Why Picture Books Are Important by Peter McCleery

by Dianne on November 21, 2017

Why Picture Books Are Important by Peter McCleery

Confession: I never really cared much about picture books. In fact, I took a 30-year hiatus from reading them. Not to say I had anything against them, they just weren’t something I paid attention to. I was one of those grown-ups without kids who had NO IDEA there were so many fantastic picture books. They weren’t on my radar. Sure, I read them when I as kid. I remember Sendak and Seuss, and I loved Babar books. But then, like so many, at a certain age I stopped. And it wasn’t until I had my own kids and started reading to them did I discover just how amazing they are.

About 7 or 8 years ago, after my first son was born, I went to the library and grabbed some random children’s books to read to him. I assumed they were all going to be cute stories about bunnies and ducks. But in that stack was a fellow I’d never heard of. Goes by the name of Mo Willems. Perhaps you’ve heard of him?


My mind was blown. I rushed back to the library. I then discovered Scieska, Mac Barnett, Adam Rex and many others.

I quickly learned that picture books are as important and engaging and funny and sweet and sad and smart as anything being created in the world. They surprised me in the best possible way.

And that’s why I think picture books are important. Because they are full of surprises and possibilities. Whether it’s a fresh story idea, a new format, innovative art techniques, or inventive language, every time you crack open a picture book you never know what you’re going to get.

Unlike chapter books and novels (even illustrated ones), picture books have more tools at their disposal. More ways to engage. Can’t find the right words for that idea? Fine. Let’s do it visually. Need to control the pacing? Select just the right words. Wanna get meta? Let’s do it.

You can have a picture book with no words. You can have a picture book with no pictures. It can contain an elaborate fairytale or simply an alphabet.
As a reader, how awesome is that?

Every book is a surprise. What will the art be like? Will I like the story?
Every page turn is an adventure. What happens next? What new joke awaits?
You can have pages full of words followed by an entire spread devoted to one glorious image. You can read them to a full assembly of kids or sit quietly by yourself.

That’s the magic of picture books. They are limitless in their ideas and execution and the way they can engage an audience.

Even the books we’ve read a hundred times and know by heart can surprise us. Read a classic to someone who has never seen it before and delight in their reaction. Often, it’s not the reaction you expect. Meanwhile, there are creators in their studios and offices RIGHT NOW coming up with amazing ideas to surprise us.

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to see what they have in store for us. I have a lot of catching up to do.

About Peter McCleery
Peter McCleery is the author of the hilarious Bob and Joss series of children’s books, Bob and Joss Get Lost! and Bob and Joss Take a Hike! (coming in Jan. 2018). He lives with his wife and two children in Portland, Oregon where he occasionally gets lost. His favorite things include kids (and adults) who laugh. He’s also written for Highlights magazine and for grown-ups on the McSweeney’s humor website. You can find him at www.petermccleery.com, on Twitter: @pmccleery and on Facebook: @petermccleeryauthor

“Although fiction, picture books provide fantastical elements, these stories provide wonderful springboards for conversation on facts vs. fiction and can spark the desire for further reserarch.”(from Picture Book Month Teacher’s Guide: Why Picture Books Belong in Our Classrooms by Marcie Colleen, 2013)

Literacy Activity
November 21 – Imagination

Ask students how using one’s imagination can help solve problems. From finding the way when one is lost to innovating a technological gadget, discuss the infinite possibilities that can occur when imagination is applied in big and small ways. Start a Let’s-Find-Out activity by idnetifying modern innovators that changed how we live today.

Suggested reading
Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran
Stephanie’s Ponytail by Robert Munsch
Weslandia by Paul Fleischman
Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg
Sector 7 by David Wiesner

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.

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