Picture Books Too Babyish (i.e., FUN??) For Kindergarteners

Another day, another New York Times story that you wish wasn’t true. And yet, it seems pretty solid: The sale of picture books for kids in going down, and the reasons range from the fact that they’re high priced (which makes some sense) to the idea that kids should be reading chapter books sooner rather than later (which makes no sense at all).

The article, by Julie Bosman, quotes authors, book stores and publishers, all of whom concur: the picture book is fading. While kids still read Seuss, they’re off to Steinbeck sooner rather than later, in part because their parents don’t want them piddling around with pictures. The parents want them doing “real” reading.

Except that…picture books ARE real reading. I was talking with Gever Tulley the other day — yes, the founder of The Tinkering School — and he said that kids who read non-fiction comic books tend to remember the facts and stories better because of the leap their minds make between the panels. Having to create the connection from one picture to the next engages the brain and cements the lesson better than just plain ol’ reading. So take THAT,  pushy parents who want their kids diving into Stendahl instead of Stinky Cheese Man.

Pretty much any book that engages a child is a book worth reading. It gets kids into the groove. It must be turning on their brains, or they’d put it down. And if the kids are reading picture books even into their double digit years, well, ’tis better to read than to not read. My 12-year-old reads Peanuts like the bible — it is his joy in life, his comfort, his compass. To yank that away and say, “Time for ‘Crime & Punishment, kid,” would BE a crime and a punishment.

Picture books: good. Chapter books: good. Reading: good. Simple as that. — Lenore

160 Responses

  1. That’s insane. My 50-something step-father loves comics and graphic novels. So do I. So will me daughter, I’d bet. (We all also have obscenely large novel libraries, but the picture-books are still much-loved.)

  2. Oh, that is sad. My 8 year old still likes picture books and he can read chapter books. I don’t see them going out of our lives for quite some time.

  3. I read that article.

    It was too depressing for words.

    Did you read about the parents pushing their SIX year old to read chapter books? But he still wasn’t developing a passion for reading?

    Wow, mom, WONDER WHY.

    I wish I could smack her over the head with those chapter books. I love reading and was an early reader but that is my love. My life. Not my mom’s love, not my mom’s life.

    Ugh.

  4. My head just exploded.

  5. It would be interesting to see if public libraries and Amazon can confirm a similar trend.

    However, it is quantity and not quality of reading that matters. Confidence grows through repetition and reading of familiar material.

    I recently blogged about reading outdoors and would recommend picture books to children of all ages if that’s what children want to read. http://creativestarlearning.blogspot.com/2010/09/reading-books-outdoors.html

    Variety is the spice of life and children need the chance to read a wide range of texts in lots of different places. If this sounds odd…think of the number of people who read whilst waiting for a flight at an airport or on the beach when on holiday.

  6. Chapter books for little ones cost 4.99 and last a week while a picture book costs $15 and lasts ten minutes. I won’t spend money on picture books, we get those at the library. My daughter reads books that are challenging at home, she gets plenty of picture books at school and needs to be challenged somewhere.

  7. Wow, it’s hugely missing the point to be ‘weaning’ your child off picture books if they might not be ready. I want my kids to *enjoy* books… if that means they’re not reading Wittgenstein at 6 years old, that’s fine by me. Kids don’t get the best out of school if they start it either without familiarity with books, or else with parents already giving them grief that their level of reading isn’t ‘good enough’ (ie, sufficiently impressive to Mum and Dad’s friends).

  8. Sara, I hope you let your daughter pick out her reading material. She’ll get enough mandatory reading forced upon her as she goes through school.

    In my opinion as a teacher, I don’t think that challenging kids with their leisure reading is necessary or advisable. I also think that our society has this misconception that reading earlier is better. It’s not and doesn’t really make any difference regarding their later development. We need to stop making our kids grow up so quickly, and taking away their picture books is just another way we’re doing it.

  9. I’m on the other side of this issue. I taught my daughter to read when she was 4, and I’m delighted that she quickly moved to real books — the sooner the better. Given their dismal world ranking in reading, I don’t see a strong argument for retarding the reading progress of American kids.

  10. Kids who are pushed into reading will not become good readers. The part about the little kid who “doesn’t want to WORK at reading” broke my heart. They don’t LET him read picture books? Way to make a non-reader mom.

  11. @Nick–I have to respectfully agree. To me this is the child equivalent of adults who are workaholics & feel guilty having any idle-time, every minute, they HAVE to be doing something, they can’t just BE.

    And they’re always working overtime and expecting “support” and “understanding” from their spouses & children–and friends, too–who hardly ever see them.

    I think silly trends such as the one highlighted here are the genesis of this, & also a case of adults passing on this mentality to their children.

    Me: I feel no guilt in leisure. None. I want my kids to feel the same way. I have a big woods around my house & can easily spend 3 hours just goofing around, walking & hearing the leaves crunch. The way any job I have consumes me so much I have no time for it, I’m downsizing–or looking another job.

    I myself used to read encyclopedias–the adult ones, not just “Childcraft”–and take pride in that, but I also was taught the value of random outdoor play, and I’m thankful for it.

    Yes there is work to be done, but there’s no need to be so overly preoccupied with it as we too often are. And so, let reading be fun. Time to stop the rat race & quit gazing at world rankings so hard.

    LRH

  12. Argh, typos!

    I meant to say “the minute any job
    I have consumes my time so much that I have no time for leisure.

  13. My daughter taught herself to read at 3 and at 7 reads WELL above grade level with a comprehension that her first grade teacher called “unheard of in a girl her age.” Still, she is drawn to picture books. I am one who is guilty of picking out chapter books to “challenge” her for two reasons 1) she can read and enjoy them, and does so and 2) I can’t lug enough picture books home from the library to occupy her for a week. She still gravitates towards picture books, though, even ones she has had for years, and will flip through them over and over. I used to be of the mindset that they were too “baby” for her, until one day we were reading one to her little brother and she showed him how one little character in the background on the last page had moved from where he was on the second page of the book and explained what she thought had happened to him.
    From there, I realized how picture books make them think, interpret, imagine, and engage beyond the printed story – a skill much more valuable than being able to process words, and one that can be translated to real life and interpreting unstated nuances in conversation. Picture books are completely worth it, even for a kid that is “too advanced.”

    Beyond that, many of the chapter books that get thrown at them in the early grades are, IMO, fairly useless and poorly written generic series books that do little for the kids reading them beyond help them process words and learn to stereotype…but that is another post for another day.

  14. I think there is a wee bit of an assumption that picture books are less challenging than books in chapters.

    I often come across very adult or complex themes in picture books and the illustrations serve as a way into the subject and a useful complement to first hand experiences when these are possible.

    Books have to interest a child. Some children learn and enjoy comics and other texts accompanied by illustrations.

    Next, a child can read a book yet understand little of what he or she is reading. Conversations and discussions around books and other texts are a key factor in challenging children, arousing their curiosity and ensuring they comprehend what they have read.

    Picture books are as “real” as any other book and many are very memorable and provide early positive reading experiences.

  15. I have a range of age children 9.7.4.1 and even though my 9 year old is 2 years ahead in reading levels (teacher told me this) she still sits down and looks/enjoys when I read picture books to the younger ones each night. She then goes on to read chapter books till about 10pm each night in bed.

    Families that only have one child, may think picture books are too baby (I would if I only had my 9 year old) I probably would have given them away, or only kept absolute favourites.

    So thankyou this is another reason why I am grateful to have a largish family. You can look at picture books longer!!

  16. Reading picture books IS reading and is not necessarily lower quality reading than chapter books. I’d much rather have my kids reading a well written picture book than some of the crummy, fad chapter books that are available. I loved many of my favorite picture books enough to keep my copies with me as a young adult before I even had children to read them to. Now, I love reading them with my kids, and I love that my kids are finding their own favorites, too. Helping children develop a love of literature that will enrich their lives for a lifetime is more important than getting them to read books of a certain format just because it seems (but is not always) more sophisticated.

  17. I have a range of age children 9,7,4,1 Even though my 9 year old is two years reading level above her age (teacher told me this) she still looks/enjoys when I read picture books to the younger children. She then goes to bed and reads chapter books in bed for two hours + each night.

    Maybe if families only have one child they would deem this babyish (I would if I only had my 9 year old) I would have given most of the picture books away or only kept a few absolute favourites. They would push the child to do whatever should be “normal” at this age.

    So thankyou for another reason for why I am glad I have a largish family. YOu can read picture books LONGER!!!

  18. I disagree that quantity is more important than quality when it comes to children’s books, but that has nothing to do with picture books vs. chapter books. A good book is a good book, and a lousy book is a lousy book.

    The story doesn’t scare me, actually, because the old favorites are still popular. I’d much rather have a few great books than a boatload of some of what I’ve seen in the bookstores.

    @Maureen — as a parent, homeschool teacher, and public school volunteer for many years, I have to disagree with you about the wisdom of “challenging” children in their leisure reading. I think it all depends on the child. Our daughter would come home from school terribly unhappy about the books she had to read in school, and eagerly dived into the ones I offered her, which just happened to be several levels (both reading ability and content) higher. Boredom turns off potential readers at least as easily as too much of a challenge.

    But still, this has nothing to do with not reading picture books, which often have better vocabulary and more beautiful language than “chapter books” (as opposed to “real” books with chapters).

  19. YES!! I was so sad when I read this story, having been collecting children’s books since I was 20 years old for when I had kids of my own. The mom who was telling her kid that he was “better than that” when he wanted to read a picture book broke my heart.

  20. My 8-year old loves chapter books. But he also LOOOVES him so Calvin and Hobbes!! I’ve never pushed one or the other but let him lead by interest.

  21. My youngest is a 13-yeas-old who loves when we have friends with kids over, because it gives her an excuse to read her old picture books to younger children.
    She is slightly dyslexic and low vision, and it took her along time to become a good reader, so picture books was what gave her the fullest literary experience until she was at least 10 (fortunately at the Waldorf school this wasn’t stigmatized). And that first love hasn’t faded, even though she now finishes 2-300 page books during a weekend.

    Myself, I was at the extreme opposite end of the scale- I read well before I was 4, became an avid reader (avoiding all other activities when I could) and moved on to Nabokov (no kidding) and Hamsun at 12 .
    When I see the amazing ability my daughter has to read a picture, to analyse possible contrast with the text and the time she spends on understanding he psychology of the characters, I understand that I was the one to miss out by not spending enough time on the visual aspects.

  22. Absolutely! Quality picture books are a rich, entertaining, magical part of childhood (the Caldecott Medal winning picture books just for starters http://tinyurl.com/3ok83r.) Don’t rush kids past them. Picture books are a complex and rich genre all of their own.

  23. Stop! This is making my brain bleed. Every educator in the world would tell you that the way to make kids love reading is to read them picture books. It is the way they connect symbols to words. It’s why GOODNIGHT MOON has been translated into eight gazillion languages.

    The pictures provide so much pleasure for them. They can get rid of the pictures later, much later, when they can learn to see the pictures in their own heads.

    Like Allison, I have a collection of Dr. Seuss books, and I would NEVER part with them. I cherish them. They are divine and brilliant, and I wish I were that smart. He says everything that needs to be said so simply and in such an innocent way. But read THE LORAX as an adult: Ole Ted was way before his time.

    I cannot believe that anyone would consider getting rid of picture books for kindergarteners. I know the littluns are rough on the books, and they cost more … but sheesh, we have to invest in our youth, people!

    I’m hoping this was ONE isolated incident and that it has been sensationalized by the media – like everything else.

    Come visit me at Lessons From Teachers and Twits on Facebook or at http://rasjacobson.wordpress.com

  24. Here’s my trick. I loaded up an iPod with good audiobooks when my daughter was 4. The thrill she got from Tom Sawyer far exceeded anything she had gotten from picture books. Along with my phonics-based teaching, greasing the path with audiobooks led my daughter quickly to excellent literature. Sure she reads some trashy books like Nancy Drew, and I’m not bothered by that.

    There always seems to be a chorus of American parents and teachers who exclaim, “Don’t expect too much of our kids! Don’t rush them!” Rubbish.

    American kids have been reared on picture books for decades. How’s it working out? Good readers are they?

  25. I think picture books are a great way to start of children. It helps them to comprehend the story by associating it with corresponding visual reference. It’s training the brain to have a “show” like activity when the child moves from picture books to books with no pictures in them. They’re imagination now kicks in to replace where there would have been pictures. Sure the child can learn this with time, but picture books speeds that process up.

    Hey just because a book has pictures, doesn’t mean it’s any less significant or educational. I still read comic books…sorry…graphic novels. lol They are still just as entertaining as they were when I was 7 years old. Picture books are what actually got me into reading paperbacks. I read “The Hobbit” when I was about 8. Didn’t know about “Lord of the Rings”, but I was a fan of C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander books. But by then, my imagination was already in over drive from reading…yes…picture books. Even now, I look forward to movie remakes of books I’ve read, just to see the visuals in my head come to life in front of my eyes. Mind you, most never do the book justice, but it’s always fun to see them on screen.

  26. I’ve always thought that to really understand what’s going on in the world, all you have to do is read the Sunday Comics.
    I have several comics collections at home and it’s a real pleasure to see a kid sit down with one, begin reading intensely and then bust out laughing when the punchline connects. I know they didn’t just “get the joke”. They got a lot more out of it.

    Many, many, many years ago I recited The Nativity story at my Catholic grade school Christmas play. Memorized it word for word. The Nuns and Priests were amazed I had learned this Bible passage so perfectly. Guess it’s time to cleans my soul – I NEVER read that particular passage in the Bible. I memorized it from watching A Charlie Brown Christmas.
    Linus and I would argue Peanuts IS like the Bible.

