Picture Book Month was founded by author and storyteller Dianne de Las Casas and her children’s book author/illustrator colleagues. The 2017 celebration is particularly heart-felt since this is the first year of the annual event since Dianne passed away in a tragic house fire.
Picture Book Month is on a mission: “In this digital age where people are predicting the coming death of print books, picture books (the print kind) need love. And the world needs picture books. There’s nothing like the physical page turn of a beautifully crafted picture book” (http://picturebookmonth.com).
Every day in November, the Picture Book Month Web site offers a new post from a picturebook champion explaining why he/she thinks picturebooks are important. School and public librarians will want to tap into this resource, think about their own picturebook selection practices, and consider how the information on the site can serve the literacy needs of children (and teens), families, and educators.
“Picture books are books in which both words and illustrations are essential to the story’s meaning… In a true picture book, the illustrations are integral to the reader’s experience of the book and the story would be diminished or confusing without the illustrations” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 50).
My article “The Mighty Picturebook: Providing a Plethora of Possibilities” appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Children and Libraries, the journal of the Association for Library Services to Children. The photograph above was published on the cover. As can happen, my article was shortened to fit into a tight space. These are the main subheadings in that article and some of the information that ended up on the cutting room floor.
Young Audiences for Picturebooks
The photograph above shows a 12-year-old sister reading to her 5-year-old brother on the eve of his first day of public school kindergarten. Ready and Waiting for You was expressly created for this very purpose—for more proficient readers to engage emerging readers in conversations about what they will experience when they begin formal schooling. Engaging in dialogic reading with a trusted reader builds literacy skills and in this case, can build excitement and help ease the fears of young children. Children who are new to school or transferring to a new school can ask and get their questions answered by a trusted older reader.
Ready and Waiting for You also aligns with kindergarten curriculum that focuses on learning about the community of school. Adult readers might notice this book emphases the need for a “village” to educate a child: a classroom teacher, principal, office staff, nurse, librarian, computer tech, art, music and P.E. teachers, custodian, and parent volunteers, too. (Does your child’s school include all of these essential staff members who help educate “the whole child”? If not, why not?)
Word Count and Book Length
Word count and book length should not be the primary criteria for book selection. Many of today’s picturebooks offer fewer words. Are some stories constrained by lower word counts or the typical 32-page limit? It is important for anyone who shares picturebooks with young children to realize their “willingness to listen to stories grows with experience, which may result in a younger child who has been read to regularly having a much longer attention span than an older child with no story experience” (Short, Lynch-Brown, and Tomlinson 51).
“The ability to make meaning from images is an essential twenty-first century skill. Visual images dominate access to ideas and information via the screens that are all-pervasive in daily life” (Moreillon 2017, 18). Studying the illustration media and techniques used by picturebook illustrators can give youth a greater appreciation for the sophistication of this artform. Picturebook illustrations can inspire students to illustrate their own texts and give budding artists ideas for a possible career in illustration or graphic design.
Reading Comprehension and Inquiry Learning
Picturebooks can serve as mentor texts for reading comprehension strategy instruction. While word count is not the sole criterion for an appropriate mentor text, picturebooks that offer complete story arcs with developed characters and compelling themes tend to contain a thousand or more words. There are many examples in my professional book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Elementary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (Moreillon 2013).
Using Picturebooks with Older Readers
In addition to elementary school use, picturebooks are also used in middle and high school classrooms and libraries to teach comprehension strategies and literary devices. For example, picture books by Australian author-illustrator Shaun Tan provide opportunities for educators to model drawing inferences and for students to engage in rich discussions and infer themes for Tan’s sophisticated work. One such book is The Rabbits written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan. This sophisticated picturebook addresses the historical fact that some people have used technological advances to invade, dominate, and oppress indigenous people. This text clearly portrays the power of an analogy to communicate deep meaning. Although categorized as picturebooks, Tan’s work is not intended for a young child audience.
Making Meaning as Discovery
“Picturebooks offer exceptional opportunities for literacy learning and teaching as well as pleasure reading in preK-12 schools and libraries. When authors and illustrators create and publishers publish picture books with complete story arcs, compelling themes, intriguing illustrations, and rich information, parents and families, school and public librarians, classroom teachers and reading specialists can use these authentic texts in a plethora of ways” (Moreillon 2017, 19).
Check out the Picture Book Month calendar to see which authors and illustrators are participating this year. The Web site includes links to author and illustrator pages and provides resources and activities for students, educators, and families.
Celebrate the beauty and power of this artform to shape family literacy practices, to offer children mirrors and windows on the world, and bring delight to those who read or listen to the mighty picturebook.
Moreillon, Judi. “The Mighty Picturebook: A Plethora of Possibilities.” Children and Libraries, vol. 15, issue 3, 17-19.
Moreillon, Judi. Ready and Waiting for You. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2013.
Short, Kathy G., Carol Lynch-Brown, and Carl M. Tomlinson. Essentials of Children’s Literature. 8th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014.
Image Credit: From Judi Moreillon’s Personal Collection – Used with Permission