Picture Books

We’ve been exploring picture books with Caldicott award winning illustrations over the past few weeks. From the ALA website: “The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” It’s been fun to read the books and discuss how the illustrations help enhance the author’s words.

Picture books provide an important role in language development. Children of all ages benefit from the reading of picture books. Since picture books are shorter, authors have to choose their words carefully.

Here are some excerpts from the blog of Terry Pierce, Children’s Author (October 2010) regarding the importance of picture books:

LANGUAGE: Young children (ages two to seven) are a peak age for learning language. Dr. Jane Healy (Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think and What We Can Do About It) note that the young child’s brain is ravenous for language stimulation.

Because the average picture book only has about 500 words, an author must craft each and every word, sentence and paragraph with care. Editor Anne Hoppe once said of picture books: “The writer distills; the illustrator expands.” Picture book writers must distill language to its very essence. This is why the text in a picture book is often rich, evocative, and engaging. Hearing this type of language will enrich a child’s language development.

BRAIN DEVELOPMENT: Dr. Healy (Your Child’s Growing Mind) also explains that during early childhood, the brain buzzes with extra neurological connections that are trying to establish patterns, cause and effect, and sequences. Picture books, with their verbal and visual nature, offer this to a child’s growing mind. For example, in Bill Martin Jr.’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? a child hears the verbal clue of a rhyming word and sees the visual clue of the upcoming animal to be named on the next page. This type of pattern and sequencing helps to build the neurological pathways in a child’s brain. This kind of patterning within a verbal/visual format is unique to pictures.

PHYSICAL PARTICIPATION: Another unique aspect of picture books is the child’s physical participation in the story via the page turn. The words and illustration allow the child to experience what is happening on any particular page; however, advancing the story – physically turning the page – requires action on his part. This type of participation sets up an interactive experience between the child and the story. This participation also keeps the child engaged and helps establish cause-and-effect brain pathways, as mentioned above.

ATTENTION SPAN: Because of their unique structure, picture books can help a child increase his attention span, going beyond an interesting story (which is common to all genres). How many picture books have you seen with a refrain that keeps a child listening – eagerly anticipating his moment to chime in? Children will sit on the edges of their seats (or knees) awaiting their moment to be an active part of the story. Have you ever seen a group of children listening to Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems?

The TVA library has a large collection of picture books. Parents are always welcome to come to the library and check out books to read and share with your children. We hope to see you soon!