Daily Archives: October 13, 2010

Picture book is “fading”? Say it ain’t so!

Apparently, the picture book is “fading”. According to an article in the Oct. 7 issue of the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/us/08picture.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1), parents are pushing their kindergartners and first-graders to chuck aside their favorite picture books for the more text-heavy books.

Here’s the thing. Note who is doing the actual pulling and pushing.

Unfortunately, much of this need to push is fueled by state-imposed testing on kids to do more and better every year. And we all know that reading is the basis of doing well overall. Still, we can’t blame it entirely on the government educators; it is after all, the parents who are buying the books and steering their little ones ever closer to what is commonly known as “young adult fiction.”

On one level, I can understand this push to lead kids away from the “ease” of a picture book in an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses”. After all, who wants her child gazing at the pictures in “The Cat in the Hat” or “Cars and Trucks and Things That Go” if the kid next door is soaking up word after word of “Stuart Little” or “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.”

But on another level, this scares me. I worry that we’re teaching kids that reading is a chore, and forgetting the pure joy one gets from learning to connect a picture to the theme or character of the book. Truthfully, I’ll admit I’m glad this push didn’t come until years after my kids spent hour after hour with old favorites like “Good Night Moon” and “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Nothing could match the whimsical illustrations in an Eric Carle book or the bright colors of Richard Scarry’s  books.

It reminds me of a day long ago when I was pregnant with daughter number 2. My sister-in-law had taken me and my youngest daughter, then about 2 1/2, to a store featuring maternity clothes. While I tried on clothes, Lindsay sat at my feet, pulled a book from a basket on the floor, and proceeded to “read”, word for word, Richard Scarry’s “Mr. Paint Pig” which is — sadly — now out of print. (http://www.amazon.com/Richard-Scarrys-Color-Book-Scarry/dp/039483237X)

Fascinated, the sales clerk stared at her, then asked if she could really read. “Of course”, we replied. The fact that she’d actually just memorized the words didn’t change the fact that in Lindsay’s mind, she was reading. Had we given her a completely unfamiliar book, she’d simply have accepted it and slowly “read” the pictures.

All this says to me is that once again, we’re pushing. Too much. Case in point: the author of the NYTimes article tells the story of a 6 1/2 year old boy who began reading chapter books several years ago, yet today his mother describes him as a “reluctant reader” who sometimes tries to return to picture books.

So let him enjoy them. Where’s the harm? After all, many of my adult friends often tell me how much they enjoy (still) reading picture books. Some days, it’s a good antidote to stress.