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Word by Word

The Important Thing About Picture Books

November is Picture Book Month! In honor of the occasion, I am re-running a blog post I wrote last year.

THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT PICTURE BOOKS

Recently, an article in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html
stated that picture books seem to be on the wane, as parents and teachers push children into reading “harder” books in order to make gains on reading tests. This is such a mistaken notion.
Picture books far are more than easy books with pictures as a crutch. Like learning to crawl before learning to walk, picture books serve an important function in a child’s language development.
I hope we as a culture haven’t forgotten that picture books:
• Develop vocabulary. Because picture books are meant to be read by an adult to a child (and not the other way around) the author is free to use any words at all—including made up words and words in other languages. There are no restrictions. The level of vocabulary in a picture book is much higher than in a leveled chapter book.
• Teach an appreciation for language. Picture books sound best when read aloud. They use playful, tongue-tickling language. Picture books teach an appreciation for all the fun of English, including alliteration, onomatopoeia, puns, and word play. No where else, aside from poetry, will you find such joy in words.
• Visual interpretation. The pictures in a picture book often tell a companion story to the text, so the reader learns to interpret visual clues—like facial expressions and body language. In our graphics-heavy culture, the ability to “read” visuals is a key skill.
• Shared experience. A picture book, shared by an adult with a child, is an interactive experience. It gives the child a chance to ask questions, and make comments. It gives the adult a chance to listen, guide, and direct. The interaction leads to increased receptive and expressive language.
• Brain development. A picture book read by an adult to a child engages more centers of the brain than a video. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2848291/

I remember hearing about a grandmother who was concerned when her grandson entered school, and was labeled as language delayed. She promptly put him on a “diet” of fourteen picture books a day. Imagine—she read fourteen picture books every day (not in a row) to her grandson! Within months, he had caught up to the rest of the children in his class.
So snuggle up with a child today and share a picture book. You won’t regret it.

Find more great posts from picture book authors and illustrators at www.picturebookmonth.com



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