  27. would be a sad sad world without picture books-my eldest daughter (27) to this day tell each other about the latest picture book we have found-what a joy they are

  28. Whoops, some of you guys should know more about what you’re talking about before spouting off!

    Most picture books are written at a HIGHER level than chapter books. They are meant to be read to children who cannot read them themselves, or to be read independently by children who have pretty high reading skills. The pictures are meant to be enjoyed with the story.

    In our library, I hear a lot of parents steering their kids away from “baby” books. Sad. Who cares what they read for pleasure? Some libraries have renamed them “Everybody Books” to encourage a wider population to read them.

    On the other hand, in our schools, the school librarians won’t let kindergartners check out chapter books. Only picture books. I guess they assume that there’s no one at home to read Charlotte’s Web to them? Or that there’s no value in checking out a book you can’t yet read fluently?

    Dumb.

    Our assistant director at the library asked her high schooler to read her Llama Llama Mad at Mama (a picturebook) the other day because she wanted to connect with him about his attitude and what was going on in his life. By the time he got done reading the book to her they were both laughing. Much better to start the conversation with “I have a book I want to share with you” rather than “WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT YOUR ATTITUDE.”

  29. Like pretty much everyone else in the book blogging world, I blogged about this as well. It is sad. I think that we’ve been doing a poor job for too long at curating and leading kids to good picture books.

  30. 1. For those few who really think chapter books are more “challenging” than picture books – you’re probably wrong.

    Last year I went ahead and labeled every last picture book in our house (and we have hundreds, it was a two day task!) with their Guided Reading level. I don’t advise ANYbody do this for their home use unless they’re in the specific situation I was in: A worried, perfectionist niece who doesn’t want to get in trouble for reading “off-level” for homework, but who also doesn’t want to read “boring” books from school.

    I had already believed most picture books to be of a high “reading level” because they’re meant for adults to read to children, but I was surprised at HOW high – many of our books came in at a 4th grade reading level or even higher!

    They’re just shorter than chapter books, and they’re also less likely to be un age appropriate, so if you have a first grader who’s reading at a fourth grade level, you may find that picture books are the best choice.

    2. With that said, I take it that Lenore didn’t read the comments to the article. Many librarians spoke up saying that this doesn’t reflect what they see in libraries, and many others spoke up saying that they suspect it’s a price issue. It’s hard to find picture books in paperback, but it’s easy to get paperback chapter books. Spend $16 on one short book, or two long ones? What a question!

    Others point out that the book industry has been going through a boom lately. For the numbers to be dropping off in a recession isn’t scary, it’s normal.

    3. One of the women in the article says she was very much misquoted, her response is here: http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com/2010/10/when-quotes-are-taken-out-of-context.html

  31. Elizabeth, that woman was misquoted, see the link I posted above.

  32. Kate is right – the vocabulary in picture books is much more challenging than in most chapter books. I taught my daughter to read when she was 5, and she could read Magic Treehouse, etc., long before she could puzzle out some of the long words in a book like Graeme Base’s Animalia (one of my favorite picture books).

  33. As some people have said, it’s a mistake to think that chapter books are more advanced than picture books. Some are and some aren’t. There are beautiful, sophisticated picture books and trite, simplistic chapter books. It’s a good idea to read both picture and chapter books; kids (and adults!) get different things from them.

    It’s also important, I think, to not make the mistake of thinking that every book kids read has to be a wonderful, educational piece of literature. Sure, introduce kids to great literature for a variety of ages. But all the well-educated, intelligent people I know read a variety of books, some of which are great literature and some of which aren’t great literature at all but are fun or comforting or relaxing or have some other appealing quality. Kids too should know that reading serves a variety of purposes and that you can get different things from different kinds of books. My kids (both age seven) read picture books and chapter books, award-winning children’s literature and silly stories full of bad jokes, poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction, comics and newspapers, toddler books and adult books. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  34. Aha, take this post on the subject:

    http://giftsandoccupations.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/20-things-wrong-with-the-nyt-article-about-the-death-of-picture-books/

    It neatly sums up most of what is said in the comments to the article.

  35. Junie B Jones chapter books are written at an end of first/beginning of second grade level. Magic Tree House spans from beginning second grade to end of third grade (research guides). Cam Jansen – early second to late third. Henry and Mudge – Mid first to end of second. Dragonslayer Academy – mid second to mid third. Harry Potter – mid fifth to mid seventh. Chronicles of Narnia – mid fifth to mid sixth. **Picture books – Skippyjon Jones/ mid third to mid fourth. Make Way for Ducklings – beginning third. Miss Rumphius – end second. Where the Wild Things Are – mid fourth. Math Curse – end third. The Spider and the Fly ( my 5 year old LOVES this one) end fourth. Stinky Cheese Man – end third. The Giving Tree – end second. Ferdinand – beginning fourth. I could go on. These levels were taken from Scholastic’s book wizard for teachers and parents. Someone else said it for me…some picture books are written at a higher level than some chapter books. They are more fun. Oh, just remembered…Patricia Polacco picture books. :o)

  36. As a writer, trying to become an author of children’s books I was recently informed that if I wanted to sell a picture book it had to be between 500-900 words. The one I was trying to sell was 2,000. As are many of the picture books me children are reading now.
    But, publishers are making picture books shorter and more “babyish” aiming for the preschool and kindergartner crowd. By first grade, second at the latest children are expected to be reading “highly illustrated books for young/emerging readers” ie; chapter books with a few line drawings thrown in.
    YUCK! My kids won’t touch those books with a ten foot pole. And by the time they want to be reading chapter books, they’ll be on to the good ones like Magic Treehouse, Harriet the Spy, Ruth Chew, Patricia Wrede, etc.
    Right now, they like the picture books, they like being engaged and sometimes surprised by the pictures which can add so much to a short book.
    Publishers and booksellers are wrong. And I think it’s time us parents told them so.

  37. My 4th graders devour Picture Books as well as novels. Right now I have a group of kids into snakes and another into every folktale/myth I can hand them. They loved the rich pictures of the King Arthur book I read to them Thursday. They asked for more books on King Arthur

  38. I read about your book etc. in The Guardian, also like the blog! I think you should all migrate to Norway.. it really is easier over here.. Though it worries me that we are moving in that same direction!

  39. Oh God that is awful. I read picture books all the time. I’d hang out in the children’s section of libraries daily if I had the chance and it wasn’t illegal (have been asked to leave if “not with a minor”). I do *have* a minor, but not one that will sit still or stay quietly in a library. I’ve been told he should be “past board books” at this point (he’s 2.5). How crazy is that???? Who are board books for exactly? Fetuses?

  40. Interesting. Based on the rock-start popularity of Mo Willems, kids are still reading picture books! http://www.mowillems.com/

  41. Yes, books are good. Picture books are good, and my kids still look at their favorites. But I need to disagree just a tiny bit about saying that ALL books at any age are good, and to not push harder stuff. There was a great article in the WSJ about two weeks ago that sums it up very well.
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704271804575405511702112290.html?KEYWORDS=how+to+raise+boys+who+read
    My boys are dyslexic, and I would LOVE for them to read ANY book right now, picture book, stinky pants or Dickens. I see it like offering carrot sticks or chocolate bars. Most kids will only choose chocolate, but their bodies need carrots.

  42. Great article, Renee! Thanks for the link.

  43. It seems to me this, like so many other things, is all a matter of balance. Is there a time for pushing kids to read harder, more in depth books? Sure! And is there a time to let kids read whatever they want, no matter how easy and “junky” it may be. Yup!

    I think my parents did a really good job of this. I have very fond memories of many early picture books, that we read well beyond the standard age, and to younger friends, kids we baby sat, whatever, well into our teenage years. My dad also read us MANY classics when we were quite young, The Hobbit, all the Little Women books, Island of the Blue Dolphin. Same as we were older. We won’t talk about how many Baby-Sitter Club books we had, but I also read a lot of the classic chapter books. And the same holds true for me now. Mostly I tend to read in depth non-fiction, I consider biographies “easy” reading. But I also LOVE to pick up some of my favorite childhood books, even the occasional Baby-Sitter Club, just for the memories. And we won’t talk about how many board book and picture books I own, despite the fact I have no children.

    So sure, chapter books are fine, and pushing your kids to read hard books, fine. But personally, I would much rather have my kids reading Dr. Seuss than I would Junnie B. Jones. Although Junnie B. is better than nothing at all.

  44. @Linda – you aren’t disagreeing with me at all. If you are letting the kids pick what they like, they will almost always pick books at their level.

    @Larry – I absolutely agree with you. Everyone wants to push their kids and everyone thinks they have the next Einstein and everyone is in competition with their neighbors about whose kid read the at the earliest age.

  45. Also remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Just because you don’t like a book or books doesn’t necessarily make them crap.

  46. My kids (10 and 7 years old) both love reading and are quite good at it. The 10 year old recently tested with a reading comprehension level of 12th grade according to the school’s tests…..Yikes! Both love both chapter books and picture books or graphic novels.

    I think both chapter and picture books are good. Many picture books are indeed written at a higher level than chapter books geared to the same age range, as the picture books are often written for adults to read to the child. Because they’re written for adults to read, the vocabulary and wordplay in picture books are often more sophisticated than the kids might be exposed to in the chapter books.

    I found that chapter books were just a different challenge for my kids (well, still are for one of them) — a page with just words is usually pretty intimidating for the little guys, and it’s more a matter of getting over that fear of the loss of other visual cues than of the story being more difficult.

    That said, I’m another who has to speak up for making sure the child does get challenged sometimes (not all the time — not everything should be a challenge!) in leisure reading. I say this because the school refuses to give my child reading that is challenging to him. If it were up to the school, he would have been reading Junie B. Jones in second grade rather than reading Alice in Wonderland or James Harriott’s Cat Stories, both of which he loved dearly. (He hated Junie B., by the way.) I think kids need access to books that push them a bit, but also that it doesn’t mean that you need to take away the easier stuff.

  47. Oh, I do want to point out one thing that does frustrate me about picture books that can lead to the declining sales — and it was mentioned in the article. While I love a beautiful hardback picture book, it has been increasingly difficult to find paperback versions of most of the ones we think are worth buying.

  48. My son is in first grade, and is an excellent reader (if I do say so myself…). I think we’ve struck a nice balance for him. He really enjoys the stories in the chapter books (his favorite at the moment is the Magic Treehouse Series), but his attention span won’t hold when he reads it himself. So I read it to him. Every night, we snuggle in for a few chapters of Jack and Annie’s adventure, and he looks forward to travelling with them each night as we follow them.

    When he’s reading on his own, visiting the library, etc, he still picks out picture books, although they are getting wordier as the weeks go on. I never fuss at him for the picture books he chooses, unless it’s the same one we’ve read sixty times over and he wants ME to read it to him! Then I have him read it to me.

    He also has a couple of magazine subscriptions – Highlights for Kids & Lego, which occupy him for a good hour at a time whenever he picks them up. He also reads maps when we travel, advertising brochures, pretty much anything he can get his hands on. I find it hard to understand that a child reading *anything* is considered a bad thing! Some people need to get a grip.

  49. I’ve noticed that if I leave picture books around in piles, which I do because I’m a book editor and blogger, my 8 year old will read them over and over. But, at the library she never chooses the picture book section. I think it’s conditioning that she wants to be a “good reader” which, to kids, means reading chapter books – in many cases, thick chapter books like Harry Potter which she loves to carry around for intellectual prowess.
    I think that it will take a shift in paradigm to encourage children to choose a picture book without feeling that they are less of a reader, don’t you?

    Melissa http://imaginationsoup.net

  50. I’m 28 years old and still read picture books with as much fervour as when I was 6! I’ll encourage my son to do the same and embrace VISUAL LITERACY equally. My love of picture books never stopped me from becoming a good reader nor reading other books when the time was right. Idiots…..

  51. I can’t imagine children’s books without pictures not just because they are “pretty” but because they open the door to so many creative opportunities. There is as much value in pictures as in words, and it makes me very sad to think today’s parents don’t get that.

  52. I’ve seen senior citizens on the bus reading comic books ( even Japanese manga) and when I talk to them they are some of the most interesting people to have conversations with. One guy I talked to was a WW2 veteran and learned Japanese during the occupation of Japan, and he has been reading untranslated ( ! )manga since that time to keep his mind sharp.

  53. Have you seen some of the recent picture book releases? Perhaps that’s why sales are down. They keep giving us drivel instead of some of the beautiful picture books we think of when we remember our childhoods. What I’m sad about is that we don’t have more exclusively picture books, that tell stories without words. Good Dog Carl books…and such…books that tell marvelous stories and have gorgeous artwork. I love books that are loaded with beautiful language and artwork too, and it irks me that the libraries in this town discard so many of them to purchase the latest lame story with ugly artwork. Our children deserve better.

  54. I get so sick of the “my kid reads Shakespeare at 7” mentality that this reflects in our Lake Wobegone world of all kids are above average. It’s all about going through the motions and not about actually understanding and enjoying what you are reading. There’s no award for learning to read first. There’s no award for getting to chapter books first.

    I learned to read late – well into 1st grade – because I went to kindergarten in a school that didn’t teach it until 1st grade. By the end of 1st grade, I’d caught up to all those who learned in kindergarten or before. By 2nd, I’d surpassed most. By 4th, I had to be taken out of the standard reading program and just given books because I was so far ahead of everyone. In 7th, they put me in the 8th grade reading class because they weren’t allowed to enroll me in the high school classes (although in the same school). I graduated college with a degree in English.

