Sunday, October 10, 2010

Are Picture Books Doomed?

Remember picture books?  I am willing to bet that most avid readers can still recall images from some of the picture books they had when they were first learning to read.  If not, older readers can certainly remember some of the picture books they used to get their own children, or perhaps their grandchildren, interested in reading.

Now, according to this New York Time's article, those old fashioned picture books are considered passé by modern parents who want to move their children into "chapter books" as soon as possible.  Some of the parents described in the article seem almost embarrassed to have their four-year-old seen reading a picture book when all his friends have moved on to those picture-less chapter books.
Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.


“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”
[...]
Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills.


“To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking,” said Karen Lotz, the publisher of Candlewick Press in Somerville, Mass. “From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.”


Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.
[...]
Still, many publishers have gradually reduced the number of picture books they produce for a market that had seen a glut of them, and in an age when very young children, like everyone else, have more options, a lot of them digital, to fill their entertainment hours.
Do read the whole article for a more complete feel for how this trend is impacting parents and their children.  I am no reading expert, and do not claim to be one, but the idea that picture books are being yanked from the hands of struggling young readers before they are ready to move on to something more difficult seems completely wrongheaded to me.  Child readers, especially those to whom reading does not come easily, need to feel good about their reading experiences.  If they are to become lifelong readers they need to gain some pleasure from the experience, not see reading as a chore or challenge that has to be overcome.

The problem, in my opinion, is overreaching parents, those who realize they cannot have a redo of their own lives and opt for the next best thing: pushing their children harder than they were pushed at the same age.  Picture books seem to be a critical part of the reading experience.  I suspect that children know when it is time to move from picture books to chapter books - even if their parents do not quite get it anymore.

18 comments:

  1. Amanda at The Zen Leaf was quoted in the article, but her comment was meant in jest and was taken totally out of context. Just a fyi in case you haven't heard. :)

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  2. This is a crying shame! Picture books serve more than just a first step in the reading process. Picture books stimulate the imagination and help children to learn to visualize what they are reading. Without the ability to see the story in one's mind's eye, even the most exciting or interesting story will become drab and boring!

    I think this has an impact on many other aspects of our lives as well. If we can learn to visualize our problems it can help us to work out a solution that much faster.

    I think one of the biggest problems in society today is the mentality that our children need to grow up as fast as possible. We rob our children of the fun and innocence that they should experience as they grow up. Too often our kids are pushed to do more, be more, set higher goals, and in general strive for perfection in everything.

    I like my kids to do their best but they are kids and they need to develop at a natural pace. When they do grow up, I want them to look back on their childhood with fondness for the happy times and good memories. Instead, many of tomorrow's adults will remember their formative years as they would a military school, constantly being driven to higher and higher standards.

    I wish we could recapture the old ways from 50 or more years ago when children learned the basics and how to be good upstanding citizens but also were allowed to just be kids!

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  3. Interesting article. Thanks for pointing it out to me. I had thought picture books would be one thing e-readers would never be able to kill off.

    It does seem like the pressure to score high and get into Harvard will end up turning reading into a chore. Few pictures books in the lower grades and fewer chapter books in the high schools.

    The high schools out here are treding away from longer reading towards shorter non-fiction articles which are more "workplace relevent." That's what will be on the big test, short readings and questions about them.

    Whether for good or for ill, No Child Left Behind is going to have a big impact on American culture for many years to come.

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  4. SFP, I went back and read her quote and it's really hard to tell that she may have been speaking in jest or that she has been taken out of context. What were her intentions when she made the statement? The article successfully paints her as one of those overambitious parents who are driving the death of picture books. Thanks for the info; I hadn't heard that about her quote.

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  5. The saddest thing about all of these changes, Book Nut, is that they don't seem to be doing any measurable good. Drop-out rates are higher than ever, universities are little more than remedial high schools for freshmen classes, and the U.S. has to rely on imported scientists and other professionals to maintain its position in the world.

