(from Maggie and the Pirate by Ezra Jack Keats)
There was a disturbing article in the New York Times yesterday about the perilous future of the Picture Book. (You can read article here). The article addresses the dwindling sales of picture books as well as the shrinking number of them being published. It also talks about parents pushing children away from picture books because they wrongly see them as too simple.
Now having worked for years in Children's Publishing as a major buyer of Picture Books for Scholastic's Kindergarten Book Club, I can say with confidence that in the past fifteen years there have been WAY TOO MANY picture books published. When too many titles are published, there are undoubtedly terrible titles making it to the market and the good titles suffer. I see this happening in the YA market currently. It also happens in music. And unless a consumer has the time (and who does except for us fanatics) to devote endless hours to research, it may be hard to weed through the bad to find the quality titles. So more selective publishing isn't a bad thing in my opinion.
What really frightens me is the other aspect of the article. Picture Books are not simple. Not the really good ones anyway. Picture Books are extremely valuable for children. The marriage of text and pictures is how we learn to visualize a written story and how to let our imagination expand the story. Certainly there is also a need to have children read chapter books. I LOVE chapter books. But they serve a completely different place in the learning to read process.
Chapter Books are perfect for encouraging independent reading. But independent reading is only part of the child's learning to read process. Learning to read can't simply be about vocabulary and testable skills. The key to raising a child who loves reading and not just a child who can read, is the magic of storytelling. Picture Books are some of the most perfect examples of storytelling that we have developed as a culture. They are not simply for teaching toddlers the alphabet or to count or that apples are red. There are many complex and rich stories contained in that section of the store, not to mention many of the finest pieces of art produced in the last century.
Next time you're in a bookstore, do yourself a favor and spend some time in the Picture Book section. Pick one up instead of that new James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks novel...I promise you'll get infinitely more from its pages.