A picture book is a story book meant primarily for younger kids, in which the illustrations take up as much (if not more) importance than the pictures do. Introducing children to the wonderful world of reading and story-telling, even if they aren’t ready to comprehend letters and words yet, are the primary goals of picture books.
A good number of them line up our bookshelves at home too. There’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle which introduces kids to colors and counting while narrating the story of a fruit-eating caterpillar; then there’s The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton with beautiful drawings and my favorite The Snowman by Raymond Briggs.
A recent study by a group of psychologists from the University of Sussex came to the conclusion that more than one illustration per page in a picture book could result in poorer word learning among preschoolers. Co-author of the study Zoe Flack had this to say: “Luckily, children like hearing stories, and adults like reading them to children. But children who are too young to read themselves don’t know where to look because they are not following the text. This has a dramatic impact on how well they learn words from new stories.”
The study was undertaken on three-year olds divided into two groups. One group was read out stories from books that contained one illustration per page at a time, while another group had illustrations on both pages from the book they were read out from. The former group turned out to eventually learn twice as many words as the latter group did.
I, on the contrary, tend to think otherwise. Say, your child loves playing these dragon games online. That will not mean they are ready to pick up and read Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon from cover to cover, does it? It’ll take time till they reach that stage and picture books pave the way. These story books can be interactive in more ways than one and tend to pique the child’s curiosity in many ways. I remember reading out ‘Begin Smart, Who Am I?’ to my little one a couple of weeks ago. It’s a fascinating mask-cum-picture book with animal faces on each page and holes punched in through the eyes. So we would open it and hold up a page, while my naughty little tyke would try to emit sounds of that particular animal, peek through the pages and ask me, ‘Who am I?’, accompanied by much laughter.
Take another example. Alphabet by Matthew Van Fleet is another brilliantly interactive book. It takes the kids on an exciting wildlife safari as it traverses the alphabet from A to Z. Kids can pull-up tabs, open flaps and even scratch and sniff select pages to get a sensory feel of the story. According to me, these books pave the way for a kid to turn into a better reader in future. One, the pictures help young minds analyze the story being narrated better. Two, kids love drawing, coloring, painting and anything that is vivid or bright and pleases their eyes. Picture books work precisely in that direction. Three, read-alouds are very effective in children learning words more easily as they can comprehend them better when they hear them being spoken out loud. And this is speaking from personal experience. Last but not the least, the ‘fun’ factor is what eventually matters with preschoolers, right?
For those of you who are saying ‘yay’ and nodding their heads vigorously as they read this, here is a list of the Top 100 Picture Books for Kids in the 21st century – take your pick. Picture books or not, my kids will (fingers crossed) turn out to be passionate readers as they grow up. After all, I assume it’s in their genes!