    Likewise, I read voraciously throughout childhood and chose my own books outside of school. Until middle school, most were traditional kid-fare, certainly nothing that jumps out at me as being unusually mature. My ex hated kid books and read solely adult books starting in elementary school, largely spy novels and history books. As adults, our reading levels, comprehension, intelligence and life achievement are all about equal. I was, by far, the more voracious reader as an adult (sadly my interest in reading died in pregnancy and hasn’t really returned). He has a crazy knowledge of history but no concept of common childhood literary references – he had no clue what I was talking about when I recognized The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe movie 5 seconds into the trailer having had no knowledge that they had even made a movie.

    Intelligence is largely genetic. Life can certainly hinder intelligence but it can’t really raise it above the genetic ceiling no matter what you play in the womb and how soon you introduce Shakespeare. In a typical, educated, middle class family, a kid’s reading level is going to be what it was born to be regardless of when he learns to read or what books he chooses to read. While I can see suggesting some more advanced books that you think will interest your child, pushing a kid into books that he is not interested in will only make reading a chore and negatively impact his interest in reading.

  55. Man, they really do want to suck all the fun out of being a kid. Heck, I’m 34 and still enjoy reading some of my kids picture books.
    Although I do agree on the price thing. We don’t have many because they are just too expensive when we have 5 kids. I was so happy when the kids got to the age of chapter books because they were cheaper.
    My son is 9 and is obsessed with Star Wars comics. It’s almost all he reads and considering he had difficulty learning to read I’m ecstatic that he found anything that interested him. And my almost 8yo has this love of Dick & Jane and Biscuit books. I let them read to their hearts content and, at the same time, encourage them to branch out and read something a little harder. They both shy away from chapter books because the stories are more involved and there are, of course, not that many pictures. But slowly they are busting out of their comfort zones. I’m so thrilled.
    My 10yo has similar issues. She’s always read far above her grade level but, now in the 5th grade, insists on reading the same few books over and over AND loves these fairy books that are geared for 2nd graders. I continue to buy them for her on the condition she reads something at her grade level in between the easy read of the fairy books.
    I look at them like women that read those cheesy romance novels for the pure fun of it. They have no intrinsic value besides pure entertainment. But who says everything has to have a purpose…sometimes you just read for the fun of it (I would hope most reading is fun in some way for them). I don’t understand people that limit what their kids read because it’s not “educational.”

  56. I bought ‘Free-Range Kids’ at Christmas, and wrapped it. My 3 year old son opened it, quickly leafed through it, then said “It’s only alphabets. Here dad, it’s for you.”

    Picture books and chapter books are completely different things. I’m 44 and many of the picture books we bring home from the library are ‘for me’.

    As for cost, my son has over 300 last count, mostly < $1 each from garage sales and thrift store. You're welcome to pay $15 for one, and someone must, but I won't.

  57. Really? REALLY? I still buy picture books for MYSELF!!! check out the author http://www.amazon.com/Animalia-Graeme-Base/dp/0810918684

    His books are amazing and even my kids loved “worst band in the universe” with accompanying CD.

    I think the label of “picture books” and the juvenile stigma associated with it are part of the problem.

    A coffee table book my mom wrote about her trip to Yellowstone….is a PICTURE BOOK. A national geographic collection of photos and the stories of how they came to be is a PICTURE BOOK. Does this mean that it is NOT reading?

  58. @Jen Connelly. They most certainly DO seem to want to take all the fun out of being a child. Play-dates, keeping them indoors never letting them anywhere near even the most deserted streets, “no running”–in a wide-open grassy park! (that one really annoys me), elimination of recess, parents not letting them ride their bike more than 10 inches from the front-yard even at age 10, taking them to the lake & showing them the water but then not letting them go near it.

    And this too?

    Good grief. Being a kid is SUPPOSED to be fun. Heck, being an ADULT is supposed to be fun.

    LRH

  59. Laura, I saw this comment a few times in reply to the article itself, and it doesn’t make much sense to me.

    I don’t see that the overall quality of picture books has changed from when I was young, nor my mother. Sure, there’s a lot of ugly drivel, as you put it – but that was the case 27 years ago too, and no doubt 60 years ago when my own parents were young. Sturgeon’s Law in action.

    We *remember* all the great, awesome, wonderful classics from our childhoods… but that’s because the really bad books went out of print! For every charming winner, every great original book, there’s an equal and opposite set of losers.

    (In fact, there’s one way that picture books today often – not always, but often – have a leg up on those of the past, and that’s in the inclusion of non-whites. However, it’s still an ongoing struggle, and one thing I’m careful to note down when I review books is whether or not ANY non-whites made it into the book at all. You’d be surprised how often the answer is “none” or “just one, in the background”. This is something I pay attention to because my own nieces aren’t white and I think it’s good for them to have some books with characters who look like them.)

    Now, you’re right that there’s a big trend in picture books today for there to be simple, uncluttered illustrations without a lot of fussy details. This is all the fault of the incomparable Mo Willems, who, I’m told, deliberately chose that style in order to create art that kids could relate to and not feel intimidated by… and he more than compensates for it with his writing, which is hilarious. Say what you will about Elephant and Piggie, NO child can read those books in the drone of doom kids cultivate when they’re learning to read.

    However, even with that ongoing trend, there are many books which do not follow it. Look at last year’s Caldecott winner, The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless picture book by Jerry Pinkney. Or “Oh No: How My Science Project Destroyed the World”, which DOES have words. Or there’s “Once Upon a Twice” which has amazing poetry coupled with gorgeous illustrations.

    And the simple illustration style isn’t really new, either – one of my favorite books from childhood is Ten Apples Up On Top, and the artwork isn’t very fancy or “pretty” in any way. But there are other ways to judge art than by how hard it looks to draw.

    In short, it’s very easy for us to look back on the past with the filters of nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean it’s correct.

    No, I think it’s far more likely that the downturn in sales is pretty much correlated to the downturn in the economy along with cohort based book buying – there are more 10 year olds and less 5 year olds now than there were back in 2000.

  60. My son learned to read at 2 1/2, mostly on his own. In kindergarten he was tested at a 4th grade level because that was the highest the teachers eval could go.

    Now, he is nearly 14 and wants to read his mother’s Stephen Kong collection. He’s already read a few of the earlier ones. We only limit what he can read by the age appropriateness of the stories. He’s currently reading ‘The Stand’.

    He got to this point by reading everything from picture books to ‘Captian Underpants’ to my collection of ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ and ‘Bloom County’ books and comic books.

    Bottom line, ANYTHING a child reads is good. The mote they read the more they love reading.

  61. As a teacher, I want them off picture books asap. The stories are overly simplistic and as a 5th grade teacher, I want nothing to do with them.

    As a mom, I’m okay with my daughter occasionally picking one up. But I hold no illusions that it has any benefit beyond being a comfort object.

  62. It seems to me that there’s a lot of worry about picture books as some kind of crutch, but I don’t think they will slow a good, keen reader down. They’re not going to be still reading Meg and Mog when they’re at college because you didn’t discourage them from picking up something with fewer pictures.

    By all means, introduce less pictorial books, but don’t ‘ban’ pictures.

  63. I am another who has a seven year old who is reading way above her year level but still likes picture books, something we’ve encouraged since it seems to be building her literacy and comprehension better than pushing her towards longer books before she’s comfortable with them (we do read her chapter books, and in the last few weeks she has started choosing them herself – we just have them around and let her come to them as she wants).

    I can’t believe any teacher or parent would see a picture book as simplistic. Picture books are amazing in their scope and diversity! Fox by Margaret Wild springs immediately to mind, an archetypal story about jealousy, rage, love and possessiveness that has its comparison in Shakespeare. Find me a chapter book for junior readers published in the last five years that tackles such profound issues with such lyricism and beauty! Picture books are like poetry, sophisticated in their economy of language and their nuanced rhythms. Of course there’s some mongrel doggerel out there masquerading as literature, but you just have to be choosy, as you need to be with chapter books (rainbow fairy books make me want to self-lobotomise) or for that matter adult books.

    I write novels for Young Adults with the occasional foray into adult literature. When I grow up I want to write picture books. I wish for the lightness of touch, the sophistication of economy, the poetics of the unsaid and the sheer pleasure of words and their waltz with illustration.

  64. My 7 year old was an early reader and enjoys both picture books and chapter books. He will read picture books to his younger siblings and then settle down to read his book. He also enjoys listening to audio books, comic books, and reading the cereal boxes. My 5 year old didn’t start reading as early as his brother, but he loves (picture) books and I’m not worried about his reading level. Let them have a say it what they read!

  65. If picture books are to baby for kids, then why does adults need MOMA & Guggenheim (to mention a few), and why do we insist on hanging 500 yo pictures on the wall and pay fortunes for them?

  66. If it’s true that parents thing picture books are “too babyish”, that’s just sad. My oldest guy is in kindergarten and we’ve been reading to him for ages, but that’s still how he’s learning to read: by connecting the words to the pictures and memorizing the short sentences. I don’t understand how kids are supposed to develop reading comprehension when what they’re given is ALWAYS a challenge. When I read, I see picture in my mind, not words on the page; it’s difficult or nearly impossible to do that if it’s a struggle to unwrap every word and sentence. Challenges are how we learn, but for me, love of reading comes first. If you love to read, you will seek out challenges so you can learn to enjoy more complex stories and the beauty of the language they’re told in. Being forced to read books that are way beyond someone’s level or that they find completely uninteresting just to “keep up” just teaches kids that reading is a chore, and to me, that’s a tragedy. Letting kids read what they love along with their more challenging books is NOT “retarding” their progress- it’s encouraging them to want to branch out on their own.

    As to the cost thing, I could totally understand that! If not for thrift stores, we would have VERY few picture books, because they are really expensive. If a story becomes a favourite, of course it’s worth $15… but maybe they’ll only want to read it twice. We’ve been finding “Manager’s Specials” at our favourite thrift store where we can fill up a big, clear bag full of children’s books for $1.99. HEAVEN! I buy new books when I can to support the authors/illustrators, but money’s tight, and my kids love their stories. And God bless the library… even if ours is an hour away.:/

    I’ve found it interesting to compare my reading habits and my husband’s. I grew up loving books and reading, staying up way too late reading (*gasp!*) Nancy Drew when I was in grade 2. Great literature it wasn’t, but I learned to love books that way, because I understood them and they were interesting. I read “literature” now whenever I have time, but to have been force-fed Steinbeck in grade 6 almost certainly would have kept me from enjoying one of my favourite books of all time now, as an adult.

    My husband doesn’t love reading. I don’t know why- he wasn’t “challenged” as a kid more than necessary, he just never learned to enjoy it. The one thing he will read for pleasure is a graphic novel, and I’ve learned from that, too. I’m usually a really fast reader, so it’s hard for me to slow down and “read” the pictures as well as the words, to let my mind make connections between panels… It’s been interesting, and I’m learning to enjoy it. I need to re-read “V for Vendetta” soon- there’s a challenging “picture book” for you!

  67. I wouldn’t place a lot of stock in this article. It seems like it was written to “prove” a preconceived idea of the writer/editor. Read this blog post “when quotes are taken out of context” http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com/2010/10/when-quotes-are-taken-out-of-context.html by the mother who was (mis)quoted in the article.

    If picture book sales are down, I’d expect it’s more a reflection of the general economic downturn than any change in parenting. As a children’s librarian, I sure see plenty of use of picture books but I rarely buy them myself because I rarely buy books at all.

    My son is a high level 2nd grade reader but is finding chapter books at his level intimidating because he likes lots of illustrations. I’ve been getting him a lot more longer picture books because they have the higher level vocabulary he can read now (and sense of humor) but still have lots of illustrations. Some of his favorites have been My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother by Patricia Pollacco and The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka. It’s fun to share these kinds of stories now because when he was younger he didn’t have the patience to sit through the longer books, or wouldn’t get the humor.

  68. 1. Crystal, you’re talking about fifth graders. We’re talking about five year olds. Sure, there’s the number 5 in both of those, but they’re two wildly different groups of children!

    2. As far as “too simplistic” goes in terms of storylines, that depends. Some picture books will have a very complex storyline, perhaps two or three different ones, some that you can’t read about and have to infer from the pictures. These are the ones written for older readers.

    Some chapter books have a single storyline, with a simple moral at the end to tie it all up neatly. These are usually the ones for younger readers, but sometimes they’re just badly written.

    At any rate, it’s through the use of certain choice picture books that my nieces have learned about the fourth wall and the unreliable narrator, and honestly, without the pictures, I find these concepts hard to, well, illustrate.

  69. I’d love to hear about the reading habits of some of the parents in the article.

    My guess is the extent of their reading is a newspaper. Obviously no popular fiction for those parents!

    While we’re still firmly in the picture book phase (with a 2 1/2 year old) I admit that I do find the prices of picture books to be insane. That’s why I like used bookstores!

  70. “On the other hand, in our schools, the school librarians won’t let kindergartners check out chapter books. Only picture books. I guess they assume that there’s no one at home to read Charlotte’s Web to them? Or that there’s no value in checking out a book you can’t yet read fluently? ”

    Or, that they CAN’T READ THEM THEMSELVES?

    I agree about not pushing and thinking that “higher” level books are always better, but some of my kids were definitely ready for chapter books at that age. It would have been ridiculous to restrict them to picture books — who are librarians to make that kind of judgment call for individual students they probably barely know? I agree with others that picture books can be challenging in their own way also, but my kids who were younger fluent readers (which was not all of them) liked reading words and verbal content. They also enjoyed picture books, but had I been restricted to the whims (or even Professional Opinions based-on-not-much) of a school librarian for what they could and could not read on their own it would have been sad indeed under that kind of policy.

