Picture books are so important because they can play with the rules of traditional reading and change the role of the reader.
As a child, my family kept a steady stream of picture books coming through our house and I gobbled them up. Because I was exposed to so many picture books, I knew what to expect from them and they felt safe and cozy. I knew the rules of picture books; they had words and pictures, were about other people or animals, and had the same basic construction.
But what happened when my “rules” of picture books were broken? Well, at first it wasn’t pretty. Three books in particular were game-changers for me.
The Grey Lady and the Strawberry Snatcher by Molly Bang (1980 version) was my first wordless picture book.
My initial reaction: There are no words; therefore this is NOT a picture book!
I had an incredibly hard time accepting this book without text. I resented it, and thought it was just a bunch of pictures parading as a book. But the illustrations were so captivating and haunting that I couldn’t put it down. Eventually, I started narrating my own stories based on the illustrations. I became the author, and that was a very powerful feeling.
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smolin was the first book I experienced where the narrator addressed me, the reader directly.
My initial reaction: Grover says not to turn the page, so I wont!
It took me a long time to read this book because by turning the pages, I was NOT following directions and this was upsetting. When I finally turned the last page, I was thrilled to discover that the monster was loveable, furry old Grover. Because Grover addressed me, I became one of the main characters in the story and for the first time, I realized that I played a central role in reading.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle was the first picture book I read with a wholly unique construction.
My initial reaction: Oh, no! There are holes in this book! It’s broken!
I treasured my picture books and was taught to be very careful with them. When I was told that the holes and the varying page sizes in the book were like that on purpose I was horrified. Why would someone hurt a book like this? But after a few readings, I was surprised to find that I couldn’t imagine the story any other way. I even (gasp!) poked my fingers through the holes, and pressed the pages up to my eyes to peer through them. The use of die-cuts allowed me to physically interact with the picture book in a whole new way.
Inventive picture books are filled with surprises. Beautiful Oops!, Press Here, and Flora and the Flamingo push the boundaries of format, design and construction. Picture books are so very important because they broaden what books can do, and redefine the role of the reader. These are just some of the reasons why I’ll never stop reading, writing, and full-out loving picture books.
About Jesse Klausmeier
Jesse Klausmeier was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. The daughter of two teachers, Jesse has been reading and writing stories for as long as she can remember. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Jesse worked at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, and most recently was an assistant editor at Penguin’s Dial Books for Young Readers. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin where you’ll find her reading, writing and eating many, many (too many!) cheese curds.