Picture Books

Picture books – who needs them?

Babies need picture books. I recently watched a little boy, not much more than a year old, sitting in his buggy on the bus, poring over the pages of a board book edition of ‘Each, peach, pear,plum’. Pre-schoolers make a beeline for the picture book boxes in our local library. But do picture books take a back seat when reading scheme books become the major reading currency in many Infant classrooms? (In my experience, children can learn to read from picture books alone, given the necessary support.) And do picture books continue to be promoted all the way up the Primary School, or are they progressively disregarded and

not seen as the complex literary genre which they certainly are?

What’s the big deal?

Picture books are surely for all ages.They can be a powerful way into important issues. They can illustrate a society’s values (and sometimes subvert them, as in’ Willy the Wimp’, for  example).Some can be read on different levels and have layers of meaning (Where the Wild Things Are). A key picture book can be instrumental in helping a child to read, which happened in my experience with a dyslexic boy, whose first real access to a text came when he encountered ‘Going West’, by Martin Waddell. In this book, which has deeply significant meanings, words and pictures work  so well together that he simply understood how the text was going to go and was word-perfect at his first reading. He read it every day for a week.

Reading a good picture book can be a very satisfying literary experience. You as reader have to learn to decode visual images as well as written text, and do plenty of gap-filling. And of course, looking at pictures is a pleasant activity in itself, and so is handling an art object, as so many picture books are!

Quick guide on how to identify the best

  • Good title and cover illustration.
  • High quality illustrations throughout.
  • Pictures don’t echo the text, but combine with the words to create meaning.
  • Pictures invite visual decoding to tell the story.
  • Book can be ‘read’ before written text is really mastered.
  • Pictures carry meaning & information not necessarily explicit in the text.
  • Language works on different levels. May offer a sub-text.
  • Can be interpreted in different ways.
  • Have something to say, and the power to entertain.

Here are some books which show many of these features and can be enjoyed by varying ages (3-99+).

  • John Brown, Rose & The Midnight Cat – Jenny Wagner, Ron Brooks
  • Leon & Bob – Simon James
  • Time To Get Out Of The Bath, Shirley – John Burningham
  • Don’t Forget The Bacon – Pat Hutchins
  • Farmer Duck – Martin Waddell, Helen Oxenbury
  • This Is Not My Hat – Jon Klassen
  • Home – Alex T Smith

We give you the titles only here. This is because we’d like you to identify the important features they have from the list above. Please note that just because these are picture books they are by no means always an easy read – they are hugely rich and multifaceted though. For more recommended titles please visit here.

Tired of Biff & Chip? Picture books can do the work better!

Why is this a good idea?

  • Good picture books are intrinsically more interesting and appealing.
  • These book will become important, well-loved and returned to. They will be enjoyed as literature.
  • Picture books create life-long lovers of books. Reading schemes don’t.
  • They offer the best possibility for a children to make meaning (the primary drive in learning to read!)
  • They allow children to behave as real readers, not just decoders of print.
  • You will enjoy them too.