Why Picture Books Are Important by Samantha Berger

by Dianne on November 10, 2011

Martha Doesn't Share by Samantha Berger

Why Picture Books Are Important
I believe our first stories become part of our DNA forever.

Do you remember discovering something in the details of a picture, that a grown-up hadn’t spotted (like the back and forth winks of the art in Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny)? Do you remember the first time you read your favorite book by yourself (like Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day)? Do you remember squealing with excitement and laughter as you turned, page by page, to a big surprise ending (like the Monster at the End of This Book)? Do you remember leaning on a loved one, and hearing their voice reading you a story (insert memory here)? All these are reasons why picture books are important.

They are our first love with stories, our first joys of sharing stories, our first tools for learning to read, and our first appreciation of humor and comic timing. Picture books like Baby by Fran Manushkin & Illustrated by Ronald Himler, Ira Sleeps Over by Bernard Waber, and Sylvester & The Magic Pebble by William Steig were some of my favorites, and were huge in forming who I am today. These books made me want to tell stories, too, and now that’s exactly what I do, so to me, picture books are extra important!

-Samantha Berger

Samantha Berger

About Samantha Berger
Parents Choice Award-honored author Samantha Berger may not be an otter, a princess or a little monster, but she IS a writer and illustrator who likes to make up stories about all three. Samantha has written over seventy books for children including Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry and Martha Doesn’t Share, and the upcoming CRANKENSTEIN! with Little, Brown. She is super passionate about kids and reading. When she isn’t writing books, Sam is usually writing cartoons, traveling the world, or out playing with her dog, Polly Pocket.

Purchase Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry by Samantha Berger from Better World Books, a Picture Book Month partner. You are “doing good” with every book you buy from Better World Books.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Kundreskas November 10, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I believe Ms. Berger is correct. Great picture books such as hers bring back sensory memories that seem embedded in our brains and bodies. I love her Martha books, as do my children. These books will stay with them forever!

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Michelle DiRienzo November 10, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I cannot help but reminisce about my favorite childhood picture book memories as I read Samantha Berger’s explanation of why these books are so vital to a child’s first memories of literature. My reactions to these books as a child are mirrored in my current students’ faces as I read the Martha books aloud. Thank you, Samantha Berger!

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Zack Kahn November 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Ms. Berger has created vivid, rich characters & stories that I love reading to my nieces as much as they love hearing them.

We like Berger’s work in my family because it’s smart, treats kids with respect, is not condescending, and is always presented in unique and clever ways.

The little ones can’t wait for more!

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Lisa Yao November 10, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Samantha Berger captures the imaginations of kids and adults alike. Picture books tell a story that words simply can’t – the reader doesn’t become a part of the pictures but the pictures definitely become a part of the reader. And that lasts a lifetime.

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Brandon Hoang November 10, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Sam has nailed it. When an author can take something so precious and nostalgic like explaining why picture books are a part of who we are and make you nod in your adult cubicle, it’s a beautiful thing.

Thanks for taking me back, Sam. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to sneak away from this mundane conference call and place an order at my local indie bookstore!

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Arianne Pinchuk November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm

As the mother of a seven year old, I know all about the magic of picture books. From the first reading of “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” to the most recent reading of Ms. Berger’s “Martha Doesn’t Say Sorry,” there is no end to the wonder and awe my daughter has for the amazing stories and fabulous illustrations. These stories are and will remain a part of the fabric of her life for years and years to come.

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Ross Alvord November 10, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Truer words were never spoken.

My family and I are huge fans of Samantha Berger’s work, and fully expect both her current and highly-anticipated future books to fit right into the canon of classics she so lovingly pays homage to here.

Berger forever!!!

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Peter Wunsch November 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm

My Goddaughter cannot do without Martha.

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Manny November 10, 2011 at 3:36 pm

My daughter absolutely loves, LOVES, LOVES MARTHA. There’s a timeless quality to the books and yet they don’t feel dated. With plenty of tiny nods and winks for savvy parents to pick up on that don’t feel forced or intrusive.

Martha lead us to Ms. Berger’s potty books which the kids all love because, well, who doesn’t like Potty humor.

Now where are the stuffed dolls and inevitable cartoon series and line of greeting cards?