  71. Just because a child can read, or even read “well above grade level” (a phrase I’m personally getting sick of hearing) does not mean that advanced reading material is developmentally appropriate. A case in point: I was given Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” for my tenth birthday (I was an “advanced reader” after all). I HATED that book, but slogged through it because it was a gift and I was expected to read it. Later, as a senior in high school, the book was part of a reading assignment. I put off reading it as long as possible because my first experience of it was so awful. I ended up staying awake all night reading the book because I just couldn’t bear to put it down. The book, obviously, hadn’t changed, but my experience and knowledge of the world had.

  72. No, Christina, it is generally not good to force a kid to read books she hates, but that is a tangential issue. My 8-year-old ENJOYS reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and watching movies based on Jane Austin books. Is there a problem with that?

  73. My 15-year-old, who reads Camus, Kafka and Sartre for *fun*, keeps chiding his 13-year-old sister’s taste in books because to him, Wendy Mass and Disney movie tie-ins are not *real* reading🙂 To be fair, she’s having to read/wade through/suffer “A Tale of two Cities” in school, so she deserves a break!

  74. Well, Nick, she does have a point.

    There are a number of children who push themselves to read a book well above their understanding. They may enjoy it, or they may not, but often they’d enjoy it better if they’d waited until they were really old enough.

    However, this is an individual thing. Some children may not understand all the concepts in a certain book while others will lap it up.

  75. Oh the trends and fads in “educating our children” sigh…

    Hyper-parenting at its best. How about the infomercial for Your Baby Can Read or something nauseating like that? Why the rush? Are there any studies that show children who are prematurely and inappropriately taught a “skill”/enrolled in the “best” preschool/made to play little league, piano & soccer at 3 etc. really do turn out smarter, happier, better educated, well adjusted adults?

    Check out the movie, Nursery University for true madness.

    Imagine if all the parents took their energy they use in over-scheduling, over-doing, over-enrolling, over-stressing their children and simply diverted it into more natural fits like playing outside, cooking in the kitchen, riding a bike, taking a walk, reading for pleasure, or just letting them be………

    We are teaching our children to become ADD, tapped out mentally and emotionally, and choosing to bypass the picture books is one step closer to the insanity!

  76. Given the reading skills of the typical American child, courtesy of the public schools, almost any book with mutisyllabic words is a challenge, even at age 12. Much of this discussion reflects the acceptance by American parents of dumbed-down education. Despite kids having had picture books and “educational” TV shows for decades, a huge chunk of incoming college freshmen require remedial reading courses. When it comes to education, Americans are the proverbial frog in the heating pot.

    Poor reading skills are not confined to wee children. Starting in fourth grade American kids fare poorly compared to their international peers, and even the top 10 percent of American students suffer in comparison to the top 10 in many other countries.

    Americans no more care about intellectual development of their kids than they do that their tykes are obese from gluttonous eating.

  77. “read “well above grade level” (a phrase I’m personally getting sick of hearing)”

    Me too. The vast majority of parents in every parenting group, blog, etc. that I have ever belonged to claim that their child reads (does math) well above grade level. If that is true, then educators seriously need to evaluate what reading level is appropriate for each grade because their target is clearly way too low. Most children should read AT grade level, and if the entire grade is reading at above grade level, then grade level is too low. My guess is that children in each grade read exactly as they did when I was a child (when all but the gifted kids read at or very close to age level) but we’ve lowballed “grade level” to meet the demands of the parents who insist that their children are above average.

  78. Public school attendee here.

    My mom tried teaching me to read when I was four. I remember sitting on her lap with McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer looking at “A cat and a rat” over and over. I stubbornly refused to cooperate. She says I didn’t really start reading until I had other kids to compete with in Kindergarten. In first grade I started reading chapter books and in the fifth grade I shocked my teacher by lugging Mists of Avalon around. I never before thought about the importance of picture books because they have always been a part of my library. My mother is an artist and collects picture books for their art, so even when I was in college we were still giving each other picture books as presents.

    I now have a two year old and we buy a variety of books for him including chapter and reference books we happen across that he won’t be reading for years yet. Has anyone read Flight by Sherman Alexi? You get the idea.

    My husband encountered one of those school librarians who wouldn’t let him check out books deemed too difficult for him. His mother wrote her a nice note and solved that problem. If my mother had told me, “No you can’t read Mists of Avalon” because some of the content was quite adult, I would have read it behind her back. When I picked it up because it was about King Arthur she just shrugged and said that if I had any questions, feel free to ask her to explain.

    Variety seems to be a good way to “grow” enthusiastic readers.

    My mom added the following tactics: begin reading chapter books at bedtime when the child’s attention span is willing. Progress to books in a series and the kid will pick up the rest of the series on their own time if they are interested in the story. Don’t limit yourself to books written specifically for children, read something that both parties can enjoy and keep reading aloud for many years (assuming both parties enjoy it).

  79. Speaking as a librarian mom who has had to forcibly stop herself from buying the toddler as many books as the tween step-daughter… it’s a money issue, and also that picture books are intended to be read and re-read. Most Americans read a chapter book once and then get rid of it. I’ve been collecting 2nd hand board books for the toddler, and we probably have more than we will ever read to him already. And yet there are so many great books I want to buy for him– but we’re talking $15-$18 a pop! We get ’em from the library instead.

  80. Hmm. There are some great picture books out there (I probably own most of them). But there are a lot of duds, and the duds seem to be getting more numerous. And very expensive. Too many of them are going down some weird path that doesn’t even make sense to the adult reader, or pushing some humanistic “moral,” or containing illustrations that are downright scary. Using language that is either too complex for the age group or not even language. I’m not gonna pay $20 for the opportunity to sit and make weird noises at my kids. I can do that for free.

    So maybe there is a glut in the picture-book market or maybe the authors / publishers are missing the mark. Because though I own thousands of kids’ books for all ages, and have two preschoolers, I haven’t bought a new “picture book” in years.

    But no, it’s not because kids are too smart for them now. Kids aren’t reading “functionally” any earlier, their interest for higher-level reading isn’t starting younger, their language isn’t richer, their reasoning isn’t at a higher level. If anything, I’d guess there are fewer parents who really know how to sit down and enjoy a book with their child.

    Nothing wrong with early reading. But that’s not literature. Relying purely on reading mechanics, a kid would have to be pretty old before he could start to experience actual literature, and would miss a large window of opportunity. Do parents know the difference?

    My 3yo is beginning to read, and watching her, it’s very apparent that she draws upon her experience with literature far more than she draws on phonics as she decodes. She knows how stories tend to be organized, knows how to extract info from illustrations, has excellent language skills, etc., which provides most of the underlying logic needed for reading. You can drill the alphabet and phonics all day and still not have a literate child.

  81. The article and industry have it all wrong! The have noticed picture books sell less and conclude there is less interest.

    But this is not the reason they are selling less.

    In many states right now there are programs set up for children to receive free children’s books once a month until they enter school. This can be 6 x 12 = 72 free books in the mail by first grade.

    The reason less books are selling in stores is because of these programs.

  82. grammar fix: the reason fewer books are selling

  83. I have to agree with Nick, although not the part about Americans not caring about the intellectual development of their kids. I think all this “rushing” of children is a very understandable reaction to years of seeing children slowed down and held back by their schools. Before we had children, I remember one mother telling me, “They told me not to teach my kids anything, because otherwise they’d be bored when they went to kindergarten. So I didn’t, and, sure enough, they didn’t get bored with kindergarten until three months had passed.”

    I’ve been tired for decades of hearing that kids who start out ahead lose that advantage by third or fourth grade. What can you expect if the kids essentially stagnate for several years? Another friend, an elementary school principal, out-and-out told me that “kindergarten is where we level the kids out.” It’s hard for teachers to deal with students with a wide range of abilities. I’m not saying all schools are like this, but it has been my experience — and we live in a highly-rated school district.

    Then there was the experience of another friend (different state), who was told by the principal of her daughter’s elementary school that she basically couldn’t expect them to do anything for the girl, because she already had everything going for her: she could read, she lived with both her parents, and she ate breakfast in the morning. All their attention had to be given to those children who lacked one or all of those “advantages.”

    I know first hand the damage such an attitude can do: students who breeze through elementary school often end up worse off than their classmates who have learned to dig in and work at their education.

    So — though I don’t think baby videos and pushing schoolwork on children is the way to go, I can’t fault parents for trying to provide for their children in areas where they believe the schools are failing.

  84. This weekend, while watching his 6 year old grandkids trade picture books, my dad mentioned this article to me, with an appropriately snarky comment. I refused to read it.

    We’ve been reading chapter books with my son since he was 3 years old. He loves them and also his picture books. As with most things in life, and parenting, I have not found a need for either/or thinking. Why not both types of books? Articles like this are meant to inflame us.

    Here’s a tip if you want to impress your friends with your “Harvard-bound” kid , yet still allow the young one to enjoy picture books: graphic interpretations of the classics. When my son was 5 and in his knight phase, he found (in the picture book section of the library) a graphic interpretation of Don Quixote. I tried to “forget” the book when we left, but he noticed and went back for it. Try explaining this story to your kindergardener!!! He loved it though. We borrowed that book several times. Months later, while we were at dinner with several other families at a Mexican restaurant, he noticed a picture on the wall. He shouted, excitedly ” Look mom, it’s Don Quixote!!” Stunned silence from the other parents at the table. Finally someone was brave enough to ask if he had seen the movie. “No”, he answered, “I read the book all by myself!!!”

    I think that says it all.

  85. Hugely avid reader here. Always ahead of the class with my reading, as were my own kids. I read pretty much what I wanted. So did my kids. My youngest read John Grisham’s entire library, with the exception of Disclosure, at age 10/11 (5th grade). I have a bazillion books, including many strip copies from when I worked in a bookstore for several years.

    I’m 44. I LOVE Doonesbury, Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, The Far Side… they are like the comfort food of books, along with the Chronicles of Narnia, which I read for the first time at age 7. Side by side with Seuss. I love to read because I’ve always read things I enjoy.

    I super hate the ‘Your Baby Can Read!’ infomercials. There is no freaking way a 7 month old has the comprehension, whether she can identify the words or not. And you know, there’s a little issue of content to. Do you really want your 4 year old reading The Half-Blood Prince or The Golden Compass because he can? Those themes are far more geared to older kids. You force skills on kids that are far above them, you reduce what is available to them, you don’t expand it. A bored, advanced kid is a recipe for trouble. Says the high-school drop-out with multiple college degrees, and 2 bored, advance, high-school drop-out kids. At least one of them chose to go to college at 16… If I’d actually pushed them, they’d have been extra miserable. The mind fairly boggles.

  86. I’ll be contrarian: how many of you read a Stendhal novel this year? I did! Remember when everyone made fun of Al Gore after he said his favorite novel was The Red and the Black? OK, I get it, but put Charterhouse of Parma on your “Someday” list — it is a crazy, hilarious, breathtaking book about some incredibly devious, selfish people who succeed by lying constantly. What’s not to like?

    Sorry for going off-topic. I actually agree completely with Lernore’s post. I would only add “Grown-ups Reading Neglected Classics: good.”🙂

  87. I’m part of a Read Aloud Committee on my college campus that rates picture books according to the positive responses we get from reading them to children. We also donate books(which are free from the publishers in exchange for being considered for one of our awards) to area schools. Picture books are the “hook” for children who are just learning to read. The amount of imagination that happens in those young minds needs to be encourgaed by any means neccessary. If pictures spur the written word into creative thought, then really whats the worry?

    Children who are “ahead,” as previously mentioned are often bored (as I was in school which did have me challenging myself into too-mature books for my leisure reading) and even the “babies who can read” level off as their typically developing peers catch up.

    In the end, isn’t it more important to have happy, engaged children, than children who are so far advanced that they don’t relate with their peers?

  88. Personally, I grew up reading comic books… And was often told by teachers that they would rot my brain. These were the exact same teachers that were amazed that I was reading with a college level vocabulary and comprehension in the third grade.

    The pictures put the words into context, and make it far easier to expand your vocabulary. I wish I could still put my hands on it, but I once compiled a vocabulary list from a random issue each of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and X-men…

    I know that’s where I learned words like esoteric, plethora, prestidigitation, and legerdemain; was introduced to scientific concepts like genetic abnormalities, evolutionary biology, and quantum theory; and learned the Latin and Greek roots that let me translate most scientific jargon on the fly.

    So yes… anyone who says that picture books are just baby stuff, and reading comics is bad for your vocabulary, should probably take their no-thank-you-bite and actually try it out before they say they don’t like it.

  89. I would still argue there is a place for picture books in a fifth grade classroom (perhaps they could review them for the prep/one teacher, do reading support for the younger grades, or even read them for pleasure – though I’d insist on novels for silent reading or whatever designated reading time happens in the classroom). I have read picture books to high school students and to third year university students. I used to buy myself picture books when I was sixteen. This was also the age I read A.S. Byatt’s Possession, so in no way did it represent simplistic tastes or abilities (and now I am an editor and writer and get paid to read in bed.)

    I disagree that picture books for younger readers necessitate simple plot lines and a moral. There are lots of interesting picture books (for all ages) that engage with or amplify literary tropes such as metafiction, narrative structure, archetypal characters, symbolism, pastiche, intertextuality… Teaching kids to “read” narrative structure is as important as teaching kids to read words. It’s a transferable critical skill – useful in reading and engaging with and critiquing advertising, television shows, movies, social situations, internet forums…

  90. Okay, I agree that we shouldn’t push our children to stop reading picture books — they’re great for any age. But one of the things that resonates with me about the whole free range mentality is that children are capable of more than we give them credit for. The comments on this post seem to be saying the opposite.

    Challenges are good for children. If their school is challenging them, great — but I think many schools are lowering standards (see above discussion on the ubiquitous “above grade level” label). Sometimes the parents have to supply the challenge that the school is not giving.

