Picture Books No Longer Staple for Children. When I saw this article, my eyes bugged out of my head. I had to look twice. Could it be? On the very day that people were banding together to read the Ezra Jack Keats’s classic The Snowy Day (Amazon Affiliate Link) to break the record for the most people reading the same book in a day, was this article to imply that picture books are at risk of becoming an endangered species?
After reading the article, I am disappointed to report that yes, indeed, this was an article reporting sluggish sales of this beloved genre. Good journalists don’t leave out the why and The Times cited some reasons for the decline: “Parents have begun pressing their kindergarteners and first graders to leave behind the picture book and move to more text heavy chapter books….Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.”
I nearly cried. Picture books a casualty of our test crazed culture? This is a crime against literacy that can only be exonerated through an unyielding crusade to educate the masses of the formidable value of picture books in children’s reading growth and development.
So, as a self-appointed ambassador in this crusade, I want to share the following anecdote.
When my son entered third grade, he was a proficient, but reluctant, Level M reader. As his mom, I felt it was my duty to “challenge” him. For at-home independent reading, I laid out my collection of Magic Tree House books and said, “Pick one.” Dutifully he did and retired to the den to do his “homework” that required him to read for 20 minutes. I peeked in on him as he read and saw that he had sprawled himself out on the floor. He was rolling around and every five minutes or so, he’d yell, “Am I done yet?” He flipped through the pages and counted the chapters and clearly, he was disengaged.
A few days later, he sauntered into my office while I was busy working. I looked up from my desk to see that he had picked up a book. I watched as he flipped through the pages studying the pictures and then…heaven and bliss, he began to read. When it was time for him to go, he walked out of my office with his nose still in the book…reading.
I couldn’t believe it. Two days before I was engaged in the interminable struggle of forcing reading on my son and now he was reading…voluntarily? What had prompted the change?
The book my son chose to read on this occasion was a Berenstain Bears picture book. He loved the brightly colored illustrations and he loved that he could sit down and finish the book in one sitting. When I offered him my entire collection and informed him that it would be just fine for him to read these books for homework, I had an eager reader.
Some parents would argue that I had done a disservice to my son because he was, well, capable of more than babyish picture book reading. You can imagine their surprise when I tell them that The Berenstain Bear book that my son was reading was a level M, the very same level as those Magic Tree House books I was pushing. And what’s more, my son was experiencing success and joy as a reader. THAT’S what makes children into readers. When kids want to read, they read lots. When they read lots, they get better. Chapter books don’t make them better. Reading makes them better.
This week, my question looms large. What will you do to protect picture books from being a victim of standardized testing? How will you spread the word that picture books are important and valuable in the development of strong, eager, and proficient readers?