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Mo Ah-Sue November 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Martha!

What a beautiful and lovable character by my favorite author, Samantha Berger! So excited to see Ms. Berger honored this Picture Book Month 2011….her books make any child’s universe a better place. Can’t wait for more Martha to come!!

Thank you Samantha Berger!!

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Holly Gregory November 10, 2011 at 3:47 pm

My favorite time with my own toddler is when we read books together. And just as Sam mentions, I love witnessing his discoveries within his books: that Lowly Worm is on EVERY page. That Mo Willems made an ice cream cone into a pigeon on the back cover of “Should I Share My Ice Cream Cone?” Reading is a treasure hunt for him. And it’s treasured time for me with him. Thanks, Sam, for articulating the joy of reading books to a loved one!

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Susan November 10, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Samantha is so right! Picture books are a kid’s entry point into storytelling, art appreciation, learning to read, understanding humor, valuing time together…picture books must be kept alive! There is NO technology that can take the place of picture books. Long may they (and Samantha Berger) reign!

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Geoff November 10, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Ms. Berger’s Martha books remind me of some of my favorite childhood favorites, including the works of Richard Scarry, which is an all-time favorite I share with my nieces, nephews and friends’ children. Samantha’s work has a similar visual flair, sense of whimsy and all-around good time. I love Martha (and so do the kids in my life) !!!!!!!

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Littlest W November 10, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Phenomenal post. Always interesting to think how the digital age will affect how picture books may soon be read (Ack!)

Made me want to take another look at “The Giving Tree.”

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Geoff November 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm

One more note, I have to mention Shel Silverstein as well.

“The Giving Tree” is one of my ALL-TIME favorite books, and it’s message still resonates – more so now than ever.

I find it hard to find more inspiring poetry than the stories told in “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”

Oh gosh, and then there’s Dr. Seuss, but that’s a whole other rave entirely…..

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Deb Bart November 10, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Thank you Ms. Berger for this beautifully written essay that captures the very essence of picture books and the impression they leave on our childhood. I cherished my picture books as a child and still hold many of those books close to my heart. They are like old friends to me. Now that I have a child, I make sure that we read picture books together everyday. My son loves to have Mommy read to him and that time that we spend together is so special. I loved this article!

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Jennifer November 10, 2011 at 4:59 pm

I love what Samantha points out with regards to finding tiny details in pictures. SOOOO true! I still get excited when I discover something that i didn’t notice upon first viewing.
I believe that its the pictures in the books that draw us in and the words that keep us there. I love watching how much my daughter is learning from looking at pictures in books. I also love to see what resonates with her and how she is learning to understand Martha’s facial expressions from looking at the pictures as I read to her.

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P. K. MacCarthy November 10, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Thank you Miss Berger for reminding me that the twenty minutes or so I spend with my son each evening reading (quite often from one of your books) is not simply time spent in the present, but a deposit in the Bank of Memories to be withdrawn many years from now, upon maturation.

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James November 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Samantha Berger’s writing in her Martha series captures the innocence of a child and at the very same time relays important messages that we all can learn from and the two together form books that all kids (and adults) should read!

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Jesse November 10, 2011 at 5:43 pm

What touched me most about Samantha’s essay was the mention of leaning on a loved one while they read a book. This was one of my favorite parts of being read to as a very young child. Sitting on one of my parents laps while they reached around me to hold the book, made me feel like I was hugged into the story.

As an adult, when I read a really wonderful picture book, I am instantly transported back to that very special space. Reading books with a loved one as a young child profoundly effects who we become and how we approach and appreciate books. Thank you Samantha, for continuing to write wonderful books for children. When I have a little one on my lap, more often than not, they are tucked in between me and Martha.

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Susi November 10, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Berger’s post reminded me not only of all the picture books that I loved as a child, but of those that I enjoyed sharing with my children. Now, Berger’s “Martha” books are my fave gifts for my nieces.

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Lauren Lexton November 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm

A picture book was the first thing we shared with our adopted son, just minutes after we met him in China. Just a day later, it was a picture book that made him laugh for the first time. That smile has never faded, nor has his desire to be read to every night. Samantha, thanks for the great essay!

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Samantha Berger November 10, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Thanks so much everyone for sharing your passion for picture books!

