Why Picture Books Are Important by Kelly Bingham

by Dianne on November 4, 2014

Kelly Bingham book cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Kelly Bingham
I am so honored to have been asked to be part of National Picture Book Month. Along with this honor comes the happy task of articulating just why I think picture books are important. I am happy to share my thoughts.

I never fully realized or articulated the importance of picture books until I became a parent. Granted, books played a huge role in my life. I was read to as a child, and often. No doubt my interest in writing, reading, and stories in general, stemmed from being read to as a child. And I am grateful for that. But it was not until I had my own children and began reading to them that I realized how important picture books are to the development of a human being.

When your child is tiny, the very act of reading a picture book together requires being physically close. A picture book shared with your child demands lying in bed side by side, or having your child tucked in your lap, perhaps with a blanket or treasured stuffed animal. There you sit, your arms around your little one, your heads touching, and together, you step into another world. So on one level, picture books are important because they encourage a daily moment of closeness, a time-out from the chaos of being a toddler or a parent. Picture books create opportunities to share the adventure of becoming lost in a story, all while remaining securely snuggled together. I believe this pairing primes a child to forever associate reading with good, positive feelings. And what better way to start a child on a lifelong love of reading, a gift that will remain with them long after you, the parent, are gone?

Secondly, picture books are important because the format allows even the youngest child to participate in ‘reading.’ When my kids were toddlers, our first books were not necessarily about reading the text each time, but more about pointing to the pictures. They might point to illustrations of trains with enormous excitement, for example, and say, “train!” over and over. They would point to fire trucks, bunnies, little boys and girls, shoes, hamsters, cat whiskers, pebbles in a garden, shells on a beach, freckles on a face, or great, tall buildings. My children derived great satisfaction from this process. At the time, I wondered about this. Why did all this pointing and identifying bring them such joy? Perhaps it’s because at such a young age, the world is a magical place, brimming with fascinating things. Seeing those very things captured in a book—a wondrous creation—only validates for the child that yes, these things ARE fascinating. And yes, these things are part of our great, wide, wonderful world, and of course we should take joy in pointing them out and giving them their proper names. After all, trains are amazing creations, as are big buildings and toes and fingers and freckles. Let’s celebrate them!

So on one level, it’s educational for a child to point, identify, and to continually strengthen the connection between a word and an object. But on another level, it’s simply exciting for them to see the pieces of their world translated into the art of an illustration, forever captured on a page—a page you can turn to again and again and, yes, that very same train or dog or cat will still be there, waiting to be seen and absorbed. An illustration can become a constant in a child’s life—an experience waiting to be had at any time, any moment, and that experience is exciting, yet steadfast and predictable—all things that my children craved at a very young age. Picture books fill a need.

That brings to me to the third reason I think picture books are so important. Picture books teach us – young and old alike – lessons about ourselves, our world, our feelings, our realities. A picture book may be the very first time a child encounters a story that he can relate to. It may be the first time your child realizes, “wait – I’m not the only one who feels that way?” The story may about a child who fears monsters under the bed, or who dreads the first day of school, who has a terrible day, or who takes pride in some new shoes. The story might be about a character who loves to swim, who dreams of being an astronaut, who hides his peas underneath his mashed potatoes, or is convinced the family dog leads a double life. Whatever the case may be, stories can give children a great sense of validation, of comfort. When you’re only three or four, and the world is a huge place full of mysterious things out of your control, stories are priceless. They are comforting arms, reaching out to give a hug and say, “You are not alone.” This may be the first time your child realizes that even though there are many people in the world, we are all more alike than we are different, and that we share many fears, dreams, and fantastical thoughts.

We also generally have our first experiences with heroes through picture books. Have you ever read The Story of Ferdinand, Harry The Dirty Dog, or Katy and The Big Snow to a child who sits spellbound, transfixed by the unfolding drama on the page? We can face problems and solve them with courage, stories teach us. We have within us the power to stay true to ourselves, to conquer obstacles and know happiness at the other side of adversity. What better message to deliver to a child, who is a sponge waiting to soak up whatever we care to share with them?