    Kindergarten isn’t too early to start exposing children to books without pictures. Kindergartners have wonderful imaginations! As a commenter said above, a page without pictures is not too *difficult* for a child, but it is a little scary. I think reading chapter books aloud is a great way to help a child discover that books without pictures can be fun, too.

    I also have to take issue with all the comments saying “it doesn’t matter what your child is reading, as long as they’re reading.” I would counter with the C.S. Lewis quote, “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”

    I think parents have a role to play in suggesting excellent books to their kids. Many of the books I chose for myself when I was a child were just disappointments. What I needed was a guide… all I knew to do was to pick up the next book in the series du jour and hope it was more interesting than the last one.

  91. Laura, amen to the Lewis quote. And I’d say well before age 10, personally.

    I also agree with the idea of parents suggesting books to their kids. Really, in the children and young adult sections of the library is an awful lot of just plain junk. (The adult section too, but that’s another story.) One person’s trash can always be another person’s treasure, but our kids were so disappointed with their own choices from the shelves they usually begged me to go to the library myself and bring back something for them, on the grounds that they liked my choices better. My pleasure! Somehow the practice hasn’t stopped them, as adults, from being able to choose their own books happily — and now I often follow their recommendations.

  92. Such a huge chunk of cultural literacy is based on picture books… who didn’t grow up wit Dr Seuss and Goodnight Moon… My husband grew up in a bookless home and we have spent the last thirteen years re-educating him with picture books and they just don’t stop their is no end to the beautiful classic literature out there that make our world and the world of books so inviting and well worth visiting!!!

  93. There’s certainly a time to start pushing chapter books over picture books, but age 4 or 5 isn’t the time to demand it.

    I did push my daughter toward more challenging books, but that was because she was too content to stay with the easy stuff. She tried to stick with the easy, 1-2 words on a page books when they were too simple for her. Then she tried to stick with the next level up. She’s 8 now and loving novels, but it did take a push.

    She still asks for picture books, so we allow them in balance.

    I’m with many others in not liking the cost of picture books. They cost so much more.

  94. Is nobody curious about what children read before picture books, which are, for the most part, a recent phenomenon. Historically, most children were illiterate, but were the literate ones tortured by having mere words? Did they take no pleasure in reading? Did they lack imagination? How did their reading skills compare with those of today’s young people? Of course there is room for picture books, but a well-taught child quickly moves on to more substantive, and pleasurable, books. Contemporary Americans have very low educational expectations, but they don’t seem to be low enough for some many people. The same arguments for picture books could serve to defend coloring books and TV.

  95. Stephanie, I agree that 4 and 5 is too young to push chapter books. I don’t consider reading aloud to be pushing, though. Just good laid-back family fun with some side benefits. 🙂

  96. Nick, you’re assuming that picture books aren’t – and can’t be – substantive, nor as pleasurable as chapter books. I really doubt this is the case.

  97. Uly, I’m pleased to admit that I don’t know what “chapter books” are, but I have a feeling they aren’t actual books or they wouldn’t need a specialized name. Could you offer an example of a substantive picture book so I can evaluate your viewpoint?

  98. Nicolas, “chapter books” is just the modern name for books with separate chapters and a lot more pictures than text (if any pictures at all.) It’s not a specialized or new thing, just the name that has come to be attached to books for kids that aren’t picture books. On a fairly beginning level, think Beverly Cleary or Boxcar Children.

    Substantive picture books: lots of fairy tales are done in picture book format. There are even books on a fairly high reading level with lots of thematic content and high verbal content that really look like the picture book format, such as Rosemary Sutcliff’s retelling of the Trojan War, “Black Ships Before Troy.” That’s not really what we’re talking about, but picture books do cover a range of reading and thematic levels — they’re not all just books with simple drawings and ten words on a page.

    And Laura, I agree — there is a middle ground between “pushing” and keeping kids “stuck” at books on a very simple reading level. I’ve always read more “advanced” books to my kids.

  99. My kids just like books — really doesn’t matter what kind. Neither of them are reading on their own yet. The 5-year-old is getting closer. He especially likes non-fiction books and that entire, “Where’s Waldo?” genre. They inherited a bunch of Magic Treehouse chapter books and those are awesome — very fun to read. I’m going to be optimistic and choose to believe picture book sales are down simply b/c books are so expensive. We go to the library as often as possible and I try to buy the picture books in paperback to save money. I also actively search out library book sales and good used bookstores. Scholastic is also a good option. Good books, cheap prices and it raises money for teachers.

  100. Wow, there’s a lot of bragging on this post.

    Please let me not be like that when my child is reading…. Is it inevitable?

  101. A chapter book is a book with chapters, and also any book by Terry Pratchett, whether he bothers to mark his chapters or not. That’s been the common terminology since I’ve been a child.

    It’s as much a real book (you know, paper, binding, ink in the middle, some thoughts) as anything else.

    As far as a substantive picture book – you tell me. First, let’s clear this up. Are graphic novels picture books? How about comics? How about manga, which are mostly graphic novels but somewhat not? Wordless picture books? Chapter books with illustrations on every few pages, as is common for early readers? Chapter books with color illustrations, as seems to have been more common about a century ago judging by the color plates in my “just like the original!” copies of classics such as A Little Princess? Picture books without words?

    You tell me what a picture book is, and I’ll pull up a few examples.

  102. Trashy books like Nancy Drew!?!?! I can’t believe some of the comments on here or in the original New York Times story.
    For the record, I was an early reader. I don’t remember learning to read. At age 5, I just knew how and I could read really, really well. By Grade 7, I was reading at a Grade 12 level.
    My parents never pushed me to read, though they never discouraged me either. My mother swears I learned how to read by watching Sesame Street. Take that, anti-TV types. 🙂
    I was allowed to pick whatever I wanted from the library and that included Nancy Drew, picture books, and some adult novels I read when I was too young to really understand the themes.
    I really object to classifying certain types of books as trashy. There is a lot of skillfully written genre fiction and if it gets kids reading, it’s not trash.
    I understand people’s concern over literacy levels, but look at Finland. From what I’ve read, they don’t even try to teach kids to read until age 7 and they have some of the highest literacy levels in the world.

  103. If Beverly Cleary or Boxcar Children are typical “chapter” books, then I shouldn’t imagine that it would be hard for picture books to match them in substance. I expended considerable effort to make sure that my kid was diverted from these sorts of books. Why does anyone think such books are easier or more pleasurable to read than, say, Twain, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, or the unadulterated Brothers Grimm? Why would anyone prefer that his or her child read silly chapter books in preference to quality literature? How interesting can the Gruffalo remain when you have been introduced to Tom, Becky, Huck, Charlotte, and Willy?

    Anne, what you take to be bragging I take to be stating facts. I taught my child to read when she was 4 (at the same age I was taught by an English mother). I made sure she was abundantly supplied with quality books. By 5 she was interested in illustrations, but not so much in “picture” books. They have sometimes foisted what are apparently called “chapter” books in school, and she read them on the drive home from school.

    I wouldn’t claim to be a good teacher, or that my child is an exceptional learner. But I took the time — a lot of time — to teach her to read, and I was careful about what I put in front of her (or on her iPod). Given the right effort, most kids can zoom quickly past the picture and chapter prelims to the real thing — quality children’s literature. But just as many parents don’t “push” their kids into eating unwanted vegetables, they don’t “push” them into reading nutritious books. My kid grew up on veggies and good books, so she doesn’t have to be pushed.

  104. Sheila,
    Yup, Nancy Drew is trashy, both in style and content. I’m disgusted to the incessant references to Nancy’s appearance, and that of her friends. Nancy Drew books are factory pap, developed by the founder of the Stratemeyer Syndicate after his success in creating the Hardy Boys, and they have been written by various ghostwriters sharing the same pseudonym. As literature they compare very badly indeed to many books accessible to young people who are reasonably proficient readers. I’ve named a few, like Tom Sawyer, but there are many more, such as are published by The New York Review of Books.

    http://www.nybooks.com/books/imprints/childrens/

  105. Uly, I thought you would be able to define picture books for me. So far as I’m concerned the name offers a convenient way for Borders to shelve books for little kids, like “world music” was invented to lump together most anything that isn’t rock, jazz, blues, or pop.

    By the time my daughter was five she would, if given a chance, listen to an audiobook for 3 hours non-stop. I also read to her each night. I suppose “picture books” are those with few words and many illustrations, which I indeed bought for my girl when she was 2,3, and 4. When, at 4, she went nuts for Tom Sawyer — right at the moment Tom kissed Becky — I bought her a Classics Illustrated comic book of TS, but she was never as interested in it as she was in the actual book.

    The treasure hunt for good books for my daughter was also valuable for me. I discovered great reads — like Pinocchio (not Disney!), Box of Delights, Anne of Green Gables — that I had not known as a child.

  106. But fine, I do know what you mean (I think) I’m just being a pain because you’re wrong.

    You want a substantive picture book? I’ll give you one – easy.

    George vs. George.

    As the second review says (gosh, that person totally isn’t me :P) it’s written on a seventh grade reading level. I promise you, it has more information than a seventh grade textbook will, or a high school textbook for that matter.

    Talkin’ About Bessie – 144 pages of conflicting views of the first American of any race or gender to have an international pilot’s license. With pictures. Dense text in different dialects on one side of the spread, picture on the other.

    There’s a Hair in my Dirt! There’s probably a more “grown-up” way to talk about ecology, but I doubt there’s a more lasting and memorable way. Years after reading it, and I still recall specific scenes and facts from the book, clear as though I read it yesterday.

    What’s worst about your argument is not that you’re saying there ARE no worthy picture books, but seemingly that there CAN’T BE. This is absurd – there can be good, deep, thought-provoking, challenging picture books, TV shows, movies, chapter books, and oral folklore. Whether there are or aren’t at the moment is, I suppose, up to each of us to decide alone (and I’d be surprised if your reply isn’t some version of “those don’t count” and/or “that’s not good enough for ME!”), but even if there are none at all it’s folly to assume there never could be.

    Sure, picture books written for preschoolers tend to be simpler in text and storyline than those written for twelve year olds, or those written for grown-ups (yes, they exist). That’s because preschoolers are simpler than twelve year olds and grown-ups!

    But moving “out of” picture books just because they’re picture books is absurd. People generally do move to more difficult experiences just for the fun of it, but it’s silly to lump all picture books in the “easy” category only because you don’t know enough to know there are other ones out there.

    Your scorn for picture books, your insistence that children should give them up “quickly”, your derision of the term chapter book (and insistence that they cannot be “real books”, as though such a distinction ever could exist!) is a bit troubling. I leave you with this quote from C. S. Lewis:

    Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

    And Nick – for all your statements that SOMEHOW picture books are related to low literacy rates in the US, it’s *possible*, I guess (although if you’re comparing America with non-English speaking countries I’m putting the blame on the messed-up English orthography instead), but you’d have to back that statement up with something other than “I just kinda feel this way”.

  107. Ah, Nick, I’m finally back from putting the nieces BACK in bed after a particularly loud bolt of thunder.

    You’re wrong, basically. There are PLENTY of picture books that are written not for “little kids” but for older ones, or preteens, or teenagers, or grown-ups.

    That’s just it. You have a backwards and WRONG view of “picture books” and you’re not willing to consider that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

    Why does anyone think such books are easier or more pleasurable to read than, say, Twain, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, or the unadulterated Brothers Grimm?

    Roald Dahl’s books have pictures. E. B. White’s books have pictures. Books from the Brothers Grimm often (not always, but often) have pictures – and many of the fairy tales coming out today are not only using text easily as complex as in the “original” tales (those tales being compilations from the start, of course) but gorgeous, complex illustrations.

  108. So, Uly, I would find White, Dahl, and the Grimms in the “picture book” section at Barnes & Noble? Right next to Huck Finn?

    We have Norton’s Annotated Brother’s Grimm, and Viking’s recent retranslation of Andersen’s Fairy Tales (almost illustration-free). I’d love to know more about the fairy tales you speak of being issued today, if you could direct me to them. It takes some doing to best the Grimms, Andersen, and George MacDonald.

  109. Ugh, I hate to read posts of mine with ugly typos and brain glitches. Oh, well.

  110. Also, my last comment (the one before the one before this one) didn’t post because of too many links, so I’m going to c+p the text. It’s a bit long, but it does have three examples from my very own bookcase.

    I’m sorry for being a bit snippy, but the truth is, Nick, I don’t think I like you. And I’ve had a long enough week (the worst was the full jar of maple syrup that shattered on the floor, followed by my grandmother’s dislocated hip that required me to spend several hours in the hospital fetching nurses for bedpans, followed by the plates that broke – and that’s all within three days!) that I don’t care about being nice at all, so… don’t take it TOO personally, I’d probably be nicer if I weren’t in a sucky mood.

    But fine, I do know what you mean (I think) I’m just being a pain because you’re wrong.

    You want a substantive picture book? I’ll give you one – easy.

    George vs. George.

    As the second review says (gosh, that person totally isn’t me😛 ) it’s written on a seventh grade reading level. I promise you, it has more information than a seventh grade textbook will, or a high school textbook for that matter.

    Talkin’ About Bessie – 144 pages of conflicting views of the first American of any race or gender to have an international pilot’s license. With pictures. Dense text in different dialects on one side of the spread, picture on the other.

    There’s a Hair in my Dirt! There’s probably a more “grown-up” way to talk about ecology, but I doubt there’s a more lasting and memorable way. Years after reading it, and I still recall specific scenes and facts from the book, clear as though I read it yesterday.

