Monday, October 18, 2010

Picture This

Hi, everyone! Today, my friend Brian Rafter, Literacy Coordinator at Please Touch Museum, is here to talk about reading as a family and the value of picture books.

Last week, the New York Times’ Julie Bosman published this article, reporting the diminishing popularity (and profit margin) of picture books. While it seems that hardly a week goes by without a different literary genre or print format being declared extinct, the article has provoked replies and rebuttals from a number of educators, booksellers, and authors.

Ms. Bosman’s article paints a grim picture of declining sales and decreased production for picture books, and shrinking royalty payments for their authors. The article’s premise is that parents are graduating their children to chapter books earlier, considering picture books to be “too easy.” Ms. Bosman avers that while some blame for the smaller market share of picture books may be attributed to the economy, parents are feeling increasingly pressured by standardized tests and other looming measures of academic achievement to promote their children to books with greater perceived reading difficulty.

The article’s veracity has already been questioned by some – including Amanda Gignac, who was interviewed for and quoted in the piece. Ms. Bosman does, however, encourage us to think about the purpose of picture books, what they offer, and how they help children learn to read.

The idea that chapter books are intrinsically more challenging and rewarding than picture books is an underestimation. As others in this debate have pointed out, picture books can often contain vocabulary, themes, and concepts that are relatively complex and enable children to think and perceive differently. Picture books offer a reading experience that is not only textual, but visual, and the conjunction between text and image can deepen a child’s experience of a book while also exerting their brain’s processing capabilities in new ways. Every reading experience a child has is important and has the potential to change the way they see the world, regardless of what kind or level of reading experience it is.

Another response that we’re particularly taken with is from the director of Kansas State University’s Program in Children’s Literature Phillip Nel. Nel’s blog post examines the article’s, and the culture at large’s, implicit marginalization of the picture book illustrator, and advocates for picture books as a “portable art gallery.”

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