds and many, many shelves are filled with picture books. My entlings are amazing readers and have never ever been labeled "reluctant." I think "voracious" is a better description.
Technology has made this a golden era for beautiful books. The discovery of literature through picture books during these years is a wondrous thing.
Picture books are a gift to the intellect and imagination of every child. Do not cheat them out of this experience.