Long live the picture book!
Ever since The New York Times published an article in October 2010 about the impending demise of the picture book, I have wanted to publish a short screed in its defense. I thought this was an opportune time because so many splendid picture books are featured in our spring issue. Let it be known that I am a devoted fan of children’s picture books. I read them voraciously as an adult, and have done so for as long as I can remember. I collect them. I purchase them in stores and from online booksellers. I present them to friends and little ones as gifts. As a special collections librarian, I also purchase them to complement and strengthen our antiquarian collections. To my immense satisfaction, I am literally surrounded by them.
I understand that my passion for picture books is intense, but picture books are essential to feeding the child’s imagination and developing his or her critical thinking skills. A simple keyword search on the University of Alberta Libraries’ online catalogue revealed numerous peer-reviewed articles about the ways that picture books open up imaginative worlds to children; with this richer understanding of stories, children gain a greater understanding of themselves and the world they live in. If we acknowledge that picture books encourage children to construct meaning about characters, events, settings, and so on, then it seems only natural to conclude that picture books are essential to preparing beginning readers for pictureless chapter books.
The author of the Times article reported that many parents are saying “My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore”, which is utterly shocking especially when we know the important role that pictures play in communication. When we introduce picture books to young readers, we allow them to make connections between their own life experiences and the illustrator’s use of colour, imagery, perspective, characterization, and dramatization. Picture books can provide powerful learning opportunities for children.
I am always astonished at how much there is to learn about reading pictures. Whenever I open a picture book, I take great delight in the interpretive process. Indeed, interpretation is the essence of picture books, which is why sharing picture books with children is one of the best ways to develop their critical thinking skills.
Are picture books dying “a sad little death”? The answer is obvious. I think not.
I hope you enjoy this issue and please do get in touch if you have comments or questions.
Robert Desmarais, Managing Editor