When I write What We’re Reading This Week posts, I typically talk about chapter books I’m reading to M and picture books I’m reading to C. I realized I may be giving the false impression that I rarely read picture books to M now that we are engrossed in the world of chapter books. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Much of our picture book reading typically happens with both girls and in those posts I have focused on the reading we do individually before bedtime.
Some parents encourage a steady diet of chapter books, ridding their homes and library bags of picture books as they children age, dismissing them as the reading material of babes, but I believe that one is never too old for picture books. I squealed with glee the other day when I realized the UPS man had just left a package on my porch which contained two newly released picture books I’d ordered. I was as eager to read them as both my days-from-turning-6yo and my 2.5yo.
M loves the complex stories of chapter books and the worlds she can immerse herself in with them, and I think that reading longer stories helps to further attention span and comprehension, but I never refuse to read chapter books instead or alongside chapter books. When we’re at the library, M still selects picture books for herself and I select ones I think she will like. I can’t imagine ever deciding the girls are too grown up for picture books. If I’m not too grown up to enjoy them, why would they be. On occasion, M will assert that a particular story is “for Claires” (in other words for babies) and head off to play, but often she comes creeping back, peeking over my shoulder to see the book, eager to hear the story after all.
Picture books create and sustain family memories. I can hardly imagine our holiday celebrations without our beloved picture books, many of which we pack away with Halloween or Christmas or Easter decorations and pull out each year. We marvel at these treasures that put us in the proper seasonal spirit and remind us of holiday celebrations in the past. In the last few weeks, we’ve had a blast reading our Halloween books, adding to our collection, and reminiscing about C’s love of Five Little Pumpkins the year she was an infant.
Picture books provide an opportunity to learn more about art and how feelings and stories can be conveyed through pictures. Inspired by the art discussion questions and activities in Five In A Row, M and I have begun discussing the art medium chosen by the illustrators and other details of the art in most picture books we read. We’ve also done many art projects inspired by the books we’ve read.
While the art alone gives picture books merit for older kids, I believe the characters, stories, and the enticing presenation of facts in non-fiction picture books can broaden the world of children of any age. M is not always interested in listening to long passages of non-fiction text, but at any time, she’s happy to pick up a non-fiction picture book, examine the pictures, and read or listen to the captions. She and I (and C too) have learned a wealth of facts about dinosaurs and sea creatures in the last few months from these picture book gems.
When I taught world history to twelfth graders, I began the year by reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka as a lead-in to our discussion on historical perspective. Every year the students got excited at the prospect of being read too. Their memories of having picture books read to them were often their fondest memories of their school years. They always asked for more picture books, and when I could, I indulged them.
I’m in good company in advocating for picture books remaining a part of every family’s or class’s read aloud repetorie. Jim Trelese, author The Read Aloud Handbook, says “A story is a story whether it has pictures or not.” He recommends that “a picture book should be somewhere on the reading list of every class at every grade level.”
In Picture Perfect Childhood, one of my favorite resources for picture book suggestions, Cay Gibson says, “Picture books, like small children, aren’t given enough credit.” She admits to loving picture books herself and sharing them with her teenage children.
MotherReader, the author of one of my favorite kidlit blogs, champions the use of picutre books into the teen years even when the children try to dismiss them as baby books.
So if you’ve stopped reading picture books with your older children, I encourage you to pull them back out or venture back into the children’s section of the library and see what you’ve been missing.
Some more picture book resources: