A recent New York Times article reveals that picture books are no longer as popular as they once were; that sales are down, that parents are often looking to chapter books to propel their children forward educationally, perhaps for what is considered more sophisticated literary or educational experiences.
Stuff and nonsense.
Picture books are wonderful ways to share rich language, complex images, and sophisticated ideas with young children, older children, young adults, and old codgers.
It’s not the length or the number of illustration in books; it’s the depth of both. In fact, short forms are often the most satisfying. Poets can evoke an image in many fewer words than other forms.
So, too, can picture books.
Take a look at William Steig’s CDC? (Squarefish). There aren’t any words. Readers have to figure out word puzzles that combine with image for a sophisticated game that is sure to give even the most knowledgeable reader pause until “D N.”
Or try reading the one-liners that accompany The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton) without coming up with original stories (or thinking of old “Twilight Zone” episodes).
In fact the rich language in many picture books by far exceeds what we use in daily speech. (How often do you hear “odiferous wretch?” Well, it can be exclaimed with each reading of the Amazing Bone ).
There are many other picture books, both classic and modern — too many to be listed here — that can be read in shorter time but require no less of readers (or listeners or viewers).
Picture books allow children — and adults — to focus intensely on “non-moving” images, create meaning from those images, and build understanding from language that may be too difficult to decode.
And while many picture books are intended for the very young, they are often are a rich source of discovery for readers of all ages.