Why Picture Books Are Important by Ashley Wolff

by Dianne on November 2, 2016


Why Picture Books Are Important by Ashley Wolff
Once upon a time I was a good little girl and picture books helped me express my inner, rather blood thirsty heroine.

Whenever I hear an editor or art director caution “ You can’t say/show this or that—that’ll give children the wrong idea. They’ll want to try it themselves,” my favorite childhood book: The Story of Ophelia, by Mary Gibbons and illustrated by Evaline Ness, comes to mind.

As a child I identified completely with Ophelia: a skinny, rebellious little lamb, with six, fat, goody-two-shoes lamb siblings and a wise, tolerant sheep of a mother.

When cautioned not to, Ophelia disobeys, enters the dark woods, is chased by the hungry fox, and with the help of the friends she made outside of the sheep paddock, escapes the fox. He is killed by a big bird right there on the page—a thing that never happens anymore in picture books. And surprise-she is not scolded for being naughty. Instead, she is rewarded with 4 new, red socks and a reputation as a fox killer!

Adults devour thrillers and adventure stories, and, if I was typical, so do little children. I craved that large, heroic, adventurous life that was nothing like my own, and, at various ages, I found it in stories as varied as Blueberries for Sal, Puss in Boots, and The Little Red Lighthouse and the Big Gray Bridge.

Picture books give young children a safe taste of other worlds: travel to distant lands, peeks into the past, or future, and the satisfaction being able to find their heroic self in a book. Through Ophelia, a human/animal character, or as I call her a ‘humanal,” I had a vicarious adventure that was far more exciting and life-threatening than anything I’d ever experienced.


About Ashley Wolff
Ashley Wolff has been a visual artist since she declared herself one at the age of 5. She grew up in Middlebury, Vermont and holds a BFA from Rhode Island School of Design.

Ashley is the author and/or illustrator of over 60 children’s picture books including Baby Bear Sees Blue, Baby Beluga by Raffi, Stella and Roy Go Camping, Who Took the Cookies from the Cookie Jar? by Philemon Sturges and Bonnie Lass, When Lucy Goes Out Walking, I Call My Grandma Nana, Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals and the beloved Miss Bindergarten Series by Joseph Slate Her books have won numerous state and national awards.

She enjoys working in a variety of media and is eager to share what she has discovered from 30 years of playing with color and light.

For 30 years one of Ashley’s favorite pastimes has been traveling to schools all over the US, speaking to children about writing, drawing and using their imaginations to help them find their own paths to the future.

Every summer Ashley teaches writing and introduction to media in the Children’s Picture Book Writing & Illustration MFA and certificate programs at Hollins University.

She lives and works beside a lake in Leicester, Vermont.

Literacy Activity
November 2 – School

“Picture books prompt a variety of creative writing assignments”. (from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013).

Reread sections of the book aloud. Ask students to listen carefully for new words. Tell them to raise their hands when they hear new words. Write each word on an index card. Put them all in a word chart. Talk about the words list in the coming days: how it is used in daily language; its meaning in context; and the meaning of it taken from the dictionary.

Suggested reading:

You’re Finally Hereby Melanie Watt
If You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
A Place Called Kindergarten by Jessica Harper, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!by Nancy Carlson

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

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