    What’s worst about your argument is not that you’re saying there ARE no worthy picture books, but seemingly that there CAN’T BE. This is absurd – there can be good, deep, thought-provoking, challenging picture books, TV shows, movies, chapter books, and oral folklore. Whether there are or aren’t at the moment is, I suppose, up to each of us to decide alone (and I’d be surprised if your reply isn’t some version of “those don’t count” and/or “that’s not good enough for ME!”), but even if there are none at all it’s folly to assume there never could be.

    Sure, picture books written for preschoolers tend to be simpler in text and storyline than those written for twelve year olds, or those written for grown-ups (yes, they exist). That’s because preschoolers are simpler than twelve year olds and grown-ups!

    But moving “out of” picture books just because they’re picture books is absurd. People generally do move to more difficult experiences just for the fun of it, but it’s silly to lump all picture books in the “easy” category only because you don’t know enough to know there are other ones out there.

    Your scorn for picture books, your insistence that children should give them up “quickly”, your derision of the term chapter book (and insistence that they cannot be “real books”, as though such a distinction ever could exist!) is a bit troubling. I leave you with this quote from C. S. Lewis:

    Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/C._S._Lewis

    And Nick – for all your statements that SOMEHOW picture books are related to low literacy rates in the US, it’s *possible*, I guess (although if you’re comparing America with non-English speaking countries I’m putting the blame on the messed-up English orthography instead), but you’d have to back that statement up with something other than “I just kinda feel this way”.

  111. Nick, you sound like you are afraid of pictures. What is the danger in them?

    If you have ever read the best of Beverly Cleary, you would not act so superior about having your kids reading E.B. White.

    I thought I was kind of leaning toward the “there is such a thing as better literature, and also books that waste children’s time.” However, after reading some of the posts here, I am not sure I want membership in that club.

    One thing I would suggest is that, after making sure your child is exposed to the books you consider worthy – and a variety of books others consider worthy – you trust your children to be able to recognize value in a book – with or without pictures.

    Not saying anyone should put a bunch of money into picture books, but shunning that part of the library isn’t going to guarantee your kids’ future literacy. I let my kids pick several picture books during library stops, and while we all agree that some of them are duds, we also all find some of them worth our while. The point is not to prepare us for the next big exam, but to encourage new ways of thinking. This is especially valuable in a world where kids don’t get a lot of time with the types of wise souls who used to play that role traditionally.

  112. “Many of the books I chose for myself when I was a child were just disappointments. ”

    This seems to be more of a lack of knowledge of yourself than a indication that parents should select the reading material of their children. I recall picking very few duds when I was a child. As far back as I can remember, I knew what I liked to read. I picked subjects, authors and styles that I knew that I would enjoy. Our reading text in school contained mostly excerpts of books and I frequently chose to read those books. I sometimes asked for recommendations from friends, teachers or the librarian when I was at a loss but it was usually in the form of “I really enjoyed X; can you recommend something similar.” Often I just browsed the library reading little bits until something drew me in. Was it always great literature? Absolutely not, but it was all enjoyable to me.

    “Why does anyone think such books are easier or more pleasurable to read than, say, Twain, Roald Dahl, E. B. White, or the unadulterated Brothers Grimm?”

    What is pleasurable to read is very much a matter of personal opinion. For example, my literature degree can appreciate the quality of Twain stories, however, that doesn’t change the fact that I’d rather rip my fingernails out than actually read them. I’ve attempted reading Twain many times because I felt that I should like it and came to the conclusion many years ago that I just don’t. I’m okay with that. Same with your example of Anne of Green Gables, which may be a very well written story but I wouldn’t know because it didn’t hold my interest at all as a child (too girly for me). It’s very much something that I see my daughter enjoying so I may very well read it, and enjoy it, in the near future, but as a little girl, I preferred other things.

  113. Uly, I won’t let your opinion of me disturb my rest.

    Lewis’ quote is irrelevant. As I have said, I have provided my child with quality children’s books, and I’ve linked to the NYRB collection which contains numerous children’s classics. I didn’t suggest that my daughter would be better off reading “adult” books. As with adult books, some kids books are a lot smarter than others.

    I didn’t claim that “picture books are related to low literacy rates,” which I couldn’t support. The ubiquity of these books, which, as I said, is pretty recent in origin, has done nothing to arrest the decline in meaningful literacy. But the decline is certainly related more to TV than to such books. Put the two together, delete quality literature, and you have the modern American child.

    I never said there are no worthy picture books, but your definition of “picture book” is so broad that it includes The Bible and Evolution of Infectious Diseases.

    I suspect that books identified by grade level are as suspect as clothes identified by waist size. Probably a third of college freshmen read at the “seventh grade level” or worse. Perhaps colleges can convert to the estimable picture books so nobody’s self-esteem will suffer.

    I’m sure that teachers, publishers, and booksellers are behind the “chapter book” abomination. I cannot imagine a quality book being tossed into the scholastic ghetto with such specimens. You like Wikipedia, so I’ll quote it:

    “The name [chapter book] refers to the fact that the stories are usually divided into short chapters, which provide children with opportunities to stop and resume reading if their attention spans are not long enough to finish the book in one sitting. Chapter books are usually works of fiction of moderate length and complexity.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chapter_book

    They need to finish a book in one sitting? I don’t, do you?

    I don’t give my girl books on “ecology,” since they are invariably more propaganda than science. I’ve no interest in having her indoctrinated by anyone but her parents, and then with the objective of giving her the tools to think for herself.

  114. SKL, I’ve already stated that I like illustrations.

    This discussion mostly comes down to the traditional divide between those who believe there are quality standards and those who think it’s all subjective. The subjectivists dominate the schools, and they are responsible for the tragic mass dumbing-down.

    I’m an unashamed elitist. I want my daughter to experience the best in literature, music, movies, and food. So, my house is absent “chapter books,” Miley Cyrus songs, Pixar movies, and Oreo cookies. Do I live with the fact that my daughter will experience these things when she is not at home? Sure. But I don’t have to spend money cultivating her taste for such things.

  115. Oh well, nobody ever told me what I could or should read, and I ended up reasonably well-read. And I certainly did not become stupid as a result of taking myself to the library and choosing my leisure reading material.

    Though for the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that my first really favorite book was Little House in the Big Woods (by Wilder), which I read in Kindergarten. Two strikes against it if you are an “unashamed elitist”: my mom bought it at the Salvation Army, and it had color “plates” that I still remember to this day. Oh, the horror!

    However, I was no stranger to beautiful picture books as well – Edna Mae Burnam books, illustrated fairy / folk tales, and more. I’ve tried sharing some of these picture books with my kids, and frankly, even the one who is reading isn’t old enough for some of the best classic picture books.

  116. Different kids like different things and develop different skills at different rates. Einstein was a famous late reader.

    Just don’t take any of it too seriously http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikvcS3Oe-oA

    Another great, and challenging, picture book, “The Three Pigs” http://www.amazon.com/Three-Pigs-David-Wiesner/dp/0618007016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1286855300&sr=8-1
    By David Wiesner. You could almost see the smoke coming out of my 3 year old’s ears.

  117. SKL, you confuse elitism with wealth, which it isn’t necessarily so, and certainly not in my case. Some of the most charming elitists I know are a step away from street living. Maybe it would be clearer if I said I’m a literature-music-food snob.

    My daughter enjoyed the Little House books, and so did I.

  118. To add to the list of excellent picture books:

    With no words:
    Welcome to the Zoo by Alison Jay
    Wonder Bear by Tao Nyen

    With words:
    Alphaboat by Michael Chesworth
    The Eleventh Hour by Graeme Base
    Masquerade by Kit Williams
    Motel of the Mysteries by David Macaulay

    The point of a good picture book goes beyond the text that happens to accompany the illustrations. The point of a good picture book goes beyond the mere quality of the illustrations. The illustrations continue the story where the words left off and include details that the text was free to leave out. Text and pictures compliment each other. In a good picture book, if you gloss over the pictures, you loose much of the story.

    Why not just leave out the costly illustrations and put in all the words? Could Da Vinci have sculpted the Mona Lisa instead of painting her? He certainly had the talent. We can debate until we are blue in the face whether the work of art would have been better in three or two dimensions. The fact remains that he chose to paint and the picture book author chose to have illustrations paired with the text. If you don’t enjoy picture books, read chapter books out loud to your child, but don’t attempt to limit their exposure to the other medium if they express an interest in it.

    And all those examples of “elitist” books, are chapter books. They might have stood the test of time to be considered literature but they are still chapter books. I fail to see why Beverly Cleary is trash while Roald Dahl is treasure, sounds more like personal preference to me. (BTW Roald Dahl is almost always paired with illustrations by Quintin Blake). I heard no mention of the Earthsea trilogy, The Hobbit or Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books, but presumably fantasy is automatically trash.

    And why has poetry been left out of this discussion? Does no one read A Child’s Garden of Verses? Or the more modern Shell Silverstein? I don’t know if they publish such things anymore, but we have a number of poetry anthologies compiled mid century that were intended for children complete with *gasp* beautiful illustrations, one of them is even a board book!

  119. I’m starting to think the debate going back and forth reflects the narcissism of small differences.
    It sounds like most of us are people whose houses are full of books and who read a lot. I don’t think any of our children are going to have literacy issues, though we may quibble over whether or not Nancy Drew is trash.
    The “dumbing down” referred to is sadly more likely to happen in households like one my sister-in-law (a teacher) came across.
    When she told a student’s parents that their Grade 1 son was having problems with reading, they replied, “That’s your job, you’re supposed to teach him to read.”
    When she asked what kinds of books they had around the house, they said none.
    How, she wondered, is their child ever going to catch up to students who have houses full of books (“trashy” or not), parents who read and read to them and take them to the library? The answer is probably never.

  120. I think we are confusing ‘way too many issues here. And how can we possibly have a conversation about picture books and chapter books if we can’t even agree on definitions?

    For what it’s worth, I say that when talking about children’s literature, a picture book isn’t a “book with pictures” any more than a chapter book is a “book with chapters.” Perhaps the librarians (of which we know there are many here) will tell me I’m all wrong, but based on my own nearly 60 years of experience with children’s books (as child, older sibling, college student, parent, teacher, school volunteer, aunt, and grandmother), when I refer to a picture book, I mean an illustrated book, generally thin but of larger length and width than most books, with much more of each page given to illustration than to text — illustrations designed to catch the eye of young children while the text is being read aloud to them. Comic books, manga, illustrated classics, and “coffee table” books are books with pictures, but not what I’d call picture books. (Of course there are exceptions, and places where the lines blur, but I’m giving basic definitions here.)

    So-called chapter books are a relatively recent phenomenon. ‘Way back when I was a child, books were books, and when the stories got longer, the print got smaller, the pictures generally disappeared, and we were expected to supply the visual element in our own minds. (Not that I ever really gave up picture books. It’s wonderful to have younger siblings!) The phenomenon of chapter books now seems to be a niche between picture books and what we just called books: dimensions more like those of adult books, still thin, with relatively large print and few sentences on the page, but in which the illustrations are much fewer and less important. They can be well-done, but for the most part seem to be cranked out merely to give kids more practice reading and ease them into more advanced books. I’m not saying there aren’t good ones, only that on average I’ve found them on the wrong side of mediocre.

    Little House in the Big Woods is relatively simple and also has larger print than adult books, but I wouldn’t call it a chapter book, just a book with chapters. And one, I might add, that I enjoy to this day.

    Perhaps these definitions no longer make sense, but at least you’ll know what ground I’m standing on when I use the terms.

    And about “bragging”: Maybe we have different definitions of that, too, but I don’t see any going on here. One man’s information is another man’s boast, I suppose, but I don’t see how one can have a meaningful discussion without facts. If I say that my grandson is six years old and is presently devouring the Nancy Drew books, but also still loves the picture books he reads aloud to his siblings, is that bragging? Or the reverse? To me, such information is merely facts to support a thesis, even if it were to be said about a three-year-old.

    Sheila is right — parents who don’t read are a huge problem when it comes to children’s literacy. But I find the attitude of “at least I’m doing better than that person over there” to be rather unhelpful, if sometimes reassuring. If our children only like te eat peanut butter and jelly, chicken nuggets, and carrot sticks, they’re still better off than the kids that eat most of their meals at McDonalds, and far better off than those who rarely know where their next meal is coming from. But why should that stop us from encouraging our children to eat better? And why would it be considered elitist or snobbish to bring your children up liking broccoli, lentils, and curry?

  121. @ Nicholas – Exactly what do you hope to gain by being an elitist? Do you think that will make your daughter a better person? Do you think that it will increase her wealth? Her success in life? Her enjoyment of childhood? Her depth as a person? Or is it, as I suspect, just to make yourself feel superior?

    This whole discussion reminds me of something I had long forgotten. When I finished law school, I worked at one of the top law firms in the country for a couple years. Every 3 years we had a big retreat involving all the attorneys from the 11 or 12 (at the time) offices and there was a big service project. The year I went our firm was funding a library for a school in South Central LA. For one of the events of the weekend, we got to help select the books in “our” new library. I forget the gist of it but we broke into small groups and each had a huge list of children’s books and we circled the ones we specifically wanted to be included in the library. One thing that is fairly universal about lawyers apparently is that they like to read. We had 1000 of some of the most successful attorneys from several different countries gushing over children’s books until we were actually forced to stop and wrap up the activity. And it wasn’t all Twain and Dahl. Beloved picture books were selected by some. So were Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, Nancy Drew books, The Black Stallion (one of my favs as a kid), Harriett the Spy, Encyclopedia Brown. And these are highly successful, Ivy league educated, millionaires gushing over Cordoroy and Ramona and Beezus (picture book and Cleary for the elitists). In a weekend where we met Maya Angelou and attended an exclusive polo match performed solely for us, this was the activity that everyone was buzzing about the next week. So what is it about being an elitist you are looking for again?

