Why Picture Books Are Important by Marla Frazee

by Dianne on November 20, 2014

Marla Frazee cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Marla Frazee
I’ve happily devoted my life to making picture books. But as the years go by and the books I’ve made pile up, I have a harder and harder time defining just what it is that makes them so intriguing to me. Picture books provide so much more than we could reasonably expect of them. The ingredients are simple: words and pictures and page turns. Stir in the magic of a story read aloud, a lap to sit on, a story circle to be part of, a nap time, a private space –– and a picture book can be a force that shapes us, changes us, and never quite releases its grip on our heart.

We remember the picture books we ourselves grew up with a fierce love and attachment. In my role as a teacher, I have listened to many grownups describe their favorite picture book from their own childhood. It becomes immediately apparent, as they share their personal experience with a particular book, that they are also sharing a very deep and true part of themselves.

Most importantly, when it comes to picture books, there is mutuality. They serve the one who is reading as much as the one who is being read to. I just visited my college-aged son up in Berkeley. We were eating ice cream and wandering around Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore on College Ave. I was carrying Inga Moore’s A HOUSE IN THE WOODS to the cashier when my son saw it and asked me to read it to him. “Here?” I said. “Yes.” So we sat in these wee little chairs in the children’s section and I read it aloud to him.

It was magical. The book. The shared moment. The seared memory. That’s why picture books are important.

Marla Frazee

Marla Frazee

About Marla Frazee
Marla Frazee was awarded a Caldecott Honor for All the World and A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever. She is the author-illustrator of The Farmer and the Clown, The Boss Baby, Roller Coaster, Walk On!, Santa Claus the World’s Number One Toy Expert, and Boot & Shoe, as well as the illustrator of The Seven Silly Eaters, Stars, God Got a Dog by Cynthia Rylant, and the NYT bestselling Clementine series and many others. Marla teaches at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, has three grown sons, and works in a small backyard cabin under an avocado tree.

Picture Book Month Daily Theme: Babies

Curriculum Connections

Marla Frazee says the ingredients of a picture book are simple: words and pictures and page turns. Look closely at The Farmer and The Clown. Although there are no words, there certainly are a lot of quality ingredients.

Pretend you have a large story pot. As a group, create a list ingredients that make The Farmer and The Clown such a great book. Children should put those ingredients into the large story pot.

Next, read The Farmer and The Clown aloud. What is added to the pot during the read aloud to make the book experience extra magical? Add those ingredients.

Wrap up by having children share one word about story time and add it to the pot for a future read aloud.

Correlates to the Common Core Reading Literature standards: RL.K.1,3,7,10; RL.1.1,3,7; RL.2.1,3,7

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Joanne Roberts November 20, 2014 at 8:21 am

Your picture books are certainly magical. Maybe you can’t define it, but you continue to produce that elusive something. Thank-you for consistently creating books which grip our hearts.


Melissa Iwai November 20, 2014 at 10:18 am

I love your picture books, Marla! Your children’s book illustration class at Art Center changed my life — quite literally! Thank you so much for all the inspiration and your beautiful work! 🙂


Susan Detwiler November 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

Marla, this is a lovely post. I am a huge fan of your work, which continues to be an inspiration for my own.


:Donna November 23, 2014 at 12:54 am

Marla, this is one of the most beautiful explanations I’ve heard on the value of picture books. I’m not surprised! YOUR work holds great value! 🙂 Hearing that your son asked you to read that book to him not only speaks loudly of the power of picture books, but of the strength of his character. That’s how I see it, anyway. And I love that I see the influence of Robert McCloskey in your work 🙂


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