You know, a crazy story happened last night, and it very could have been my reason for Why Picture Books Are Important.

It was a chilly evening, so I decided to take a bubble bath.
I went to turn on the water, when I noticed a large spider in the tub.
No, not just a large spider.
A TREMENDOUS, MULTIPLE-EYED, HAIRY, SCARY SPIDER.

The truth was, I had seen the spider throughout the day.
Sure, I tried to ignore it, but I saw it there through the corner of my eye.
On closer inspection, I saw it was suffering.
For some reason, it could not climb out of the bathtub, but it was trying and trying, again and again, each time slipping and stumbling back down the side.
And then slowly recovering and trying again.
And again.

Now I had a few choices:
The first was to turn on that water, and wash the spider down the drain.
Maybe it would “dry out,” I rationalized to myself, “and be okay.”
Maybe it was like the spider in the song:
Down came the rain and washed the spider out, but he was okay after some good old sunshine, and a little Vitamin D, right?

Option two, was try to rescue it.
This involved facing my fear, hoping it didn’t try to leap at me, jump at me, sting me, bite me, leave me with superpowers or just haunt my dreams.

Really, there was only one thing to do.

I got my huge Aquarelle Arches watercolor paper and gently lowered a thick board into the tub. Hesitantly, cautiously, sensing my presence, the spider inched onto the paper. Just at the corner.
We stared at each other.

With heart pounding, and all breath suspended, I lifted the paper-con-spider level into the air, as though holding a catering tray.
In one smooth motion, I raised it out of the tub, and backed up, slowly, slowly, into the other room.
Finally we got to the porch door, and I lowered the paper to the ground, and saw that spider crawl off, dismount, and go on its newfound freedom way.
EX……..HALE.
My pulse raced for hours, and I had the shakes, but that spider got a second chance.

There was one reason, and one reason only that I did this.
It was because of the picture book BE NICE TO SPIDERS by Margaret Bloy Graham.
And THIS is why picture books are important.
Picture books save lives.

-S

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eileen kitzis November 10, 2011 at 11:47 pm

there are a multitude of wonderful otters in the wolrd of child books (& beyond) – all do honor to otter, but samantha’s take
otter-ness to utter-ness in their charming intelligence, not to mention their Martha-message for the young and not so young; a delight to read and re-read says this discerning reader; Bravo + Amen!

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Cathy Lee November 11, 2011 at 10:08 am

Thank you Samantha Berger for writing such amazing books for children everywhere. The world is definitely a much better place thanks to Ms. Berger and her gift for storytelling!!

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Paul Suarez November 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm

I never really thought about the importance of picture books until I started to read to my daughter and she would place the characters in the scene. After that she would start to make her own picture books and since she couldn’t read she would just tell me the story. Every time I asked her what was happening she would change the story because the picture was broad and it could be anything she wanted it to be.
As for my son, he learned to read by using the pictures that told a story and then reading the words. I see now that there are picture books with no words so children can make there own stories and not be guided by limits of someone else’s interpretation.
As for Samantha Berger, she is brilliant! Without realizing who the author of children’s books are, I can say that my children have all her books. We would just go to a bookstore and they somehow gravitated to her books that are so full of emotion and joy. Keep up the fantastic work!

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H. Marbury November 18, 2011 at 2:00 pm

Somehow, a story can unfold from a timid taste, a sudden scent, a glittery glimpse into that hidey hole of interconnected memories that we all share. As a story teller, Samantha has access to these tendrils of tenderness and terrible truths – the source of all great tales. Children recognize TRUTH in her work and respond to it by becoming stronger beings – more self-possessed, generous, and honest. This is the gift she shares with us all.

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Dan Barnett November 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Samantha Berger is right about the impact of picture books on young children. The act of sharing books with my children was always a very special and memorable time. I sincerely hope that today’s young parents realize that sharing a REAL BOOK with a child is a far more significant experience than smart-phoning, Ipoding, Kindling, or the like. I’m not at all surprised that the author of two Martha books made such insightful and perceptive comments.

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GG Ruth November 19, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Even the spider story/sans pictures shows your special talent, Samantha. What a delight it is for this great-grandmother to read, enjoy and share your picture books with others. Congratulations on your honor.

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