Aside from heroes, our children learn about adventure, daring deeds, great jokes, and hilarious escapades from picture books. They also learn about the beauty of language – rollicking, rhythmic, poetic, snappy, soothing, infinite language. Our favorites, many years ago? Goodnight, Gorilla. Harold and The Purple Crayon. Hand, Hand, Finger, Thumb. One Duck Stuck. The Man Who Walked Between Towers. I Stink! And of course, Go, Dog, Go!

Over the years and due to many moves, I have had to trim down my book collection. But never once would I consider discarding the favorite picture books of my children’s youth. These books are friends. I might go so far as to call them family members. They heralded bedtime, comforted on sick days, soothed and entertained and taught my children multitudes of lessons, night after night. Within their worn pages, they hold the memories of hundreds of hours worth of cuddles, questions, excited finger-pointing, exclamations of delight or lingering awe over a particularly special illustration. And always, these books won the coveted prize of the “Read it Again?” award.

Those books remain with us always. My guess is that you have a few favorites too. Take a minute today to think about why, and to look those books over once again. We owe them a debt, as we do the writers, artists, and editors and publishers who have put them into our homes and hands. So while I am thrilled to be part of National Picture Book month, I find myself asking: Why not celebrate books every day?

Let’s start today. Find a book, a child, a comfortable chair, and let the magic unfold.

Kelly Bingham

Kelly Bingham

About Kelly Bingham
Kelly Bingham began her career as a storyboard artist and director for Walt Disney Feature Animation. She worked on The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Tarzan, Atlantis, The Emperor’s New Groove, and many other films. She retired from animation and now writes full time. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her books include Z is for Moose, Circle, Square, Moose, and the poetry novels Shark Girl and Formerly Shark Girl. She lives in Georgia with her husband and children.

Picture Book Month Daily Theme: Zoo

Curriculum Connections

Just like Moose in Circle, Square, Moose, your students can take a “Shape Up” Field Trip!

In 4 teams: Circles, Squares, Triangles, and Rectangles, lead the class on a field trip to the library, playground, or through the school hallways.

Each team must look for their assigned shape in various objects seen on the trip. If possible, each team should be given a digital camera to record their findings. As they find an object, take or draw a picture of it.

Another student should take notes and jot down what object they found and where they found it.
Every student in the group should have the opportunity to take/draw at least one picture and to take at least one set of notes.

At the end of the field trip, students should return back to the classroom and try to draw or create a photo collage of all of the items that their team found for display in the classroom.

Correlates to the Common Core Writing standards: W.K.7,8; W.1.7,8; W.2.7,8; Speaking and Listening standards SL.K.5, SL.1.5; Math standards: K.G.1, K.G.2

TECH TIME: For further technological experience, teams can use the computer and a scanner to create a multimedia presentation of their findings to present to the class.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Doris Stone November 4, 2014 at 7:55 am

I’m a mom, nana, former preschool teacher and writer. This post touched every part of my book-loving-heart. Thank you, Kelly for doing a fantastic job of explaining why picture books are so important.

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Susan Detwiler November 4, 2014 at 10:13 am

I love this! A very inspirational post… thanks Kelly!

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Kelly Ramsdell Fineman November 4, 2014 at 12:06 pm

So many take-aways from this post. Thanks, Kelly!

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Kelly Ramsdell Fineman November 4, 2014 at 12:08 pm

So many great take-aways from this post. Thanks, Kelly!

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Kelly Bingham November 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm

Thank you for letting me be part of National Picture Book Month! It’s an honor to be able to share my thoughts on picture books with all of you.

Kelly Bingham

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Elizabeth Rose Stanton November 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

I so enjoyed these “pb pearls” from you, Kelly! Thank you 🙂

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Marty McCormick November 6, 2014 at 11:04 am

Beautifully put, Kelly. In total agreement 🙂

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Marty McCormick November 6, 2014 at 11:06 am

Beautifully put, Kelly. Couldn’t agree more 🙂

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:Donna November 12, 2014 at 10:28 pm

Kelly, you covered pretty much every aspect of this and I couldn’t agree more 🙂 Thank you!

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