  122. “And why would it be considered elitist or snobbish to bring your children up liking broccoli, lentils, and curry?”

    It’s not elitist to bring your child up liking broccoli, lentils and curry. It’s elitist to look down your nose at and believe that you are better than people who enjoy chicken nuggets and carrot sticks or have never experienced broccoli, lentils and curry due to their upbringing. It’s elitist to completely dismiss chicken nuggets and carrot sticks as trash that should never be consumed. It’s elitist blame the dumbing down of America on people who enjoy eating chicken nuggets and carrot sticks. It’s elitist to fail to see that chicken nuggets and carrot sticks can be a part of a well–balanced healthy diet, along with occasional cupcakes, cookies and candy.

  123. @ Sheila
    The differences are much larger than you think.

    @ Donna
    I can’t imagine why you put carrots and nuggets together.

    The devil is in your qualifiers: “never” and “occasional.” Most kids are not fed these things sporadically, they are fed them routinely. Even the well-off parents who send their kids to my child’s Montessori school pack lunches filled with crap. My daughter eats nuggets sometimes, and all sorts of other junk, but as exceptions. She can eat carrots, which I never thought of as junk, anytime she wants. In what way do cupcakes, cookies, and candy “balance” a diet except to tilt the scale to junk, obesity, and ill-health?

    When I volunteered to coach my kid’s soccer team this summer, one of the first things I did was to ask the parents if they would we willing to dispense with the after-game junk food ritual. They all agreed it should go, and we had an end-of-season pizza party instead. The lives of American kids are filled with “balancing” junk, and their health is suffering for it.

    Nothing offends Americans more than elitism, but I’m happy to be labeled an elitist. I’m quite sure that there are things of high and lower quality, and to prefer the former to the latter. I’m sure that life is more meaningful when filled with quality.

    If I can add yet another offense to my rap sheet, I think much of this discussion turns on sex. I’ve had numerous male friends with large book collections mostly comprised of serious titles. But I’ve NEVER been to the home of woman with a sizable library, and even highly educated women tend to read more fluff. Serious political, scientific, and literary journals (and web sites) have overwhelmingly male readerships, usually approaching 90 percent. On the other hand, silly magazines, for gossip, fashion, and home decorating, have overwhelmingly female readerships. Men, by and large, have higher intellectual standards than do women. That this is true has been one of the great disappointments of my life.

  124. Sorry for the confusion. I was the one who put carrots in the list, primarily because chicken nuggets and carrot sticks was the favorite meal of my exceedingly picky nephew when he was young, and because adding carrots to the mix made it better than McDonald’s fare for my illustration. My point — admittedly not well made — was not that the diet consisted solely of junk food, but that so many kids I know have an extremely limited vocabulary when it comes to food, and this is considered normal and acceptable by their parents, who figure they’ll grow out of it eventually. And they do.

    That, of course, is the parents’ choice. But I confess I see it as a handicap — having to fix special meals for the kids, limiting yourself to “kid-friendly” restaurants, having to bring your children’s food with you when you go to someone else’s house for dinner, finding yourself regularly eating at McDonald’s on a trip to Europe (!) — not to mention how limiting it is for the child himself, nutritionally and experientially.

    Nor do I think it elitist, or bragging, to make the point that it doesn’t have to be that way. That children can easily move from mother’s milk to eating whatever the rest of the family is eating. That they can enjoy soda at a party but be limited to healthy drinks at home without being deprived. That they can, as young children, truly enjoy art museums, Wagnerian operas, and the unabridged version of Little Women. When we had young children I LOVED learning from people who had higher respect for their children’s abilities and tastes than I knew was possible. True, the point is better made if we don’t show disrespect for others’ choices in the process, but sometimes that’s easier said than done, especially when we all tend to be somewhat defensive, so a little grace and understanding can be very helpful.

    One more thing. Ahem. Hrumph. Perhaps I am bragging now, but I still see it as providing facts, as information to make a point in this “men vs. women” can of worms. I’d happily stack my bookshelves against any man’s when it comes to “serious” titles. Hmm, well, okay, I’m not fool enough to really mean any man’s, or woman’s either. There are lots of folks whose reading is much more intellectual than mine. But the average man’s, certainly. Of the couple thousand books in our house there’s not much I’d call fluff. What’s more, Nicholas, it includes a complete collection of George MacDonald…. 🙂

  125. Aaw, Nicolas, I was just ready to add my hearty agreement to your most recent comment… and then I read your last paragraph. Did you really have to throw in your own personal observations of men’s and women’s book choices and suggest that this is a trend? It’s certainly not one I’ve noticed among my acquaintances.

    In any case, you are right when you say that it is only reasonable to show preference to books of high quality. I’m not sure where to begin persuading folks in this thread that there *are* books of low quality out there… because it seems so obvious when you read, say, the latest Sesame Street story right after reading something like Owl Moon. One of those is going to be reprinted for generations because it is worth preserving, and one of those is going to be forgotten. My daughter is only 2, so I don’t have examples from the chapter book level, but I am pretty sure the trend continues.

  126. Great picture books for older kids, without words (8,9,10+):

    “Imagine a Place”
    “Imagine a Night”
    “Imagine a Day”

    Another for older kids with words: (ages 8,9,10+)

    “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”

    Yeah picture books!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  127. Goodness Nicolas, what is your opinion of women in general? I suppose fiction in the hand of a man is literature while in the hand of a woman it becomes fluff? I would suggest becoming acquainted with more women before making such broad categorizations as I cannot think of a single woman I know who fits your description. Or perhaps your extreme elitism has limited your acquaintance to the sort of woman you can look down you nose at. If it makes you feel better about yourself. . . *shrug*

  128. Laura, I don’t think there is anyone here who thinks there is no such thing as a poor quality book. I end up checking them out of the library on a weekly basis because my son has a train obsession and wants to bring home anything that depicts a train. In my opinion, being exposed to poor quality helps you appreciate the good. As much as the phrase irritates me, every moment can be turned into a teachable moment, including poorly written books. While I would prefer that the public library spends its money on the best quality books available, I also understand that they serve a large and diverse population which includes kids (and adults) who need some sort of hook, like a media tie in, to get them to pick up a book.

  129. @ Linda
    You are a gentlewoman and a scholar, and I mostly agree with you.

    I’m not interested in influencing or reforming people, so I don’t worry about grace. Tact is overrated. I prefer Mencken to Oprah, honesty to treacly sensitivity. And I’ll bet you discretely agree with me.

    Kids develop culinary tastes primarily because of what they are fed in early childhood by mothers. A lot of mothers don’t want to upset their tykes, so they relent and feed them dreck. I was largely in charge of my daughter’s diet, so she eats healthy food, at least then I feed her.

    It’s encouraging to learn that you have a house packed with books, which makes you one of a tiny elite.

  130. Well, Nicolas, I could probably make a fairly valid comment that porn tends to get a lot higher priority on mens’ reading lists than women’s. But I would prefer not to waste my time comparing my reading list to yours. I don’t see why you should care what anyone else reads. Just be careful, because your daughter might make you squirm for the rest of your life by taking up the habit of reading romance novels. Ha!

  131. As for feeding kids, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Some kids happen to be picky even if their twin siblings are not. Oh, well! I will say that my extremely picky eater’s favorite meal happens to be murgh makhani. But she will not touch a bean or lentil with a ten-foot pole, at this point in her life. While her sister adores all kinds of beans – hooray for her! It’s not because I’m a good mom to one and a shitty mom to the other. (By the way, what is so wonderful about lentils? I can’t stand them. I’ve tried them in about 50 different preparations, including hidden in mush [where I can always detect them] – blech.)

  132. @Nicholas — I certainly agree about Oprah and honesty, though I’m a big fan of tact and grace. I like to provide information to people because I have benefitted so much as the recipient of same. “Reforming” people is another story and definitely not in my job description, either.

    “… one of a tiny elite.” Me, all of my extended family, most of my friends … I guess I don’t get out enough. 😉

    On the other hand, it’s true that people are reading fewer and fewer books; I’ve heard it said that the problem with illiteracy in this country is not the people who can’t read, but those who don’t. Which is why I sympathize with those who are trying so hard, even in ways I think misguided, to get children hooked on books. (I have less patience with publishers that churn out book after book of junk because it sells well. McDonald’s isn’t the prime culprit in our obesity problem, but they certainly aren’t helping.)

    Children can and will respond to good books. Whether you like the Harry Potter books or not, you can’t deny they are, as literature, a few orders of magnitude above what most of Rowlings’ young fans were accustomed to before she came along. When our daughter was in fifth grade, we donated a bunch of “classics” (not watered down versions, either) to her class, and she reported that her classmates ate them up in preference to the other books there, which were all modern, and much less challenging in style, vocabulary, and content.

  133. @ Kawaii
    I don’t have an opinion of “women in general,” I take them one at a time. But I recognize that if I want to share an informed conversation about an intellectual topic, almost always I’ll have it with a man. Vanishingly few women are interested in Austrian economics, racial attitudes in the Progressive Era, or the Polish Ghetto, for example. A lot more women are interested in astrology and colon cleansing.

    Look at the books owned by even a woman of above average intelligence and you will mostly find self-help/improvement and mediocre novels, alongside a stack of fashion magazines. To put it bluntly, Camille Paglia exaggerated only slightly when she said, “If civilization had been left in female hands we would still be living in grass huts.” In truth, though, it is the exceptional man who makes the difference, not the average one. Most men and women share intellectual parity. Studies show that there are more men at the top and bottom of the IQ charts. That is, there are more men than women who are very smart and very stupid. Nothing will change that, just as nothing will change the fact that men commit the vast majority of violent crimes. Biology is what it is.

    As I’ve previously argued, it is the migration from patriarchy to matriarchy that has given us the helicoptering, smothering parenting that Free Range is intended to counter. Woman are more risk-averse, and many kids are growing up in female one-parent homes. Even many present fathers abdicate their parenting responsibilities.

    A bad book is a bad book, no matter who reads it. I’m open to contrary evidence, but inventing opinions and attributing them to me isn’t going to fly.

  134. @ Linda
    You must be from Georgia!

    I doubt that hooking kids on mediocre books is much more useful that a high literacy rate in Cuba. There is difference between a data entry clerk and a mathematician.

    I agree about the Potter books, which my daughter has read. I had to hear them on audiobook over and over, and while they are not great literature, they are not wholly offensive to the intellect. At least they aren’t chapter books!

    Actually people are not reading fewer books, but only fewer good and substantive books. They are reading plenty of books about dieting, scrapbooking, and the rapture.

  135. Hi!
    I always try to make sure that my 11 and 14 year olds read both picture- (we saved the best ones) and comic books – even if it takes time from the ever-important integral algebra homework or discussing “mom, what do you think about THIS 15th time revised list of the 12 high schools I applying to?” ; the relevant topics this week. Our kids need brakes even on the busiest homework nights (call it “recess at home”) more than ever and looking at picture books, reading comic books or the cartoons in the newspaper are wonderful ways to relax. Even if it is only 5-10 minutes a day. The more different genres our kids read, the better consumers of any written texts they’ll become. If they are forced to read only or mostly “serious literature” too early they might not only start resenting reading altogether but also they will develop into the most boring adults in the history of the planet. Seeing the Calvin&Hobbes next to Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States on my son’s bedside table makes warms my middle aged heart. Now, let me find the cartoon pages in the newspaper.

  136. @Nicholas, I found the following shelved among the picture books at my local bookstore:

    * D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths, Book of Norse Myths, and Book of Trolls
    * Aesop’s Fables
    * Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales
    * shorter versions of the brothers Grimm (fewer stories, not dumbed-down versions)
    * lots of poetry, from The Spider and the Fly to stuff by Ogden Nash, Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost and on and on

    All of this stuff is worth reading! For kids in the age range we were discussing earlier, picture books also give lots of opportunity to do some basic interpretation and analysis, as many long-lived stories have been written from multiple perspectives. It’s fun to read the usual version of, say, the Three Little Pigs, then read a version told entirely from the wolf’s point of view (The True Story of the Three Little Pigs!) and after that switch to a similar story changing our expectations around (The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig), but it’s also educational, getting kids to think about the stories they’re reading and hearing in ways they might not otherwise.

    I’m trying not to bite on your sexism, other than to say that it sounds like the women you choose to hang out with are not particularly big readers — that probably says more about your choice of friends than about women in general.

  137. @ Allison
    It has nothing to do with my choice of female companions. I have offered independently verifiable facts. Journals of serious opinion, like The New Republic, The Nation, Reason, The Freeman, etc. have readerships that approach 90 percent male, while People, The National Inquirer, Cosmo, Marie Clare, and the like have readers who are overwhelmingly female. To argue otherwise is like pretending that there are not more men than women on death row. Is it sexism to say that most brutal murderers are men?

    We have all of the D’Aulaire’s books, and Aesop’s, and the complete Andersen (few illustrations), and books of poetry. All fine choices. There is no reason to put any of them in a “picture books” section.

    The sexism charge predictably arises, but I deny it, and it is a strange charge to level against a man who ensures that his daughter has the chance for maximum intellectual fulfillment. She won’t become a cheerleader on my watch.

    Men and women are different. I acknowledge the differences, which reflect on both sexes in favorable and unfavorable ways. It is ludicrous to ignore, though, that women choose college majors that are, on average, much less challenging. And it is folly to attribute that to a sexist plot that has reigned since the species appeared. Women make choices; men make choices.

