Why Picture Books are Important by Tom Lichtenheld

by admin on November 2, 2012

Why Picture Books Are Important by Tom Lichtenheld

Picture books are important because they’re always ready to be your friend. Even when they’re just sitting around, the covers shout out “Hey, gettaloadda me! If you think my cover is interesting, wait till you see what’s inside!” Unlike an electronic screen where things are fleeting and remote, everything about a picture book is right there on the surface, and those surfaces – or pages – are easy to control, even by tiny hands.

Not only are picture books friendly, they’re also patient. They’ll sit on a table or shelf, just waiting for you to come by and – in an idle moment – pick them up to find out what’s inside.  I call this “the unintended read” and I think it’s a powerful phenomenon, based on my own experiences with two of my favorite books.

My parents had lots of books sitting around the house when I was a kid. Most were “grown up” books, but a couple of them – while not children’s books – had lots of pictures, so they caught the attention of my young artist’s eye. One of them was The Lonely Ones, by William Steig. It’s a humble black-and-white chapbook of bizarre ink drawings accompanied by esoteric captions. It’s impossible to explain, so here are a few samples:

The Lonely Ones by William Steig The Lonely Ones
The Lonely Ones The Lonely Ones

 I was fascinated by the odd characters, simple drawings and oblique explanations. Most importantly, it was a work of pure creativity that was legitimized by being published in a Book, so it gave me the message that creativity has real value.

My parents also had a book of Charles Addams cartoons sitting on the coffee table. Being Charles Addams cartoons, lots of them were macabre and creepy, which made them all the more irresistible to me. I’ll never forget being mesmerized by this image in particular:

Charles Addams Cartoon


Although these books weren’t technically children’s picture books, they were books with pictures that told imaginative, irresistible stories that could be visually decoded.  No one read them to me, or told me to read them. They were just sitting around, waiting to share their magic. I now consider them lifelong friends.

About Tom Lichtenheld

Tom Lichtenheld creates books for kids who like to laugh and adults who like to laugh along with them. His books are consistently praised for their expressive characters and rich, sometimes hidden, detail. His favorite review is from a lady who said that a passage in one of his books was so funny it made her squirt iced tea out of her nose. In his spare time he likes to get other peoples’ kids all wound up then send them home to their parents.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura Anne Miller November 2, 2012 at 10:09 am

I’ve always suspected that books were talking to me from the shelf. And it’s always interesting to see what kind of books are speaking in someone else’s house. The more picture books in a house, the more friends, and the more comfortable I feel.


Melissa T. Liban November 2, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Picture books are very important, that’s why I have tons around my house for my boys. They love them and make books of their own. They also love your books Tom. I ran out and got them some after you visited the school I was student teaching at.


Melissa Guion November 3, 2012 at 12:08 am

I love The Lonely Ones. I think the publisher put it out as a favor to Steig, and if that’s true, I’m glad they did.


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