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Maria Salvadore

Reading Rockets' children's literature expert, Maria Salvadore, brings you into her world as she explores the best ways to use kids' books both inside — and outside — of the classroom.

The space between pictures and words

September 30, 2011

My newly 7 year old niece, now in the 2nd grade, is visiting us this week during her school district's professional days. She's reading like a champ, gobbling down various (and more difficult) chapter books — fiction and nonfiction — with great gusto.

But she reminded me of the joy of picture books and the pleasure in reading them together or independently for readers of all ages. Michaela's imagination soars in the space left between the pictures and the words.

So often, adults assume that picture books are only for young children. Not so at all. In addition to rich language, illustrations require careful examination and often tell a tale that differs from the words or expands the narrative and sometimes even replaces it.

Yesterday, Michaela visited the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History where she was really impressed by the giant squid. That evening I shared with her Kevin Sherry's I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean (Dial).

As she reread it to me, Michaela started filling in what wasn't said by the words but certainly was suggested by the humorous illustrations. She created an entire new level to this seemingly simple picture story book.

I asked her why she still liked picture books even though she reads much longer books. Michaela told me she likes to look at the pictures, that they're often funny and say things by themselves. She then shrugged and said, "I just like to read them."

And read she does. Pictures and words; separate and together — with all the drama that a page turn creates.

Michaela likes to launch her creativity in the space between illustration and words found in picture books.


I enjoyed your reflection of the joys of reading and agree that picture books are not just for young children. Great post!

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"You know you’ve read a good book when you turn the last page and feel a little as if you have lost a friend." — Paul Sweeney