Learning to Read: Picture Books Are Important, Too!

Don’t skip picture books, parents! The New York Times reports that publishers are reducing their numbers of picture book releases because parents are buying chapter books for their young children, instead of picture books. Parents are apparently feeling pressure to move their young children toward reading as soon as possible. According to the N.Y. Times article:

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

This, to me, is a sad and short-sighted trend.

It’s not just that I think picture books are beautiful jewels and treasures. It’s that I know that for all five of my children, picture books ignited their love of reading. You can ask any of them right now what are the beloved books of their childhood and they will rattle off lists of the picture books that enchanted them as toddlers and as early readers. These are books that they wanted to read over and over again.

What I think some zealous parents are missing in their quest to create the earliest reader is that in order to be motivated to take on the task of reading, which is a labor-intensive endeavor, children have to love reading. In order to reach this level of motivation, parents should first develop a love of books. This should be the first priority. This is why every expert recommends that parents read to their children early and often. This is where the picture books come in. Picture books are actually learning tools because they keep the child engaged both visually and auditorily. And children learn better when more than one sense is engaged. Also, a beautifully illustrated picture book is a piece of art. Beautiful art will always enhance a story and delight both reader and listener. A beautiful picture book is an experience a child will want to come back to over and over again. And it’s this kind of repetition that jump starts reading.

In addition, now that our children are so media focused, so accustomed to being entertained by moving pictures and multi-sensorial experiences, picture books provide a bridge back to the written word, precisely because they are so visually appealing.

To jump right to early readers or chapter books is skipping an important step in the reading process. By skipping picture books, parents are not only bypassing some of the joy of reading, but they are skipping some important developmental steps.

In the name of expediency, they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Here are five of my favorite picture books:

1.   If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

2.   Paper Bag Princess

3.   Rough Faced Girl

4.   Lon Po Po

5.   Mr. Monkey and the Gotcha Bird

And since part of the movement away from picture books surely has to do with the dire economy, here’s a cute new and inexpensive book that my family can especially appreciate because we have a new puppy who absolutely cannot be left alone. The last time she was, she chewed through my computer’s power cord! Enjoy!


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