There was an article in December, 2012, on the opinion page of The New York Times regarding “What’s ‘Just Right’ for the Young Reader.” Eight professionals discussed this subject, but only Deborah Pope from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation championed the Picture Book. She was the only one to express the concern of “moving children too quickly into chapter books and away from picture books.”
It’s a concern we Picture Books artists and authors should also have. As an artist/author who has spent the bulk of my life doing picture books, I learned a long time ago that for the younger child, pictures are just as important as words in telling the story. The pictures not only illustrate (“make clear using pictures” – Oxford American Dictionary), but illuminate (“to enlighten spiritually or intellectually” – Oxford American Dictionary). Not a bad profession to be in, especially when it is in service to young children.
But, it now seems that we “Picture Book” people are having to defend our profession against the parents and teachers that are “rushing” youngsters into the young adult novel. In fact, a report in The New York Times article in the summer of 2011 declared the picture book “dead.”
Not yet, I hope.
I don’t have enough room here to go on and on about the value of the picture book, so I will throw out two ideas.
The main difference between book illustration and film, TV or electronic media is the frantic pace of the one and the stillness of the other. The importance of stillness versus frantic action is of the utmost in the intellectual and emotional welfare of our young children. We already face the problems of hyperactivity and lack of focus.
Secondly, there is a cultural plus to the “looking” at Picture Books. I read this somewhere and couldn’t find my source:
“If you (or a child) look at a lot of great art (and there is a lot of great art in Picture Books), you begin to recognize great art almost by osmosis. And who knows, you (or a child) may even begin to make great art.” (parentheses mine)
I propose that Picture Books can be great art and great art makes for a great people and a great society. Perhaps this is not necessarily true, but would this attitude be so damaging? I think not.
About Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaola is best known for his books for children. He’s been published for over 40 years and has written and/or illustrated nearly 250 books. Strega Nona Does It Again is his Fall 2013 book. Tomie dePaola and his work have been recognized with the Caldecott Honor and Newbery Honor awards, and the New Hampshire Governor’s Arts Award of Living Treasure. He was the 2011 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award recipient. Visit his website at www.tomie.com and his blog at www.tomiesblog.blogspot.com.