Why Picture Books Are Important by Tomie dePaola

by Dianne on November 1, 2013

Tomie dePaola book cover

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.

Tomie dePaola headshot

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.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Janet Smart November 1, 2013 at 6:33 am

I love picture books. I love the sparkle in children’s (and adult) eyes as they have one read to them – or read them as in the case of adults. I think they are pushing children too fast now a days. They need to slow down and enjoy childhood and the picture book!


Ellen Ramsey November 1, 2013 at 6:48 am

A lovely post. And a lovely idea–stillness. Just words and pictures and you. No buttons or bleeps. Fosters focus and imagination.


Joanne Roberts November 1, 2013 at 7:27 am

Thanks for a great post.
I didn’t find Tomie’s source, but I saw a news article on Crystal Bridges museum and its affect on school age children. The recent study definitely supports the case for picture books in the classroom. Here’s the link from Huffington Post and one from NBC.




Eileen November 1, 2013 at 7:47 am

Stillness versus frantic action. Yes!! Thank you for highlighting this very important issue. Your stories and artwork are cherished.


Manju November 1, 2013 at 8:07 am

In our house Tomie dePaola’s books are well represented. My younger son is a perfect example of a child who having been exposed to great works of art in PBs and museums, creates his own. He will be a great artist thanks to artists like Tomie dePaola. Many thanks!


Lynn Anne Carol November 1, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Great Post! Recently I attended the Sheboygan Children’s Book Festival here in Wisconsin. Paul O. Zelinsky was one of the Caldecott winners that were there. When I took the time and truly studied his work in RAPUNZEL I said to myself, “he’s not just an illustrator, he’s an artist.”
Picture books are a gift for children. (and adults)
I remember 25 years back, when our children were little, our neighbor, who was an elementary teacher, commented on how children’s attention spans had become shorter since their exposure to Sesame Street where scenes change every few minutes. She felt that that’s how the children expected every thing to be. Quick, quick, quick.
And by the way . . . I love Tomie. I scarf all his books when I’m out rummaging. I have some pretty beat up books but they have a special place in our home.


Lauri November 1, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I absolutely agree! Picture books are art and they enlighten children and adults alike.


Jenna November 1, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Great post, Mr. Tomie dePaola! And I do believe it is very true that great art makes for a great people and a great society.


WriterSideUp November 2, 2013 at 1:21 am

Tomie, this was beautifully stated and by someone who should certainly know and be taken seriously 🙂 I love the word “stillness” when describing picture books in comparison to “all things electronic” and in motion. I’m not a fan of picture books on e-readers either!

Thanks, Tomie 🙂


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