Why Picture Books Are Important by Kathryn Otoshi

by Dianne on November 13, 2015

Kathryn Otoshi book cover

Why Picture Books Are Important by Kathryn Otoshi
Here within the protective, nurturing folds of a children’s picture book, our youngest member of the human race can ask questions about the challenges of life. Through our story’s characters – a tattered stuffed bear who is afraid of the dark; a tin soldier who has lost his way; or an outcast giant who finds acceptance through a little girl – our children learn about fear, separation, and exclusion, as well as courage, love and hope.

Picture books are not only for our youngest readers. Teachers, parents, counselors, educators and organizations use them to engage, inspire, and motivate their audiences. We utilize story and metaphor to help explain big issues, like bullying, self-esteem, blended families, sibling rivalry and empathy. Stories allow us to experience different perspectives, outcomes, problems and unexpected solutions.

Regular story readings help us bond with our children. We, as adults, can immediately capture our youngster’s rapt attention by holding up a picture book in the air and calling out, “Storytime!” From our comfortable armchair we can quietly initiate our questions, while remaining the objective Reader of the Book.

Questions like, “Why do you think that little boy got so mad?” “Do you think that girl made the right choice by telling her friend’s secret?” “What would you do if this happened to you?” can inspire a flood of questions from kids, just from a single reading. Thus the teachable moment happens not just during the reading of the book when our little ones’ energy are first captured, but the story’s higher level message is absorbed in our children’s hearts and minds over time.

Picture books are often built in ‘layers’ and work metaphorically so they cross over all grade levels and genres. While our kindergartner can listen and react with a bit of sadness to a story about a bird outcast from its flock, college students can parallel the concept to bigger issues of prejudice, exclusion and discuss how we view each other’s differences. We use metaphors in stories to help us understand ourselves and each other—they help us make sense of the world we live in.

As an author and illustrator who often does school visits, I’ve seen the power of the picture books in action, where the student’s creative enthusiasm goes beyond the format of a picture book – and transforms into inspired skits, art projects, sculptures, murals, ballets, light shows and movies. Sometimes, dare I say it– the collective energy and love for a story’s message is so strong, the excitement turns into a movement that can impact a single student or even raise the social emotional climate of the entire school.

This path of reading and appreciating story as a child continues on throughout our lives. As we grow older and take on more challenges in life, we find that the basic human themes presented in the picture books that we read back in our formative years, are often the same reoccurring issues we still experience as adults, however layered and complex they appear to be. Yet, somehow we can stand tall and feel just a bit more armed and ready for whatever new emotional climb we have in store for us, because long ago we witnessed the smallest train struggle to climb an insurmountable hill, and through strength, courage and determination– we saw this little engine succeed.

I think, the real reason we applauded after a picture book was read to us, was not just because we enjoyed the story, but because even back then we inherently knew that picture books were teaching us something of value…something human, and authentic and completely of essence.

Kathryn Otoshi headshot

About Kathryn Otoshi
Kathryn Otoshi is a multi-award winning author/illustrator and national/international speaker best known for her character-building book series, Zero, One, and Two. She goes to schools across the country to encourage kids to develop strong character assets, and helps teachers find customized, creative methods to engage and connect with their students through art, reading and the power of literature. Her newest book, Beautiful Hands, co-authored with Bret Baumgarten, is a call-to-action book reminding kids to use their hands to do something positive and inspirational for each other and our communities.

Literacy Activity
Nov 13 ~ Numbers

Picture books aid students in visualizing mathematics within a narrative context. (from the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Book Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).
Did you ever think of a number as being an important part of a story? Take the three little pigs, as an example. How would the story be different if there were six pigs? Or only two? Or what if Snow White stumbled upon a house of twenty dwarves? Change up the numbers in your favorite stories and see how it all adds up to creative writing fun!

Suggested reading:
Two by Kathryn Otoshi
If: A Mind-Bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers by David J. Smith, illustrated by Steve Adams
365 Penguins by Jean-Luc Fromental, illustrated by Joelle Jolivet
How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti, illustrated by Yancy Labat
Infinity and Me by Kate Hosford
How Much is a Million? by David M. Schwartz

Be sure to download the Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms for more engaging ideas and activities to bring picture books into the ELA, Math, Science, and Social Studies curriculum!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

:Donna November 15, 2015 at 11:27 pm

Kathryn, I think you’ve been able to encapsulate all the very poignant reasons why picture books are so important. Beautiful! Thank you 🙂

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