    I’m a fan of H.L. Mencken, who I think worked the English language better than any other writer. I know a lot of males who have read Mencken, and exactly one woman. I was so thrilled to hear that she had read Mencken until I discovered that his only book she had read consisted of letters to and from his wife. She had no interest in his ideas, only his romance. On the other hand, Mencken’s best biographer is Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, every bit a woman and very much exceptional.

    Last Saturday, one of the girls on my daughter’s soccer team sustained a minor bump. As her mother ran to her aid, her father said, “She’s OK. Let her go to the coach.” Kids suffer when they are overexposed to risk averse mothers who overprotect them.

    Men and women are different.

  138. Well, yes, Cosmo and Marie Claire, for example, are marketed specifically to women — so their male readership is, I am sure, quite low as a result just as the female readership of Hustler might be. I have different interests than yours, but they are no less serious. My reading tends toward Science, Smithsonian, and such worthless rags as the American Mathematical Society’s monthly publications and the Communications of the ACM. I am the one person in my college math department (in which there are many men) that encourages our students to read — stuff like Borges, Stanislaw Lem, and Tom Stoppard as gateway books, since the students tend to think they have no use for literature and that authors aren’t interested in themes that overlap their field of study.

    There is no reason not to put any of the books I listed in the picture book section. The ones I listed are very undoubtedly picture books, and the picture books section is the appropriate home for them. Unless, of course, you just want to dismiss picture books as dreck, in which case you would miss out on some wonderful stuff by avoiding the section. I’m not saying that picture books are the only thing young kids should read — if you read my other posts above, you’ll see that my kids are reading other great books without pictures. The eldest (10 yo) is currently switching back and forth between Edgar Allen Poe’s works and The Lord of the Rings series, but with quick forays into his little brother’s picture books, daily reading of the comics, and some graphic novels. For summer work he was told to find a poem to read to the class and decided upon Darwin’s Ark by Philip Appleman, which might give an idea as to where his interests lie and as to what I make available to him. The youngest (7 yo) is currently reading The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Chi’s Sweet Home (very easy manga, but cute), the daily comics, and random picture books from his shelves. There is room for both chapter books and picture books, the children get a lot from both, and leisure time is leisure time. I shouldn’t be telling them what books they can’t read unless said books are actually harmful.

    I stood up for my son at five years old when he wanted access to the full contents of the school library, the vast majority of which he was capable of reading at that age. I will also stand up for my children’s right to read picture books and comics when they so desire. They get access to the full spectrum in all its glory. The picture book section and the rest of the library both contain worthwhile literature that can enchant and inform.

    Turn this on its head for a moment: Why do you think we should restrict kids from reading picture books in their leisure time? Isn’t that risk aversion, a fear that somehow they will be harmed by getting to read such a book?

  139. To give an idea as to why I stand up for picture books, let me quote three paragraphs chosen at random from a picture book and a chapter book aimed at the same age bracket. These were pulled off my child’s shelf.

    picture book:
    “When he landed, Crickwing scrambled about in a panic and leaped into a crevice under a stone, where he collapsed in angry tears.

    ‘I’m so tired of having to run, run, run from giant predators!’ he seethed. ‘I hate being so small. And I hate never being able to finish a meal. I’m a mere exoskeleton!’

    Through the long night, Crickwing’s wing throbbed as he waited in his hideout.”

    vs. the chapter book

    “Dogs barked in the distance.

    ‘They’re coming!’ Annie cried.

    ‘In here!’ said Jack. He shoved open a door off the hallway and pulled Annie into a dark room.”

    Now, the chapter book does have its place. Longer books do ultimately allow for more development, and I want my children to get past that point of being intimidated by a page full of words. The picture books aimed at the same age tend to have a much higher vocabulary level, more complex sentence structure, and exposure to deeper themes for the age level. The pictures help give some cues for the vocabulary as well.

    This isn’t really “Everybody Poops” vs. Mark Twain. I think framing it that way is disingenuous.

  140. If reading has to be “work” for children before they even get to school I don’t want any part of it….Reading/looking at beautiful/whimsical pictures should be fun while young…learning is in the fun of life. I buy books (all kinds) at yard sales (can’t beat 25-50 cents!) and also use the library. My son is just 9 months old and I will let him lead the way….I have “read” to him pic books since he was just a wee baby and he enjoys looking and chewing on them now. Reading pic books can be fun for me too as I can add words or change the story….”read” it in German (my native tongue) if I like…I want to instill that reading is part of daily life but I am not imposing my agenda for HIS life. There is definitely a middle road here.

  141. Nicholas – “She won’t become a cheerleader on my watch.”

    And what’s wrong with being a cheerleader? My MALE partner was a cheerleader. It’s every bit as challenging as soccer.

  142. @Anne
    Cheerleading is a beauty contest with athleticism. Soccer is a sport. My daughter has played soccer for three years.

  143. If cheerleading is a beauty contest and soccer is a sport, what is ballet or any other dance form for that matter? And what does all this have to do with picture books?

  144. My partner will be pleased to hear that he’s pretty! Who doesn’t like to be told they are pretty?

  145. @ Kelly
    I responded to a question I was asked, and it is not unknown for discussions to range afield from the main topic. You ask another off-topic question after sneering at my responding to the first one.

    I doubt that the arts community holds cheerleading in the same esteem as ballet and other dance, but you are welcome to enlighten me. Does Lincoln Center feature the national cheerleading championship this year? Has cheerleading produced its own Nureyev. Tharp, or Preobrajenska? (George Bush?)

    @Allison
    I have not been “framing it” as Twain vs. Everybody Poops. I’ve mentioned a variety of other authors favorably, and agreed with the choices of others — say about Little House. So, it is not I who engages in disingenuity.

  146. I’m a school librarian and I’ve noticed my kindergärtner requesting easy reader books over picture books. Usually about half the kids want picture books, the other half want easy readers. They especially like Fly Guy which is a very amusing book series about a pet fly and his owner.

    I would never tell a kid that they can’t check a book out just based on reading ability. Sometimes the teachers make rules since the kids might be using the library book as reading homework. I do tell the kids that if they check out a cookbook they have to cook their parents something out of it.

  147. You must crawl before you can walk. Simple as that.

  148. @ Christy
    Judging by the reading abilities of many incoming college freshmen, their parents have judged crawling sufficient.

    Maybe I’ve missed it, but I think not one other person in this discussion seems concerned that, overall, American kids compare dismally to other developed countries. As I said, even the top 10 percent of American students read badly compared to the top 10 in many other countries. American kids think they are doing well, though, due to the constant stroking of their self-esteem. It’s great for them to have the glee of looking at picture books, but what about the rest of their lives? When do the alarm bells sound about the failure of American reading?

    I’ll quote economist Walter Williams in 2004, though the situation has not improved:

    “Recently released findings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked U.S. high school students 24th out of 29 countries. American 15-year-olds demonstrate less math proficiency than their counterparts in Hungary and the Slovak Republic. With those findings, we shouldn’t be surprised by a recent U.S. Department of Education study finding that nearly half of all college students must take remedial courses in math and reading. According to National Center for Education Statistics, in 2000 close to 80 percent of colleges offered remedial services.”

    A nation of proficient crawlers.

  149. […] ::headdesk::  I weep for what the present is doing to the future. […]

  150. But Nicolas, what proof do you have that picture books cause poor literacy? I don’t think anyone is saying that picture books should be the only thing kids ever read. Picture books are like apples. They are very good things (excluding the rotten/wormy ones), though neither required nor sufficient for long-term health. You seem to equate them to sugar candy. I think you need to give a little more thought to what the real causes of poor literacy in the USA are. If you did some serious research, I would suspect you would find that the use of age-appropriate, high-quality picture books is correlated with higher literacy.

    Oh, and have you ever looked at the books kids read in those countries where literacy tends to be higher? I have studied this in depth so let me help you out. The books for young readers in those countries tend to be very childish, sickly-sweet, and full of pictures. The only thing limited the number of pictures is the cost of production. They believe that pictures draw the kids in and motivate them to read. And we’re not even talking about very artistic pictures. Just anything with line and color, the more silly the better. So put that in your elite pipe and smoke it.

  151. @SKL
    Please point me to the research which shows that “the use of age-appropriate, high-quality picture books is correlated with higher literacy.” If it comes out the Educational Industrial Complex I wouldn’t be surprised, as there is nothing so absurd that it has not found support from the colleges of education and its “research.” I understand that Finnish math is all the rage.

    As I said, I taught my kid to read when she was 4. Then I lured her away from picture books with full-length audiobooks and printed books. (It was immaterial to me if she heard or read them.)

    Now, at no small expense she attends a private school packed with kids from well-off families. She told me today that her classmates are constantly asking her how to spell words, and one of the teacher’s daughters, 9, recently asked her how to spell “school.” We laughed about it.

    Each week I provide the teacher with a list of 15 words for my daughter, 8, to look up for meaning and spelling, and 15 sentences with blanks she must fill with the correct word from the list. Here is this week’s word list:

    1. loquacious
    2. symbol
    3. fitful
    4. opulent
    5. perspicacious
    6. grandiose
    7. socialism
    8. logistics
    9. vigorous
    10. vertebra
    11. integral
    12. expedite
    13. carcass
    14. society
    15. lurid

    If history repeats, she will get zero or one wrong among both words and sentence usage. Whatever she gets is OK with me because the purpose is to familiarize her with the words for when she later encounters them.

    If I had put my daughter in a better-than-average public school she would be given words from the ubiquitous workbooks, just as the rest of her classmates get. And she would be asking how to spell “school.”

    I know what works. I takes no great genius to make it work, but the educational establishment makes darned sure that it doesn’t work. Failure justifies funding.

    Implicit in this discussion is the belief that picture books are more fun than textual books. My daughter would happily correct that misimpression.

    This culture makes kids sexually precocious and intellectually unsophisticated. My objective is to do the opposite.

  152. Well, congratulations. My three-year-old knows half of the words you listed. She can’t quite read them yet (but is reading). And I am in no hurry to get her away from picture books.

    You have one child – a girl, no less. (I am sexist too, you see.) You have been blessed with a child who does not have visual learning issues and is compliant. Again, congratulations. I guess that makes you an expert on all children across the world.

    I’m a little surprised that if your child has been listening to full-length audiobooks and reading “real books” for 4 years, and has attended a fancy private school and gone through whatever else you put her through to make her the perfect child, she hasn’t long since mastered most of the words on your list above. Though I’m not exactly sure why you included the word “lurid.” I suppose you had your reasons.

    And by the way, what does the public school system have to do with the value of picture books?

  153. “Implicit in this discussion is the belief that picture books are more fun than textual books.”

    No, I didn’t read that anywhere. Certain picture books are more ACCESSIBLE for young children than textual books. And many picture books are fun. But I see nobody implying that textual books are less fun.

    The more I think about it, the more I suspect that you never really learned how to read for meaning, Nicolas.

  154. I’m reminded of the Harvard law:

    Under controlled conditions of light, temperature, humidity, and nutrition, the organism will do as it damn well pleases.

  155. How ridiculous! I have a degree in English and consider myself extremely well read. I enjoy picture books myself (eg, Anthony Browne, Shaun Tan, Babette Cole, Maurice Sendak etc). Having children is just an excuse for me to buy more of these books for myself.😉

    In an age where we are bombarded with visual information from the moment we get up in the morning (think breakfast tv, the designs on cereal boxes etc etc), it is really important that kids (and adults) develop skills in visual literacy so they can make sense of all this information.

    Visual literacy is also a necessary part of art appreciation. Are we going to say that art is only for babies now too?

  156. @Nick, you’ve been darn close, since when you talked about the things I listed as being picture books you said they shouldn’t be shelved with the picture books. A few books that “don’t deserve” the horrible fate of being placed with the other picture books simply speaks to your biases.

    Picture books and full-length books simply do different things. Both can be useful and enriching.

    You can stick with denigrating anything you consider to be low culture. That’s your choice. Personally, I made the choice long ago to be open to a variety of experiences, not limiting myself to high culture. I think there’s room for both high and low culture in everyone’s experience. The vast majority of my life experience backs this up.

    As for your other post, let me just say that public schools and their teachers, just like private schools and their teachers, vary rather drastically. My children have had some wonderful opportunities and challenges available to them in public school, and have had some moments where they were really held back from progressing when ready. There’s still some freedom there if you look and push, more than in many private schools.

  157. I would recomend the reading of Scott McLoud’s “Understanding Comics” http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/006097625X?ie=UTF8&tag=sikyden-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=006097625X

    It’s a great book in comic form about the language of comics.

  158. very interesting blog,i enjoyed it so much i have bookmarked it and look forward to your updates..keep up the good work

  159. Where Chapter Books are born:

    http://childwild.com/2010/10/18/rios-first-post/

  160. People, seriously! Reading is not the be-all and the end-all! I know I’m late, but I still have to respond.

    See, as of now I’m 17 years old. My parents started me reading when I was very little (no, I don’t remember specific dates of when I started reading, or when I got weaned off of picture books). I know that I used to love Winnie the Pooh (that’s what my mother tells me), and I also remember loving to read non-fiction books (mostly encyclopediac things, and learning about animals). To this day I read (yes, mostly fantasy, but GOOD fantasy- Watership Down, Ender’s Game, 1984 and Edgar Allen Poe are some of my favorites, for you snobs out there) like most people watch TV. Also note that according to my IQ score, I am technically a genius. I don’t mean to brag, just that whoever reads this keeps this next statement in mind:

    I am not a successful person. I am not a type A overachiever, not a go-getter. I don’t even get straight As! I don’t do as much as I should, and I am most certainly not going to be somebody you want your child to take as a role model. So people, please, stop acting like kids need to have lots and intelligence and read lots to grow into successful adults. It really doesn’t do squat for a kid to be brilliant if they don’t have ambition or common sense or social skills… Those things are by far more important.

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