In "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children," an article in today's New York Times, a few bookpublishers, writers, and parents observe that there's a trend to leave behind picture books for the "challenge" of chapter books. Is this a good trend? I'm not so sure.
Picture books often are more engaging and interesting than some of the chapter books that may appear more "grown up" to adults and the kids whom they are encouraging to read. I think this observation is correct:
“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.”
Picture books involve children's and adults' imagination, enable everyone to develop storytelling skills, and enhance visual literacy. I think that developing visual literacy and understanding children's visual culture is so important that I'm teaching a graduate course on that this semester.
I do think that publishers are making a mistake of publishing many picture books in hard cover with a high price tag. The marketing format of Golden Books -- good books at low price points that are sold at the checkout counter or other easy to find places -- should be followed again today. Too often big stores, such as Target and Wal-Mart, sell primarily TV and movie tie-ins or extremely popular books. Children's book publishers should be more aggressive in promoting inexpensive, high-quality picture books in paperback to these types of stores. Scholastic does this in schools, but many pre-schools don't have the Scholastic connections. Grandparents and aunts and uncles also usually don't get the Scholastic fliers. Scholastic, of course, has its own consumeristic tendencies, but at least it always sells a few books that are priced at $5 or less.
The tendency for parents to think that chapter books are better than picture books suggests, perhaps, that parents aren't reading all of the popular chapter books, either. Instead of reading another Magic Tree House book, parents, teachers, and librarians should make the effort to get elementary school kids to read engaging non-fiction picture books -- such as The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins by Barbara Kerley and drawings by Brian Selznick, The Boy Who Invented TV: The Story of Philo Farnsworth by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Greg Couch, or books by the incredibly imaginative Peter Sis, such as The Three Golden Keys and The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain. Or here's a good link from a recent School Library Journal article on "Inventions: Waiting for Eureka" that mentions several similar type books including The Day-Glo Brothers: The True Story of Bob and Joe Switzer’s Bright Ideas and Brand-New Colors by Chris Barton illustrated by Tony Persiani, which was a fun read, and Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully.
It's curious that at the same time that there's an interest by male readers 18-34 in graphic novels and comics, the adults that are guiding the youngest readers are insisting that books that comprise mainly of text are the way to go. But readers of graphic novels and comics are clearly sensitive to price points, as yesterday's report at New York's Comic-Con on these readers has noted. It's curious that just a 20 cent change in price point causes a significant decrese in purchases: "The complaint of high prices was discussed as well, along with the statistics that the average cover price of a comic book in the second quarter of 2010 is now $3.53, up from $3.38 in 2009." Maybe the picture book publishers should take heed and publish more paper backs at more reasonable prices.
Because, like it or not, we live in a culture that's as much visual driven as word driven. Kids instinctively know that. To take away their ability to learn through picture books that combine visuals and words for chapter books seems counter-intuitive by adults.