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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.

Picture books on the decline?

October 8, 2010

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.


I agree; it is sad that the NYTimes article says picture books are on the decline; I witnessed a parent of a 1st grader at a Scholastic book fair urging her child to pick chapter books instead of picture books. Children's interpretations of illustrations are thought provoking and stretch their imagination and vocabulary. They help children learn about characters, setting, plot, and predicting stories before they move on to pictureless chapter books. Picture books help children become good readers!

Having picture books on a decline is a sad thought because they really are worth reading for any age. I still love to read picture books because they give that feeling of imagination. Parents need to understand that picture books let children grow with the rich language and illustrations that decorate the page.

I feel sad for you Matthew that you’ve closed yourself off to a world of rich language and text structure. Both chapter and picture books offer distinct advantages depending on what it is we want our children to learn. To be close-minded is to limit your understanding of writing in its many forms.

I disagree. Picture books are great, but when kids enjoy them, chapter books are superior and should be preferred.

Glad I could help turn that trend around. I purchased 10 picture and board books this past weekend. Some for nieces and nephews presents and 4 new ones for myself! Being a teacher lets me feed my love of picture books.

so glad to read this.I had seen a ticker tape while watching Morning Joe citing the decline of picture books and was horrified.My 3 yr old granddaughter is an avid reader of picture books son has read to her from the day she was born and doesn't allow tv. I will send your blog on to him.

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"If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book." —

J.K. Rowling