    I agree with you that some parents are simply pushing their children so hard and so fast that they are doing damage that will catch up with us in another generation. My daughter is a reading specialist and she understands that motivation is the key to turning children into lifetime readers; they will read if they enjoy it and will not read if they do not.

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  6. C.B., it really is ironic to me that picture books are dying a slow death at the same time that ebooks are becoming more and more the norm - and that the two trends are not related.

    It's all about standardized state testing these days, isn't it? "Teaching the test" is a sad consequence of No Child Left Behind. It must be difficult to be a caring teacher these days...it's all about students passing those tests so that teachers can keep their jobs (at least that's the way it is in Texas). It is so bad here that numerous teachers and administrators have been caught manipulating the test scores to save themselves and their annual bonuses.

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  7. Here's a link to her blog where she discusses her sons' reading and her interview with the reporter. There's quite a bit of discussion down in the comments as well.

    http://zenleaf.amandagignac.com/2010/10/when-quotes-are-taken-out-of-context.html

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  8. I still like picture books. Some of them are really clever and cute! We used to read them to each other on really slow days at work - some are great! And the artwork can be really impressive (Caldecott Award winners for instance).

    And it's really sad that parents aren't letting kids read them. If that's the level their reading better to let them enjoy it than frustrate them with something too complicated.

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  9. Thanks, for the link, SFP. I think there's a lesson there for all of us...not that we should be surprised by anything the mainstream media does.

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  10. Annie, for borderline readers it's all about enthusiasm and motivation. That's why I don't get too upset when I see kids reading Twilight and fart books. Whatever it takes to get them going...

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  11. I really hate these parents! I'll never forget some of the long and lovely discussions my son and I had that grew out of looking at picture books together. Connections of all kinds were made during that time.

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  12. I'd really take that article with a grain of salt. If you read what Amanda wrote at the Zen Leaf (link already provided by someone else) it appears she was really misquoted. I'm dismayed to think that some parents push their kids to read beyond what they're ready for, but as for me I don't see picture books dying out anytime soon. They're still the biggest section of juvenile fiction at our library. My daughter is six, starting to read on her own, and she still loves picture books. Sometimes she wants me to read beginner chapter books to her, and I'm fine with that. Other times she wants to get toddler board books so she can try and read them herself, and that's okay with me too. In the middle are lots of picture books with varying degrees of difficulty (reading-wise) and I don't love them all but I don't want to dampen her enthusiasm so I let her pick what she likes. Sorry for the long comment; I just don't see how any parent who would want their kids to love reading would push them away from picture books (some of which have quite sophisticated language, by the way).

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  13. I have two daughters and both of them just love picture books. I just don't find anything wrong with letting your children read these. Even when my elder daughter is growing out of these now she still likes reading them if only for the kicks!!

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  14. Just kill me now. :<( Ugh. You don't suppose it is that parents don't want to 'waste' their time reading to kids, do you? O, cynical me. The very best memory of my kids being little is snuggling together reading and looking at the pictures in picture books.
    I found you from a comment you left at Jenclair's blog.

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  15. Bybee, I agree. Picture books are about more than reading...they are about learning to use your imagination. Kids are fascinated by them and I think that most parents would enjoy them if they bothered to experience them with their children. Great memories are made that way.

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  16. Jeane, the article might very well have taken a grain of truth and blown it up into a "trend" just for the article. You never know, these days. I don't trust newspapers anymore, especially the NYTimes and a few others of the same slant, but the article does bring to mind a certain type of parent that has been out there for years. We all have seen them pushing their children beyond their natural capacity to the point of burn out, be it in education, sports, music, etc. It's a shame so many parents can't just let their children be children.

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  17. Wajiha, sounds like you have to great daughters who are going to grow into lifetime readers. Congratulations.

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  18. Nan, I'm sure there's a lot of truth in what you say. Parents are so pressed for time nowadays that they don't want to be "bored" when dealing with their young children. Picture books bore them; they are ready to move on so their children can read on their on...no parenting time required from them.

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