Let your kids look at picture books! Stop pushing chapter books so early!

Picture books, long a staple of children’s literature, are in decline due to parents pushing children to read chapter books instead of picture books!

Scholastic says they have published 5 to 10 percent few hardcover picture books over the last three years. Simon & Schuster picture books are down 35 percent from a few years ago, according to The New York Times.

And while the economic downturn is partially to blame, parents are pushing their kindergartners and first graders to move on to text-heavy chapter books and leave their picture books for the babies.

From The New York Times:

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books….”

“Literacy experts are quick to say that picture books are not for dummies. Publishers praise the picture book for the particular way it can develop a child’s critical thinking skills….”

“Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.”

“ ‘Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,’ said Kris Vreeland, a book buyer for Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., where sales of picture books have been down. ‘The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.’ ”

This trend really aggravates me because there are stages to learning to read and write and one of the stages is looking at the pictures and children interpreting them for themselves!

Kids love to study the drawings for details. They like to figure out what is going on. Observe the action. Create their own story about what they are seeing.

Pictures help them figure out order of action. They help develop a narrative. They help them learn to include details in their own stories.

Some of our favorite books have little to no words.

Tomie dePaola’s “Pancakes for Breakfast” is a family favorite about an old woman who has to gather the milk, eggs and churn butter just to make her pancakes. The kids love telling the story of what all the woman has to do and how she is feeling and how her pets feel when they eat all her batter.

“Eloise Takes a Bawth” is another book the kids will still study for hours. They follow the trails of water leaking through the Plaza hotels floors from Eloise’s tub. They study Eloise’s toys in the bathtub. They thoroughly examine all the guests’ costumes at the big Venetian ball at the end of the story.

I have owned Richard Scarry’s  “Cars and Trucks and Things that Go” since I was a child. The poor book is so tired from two generations of children flipping through it searching for Golden Bug. We talk about all the different cars (the banana car, the pickle car), all the animals, and the locations. (I love the big car wreck at the end with ketchup and oranges everywhere.)

We love to talk about what we see on each page. What is happening in the scene. How the people look. How are they feeling. That is very worthwhile time to spend with your kids.

Parents need to know that at a lot of schools kindergartners, first graders and even second graders are limited in the books they can check out at the school library. Often at the beginning of the year, they aren’t allowed to check out chapter books because the schools know there is something for children to learn by looking at books.

I was told when I was the News for Kids editor at the AJC that it is important for children to read some books on level, some above and some below. So even if your child is ready for chapter books, picture books are not going to hurt them and it may help them enjoy books so they want to read more.

There is plenty of time for children to read chapter books. Let their imaginations run wild with picture books!

27 comments Add your comment

Yeah, Photius...

October 8th, 2010
2:23 pm

…way to promote a “better” Fun Friday topic…

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October 8th, 2010
3:17 pm

Picture books are great and should certainly be used. “Where the Wild Things Are” and all the Dr. Seuss books. As long as they are reading and want to pick up the book, use all tools at your disposal.


October 8th, 2010
3:35 pm

The pictures in picture books are often excellent art pieces. Spending time looking at those can be used to help develop an appreciation for art later in life.

My kids (6, 10, 14) still enjoy reading picture books. They are often much more rich in vocabulary than chapter books. The sentence structure is more varied and the rhythmic nature of the text helps make the words and their meanings stick better.

I love David Wiesner’s books (”Tuesday” and ‘Sector 7″ are both great). “Tikki-Tikki-Tembo” by Mosel is a perennial favorite around our house. Graeme Base’s “Animalia” is a book you can get lost in for a long time as you try to discover everything he has included on each letter page. “The book of Shadowboxes” by Seeley is another great alphabet picture book.


October 8th, 2010
3:37 pm

That’s a shame. Even advanced child readers need big pictures and big, bold words to help them along and get them interested and confident about chapter books in the future. I was an early reader, and some of my fondest memories of childhood books were great picture books. I’m doing my part to prop up the picture book economy! My boys have lots of them, and I have to exercise some control when in a bookstore. I also like to teach them the joys of the library, but kids have their whole lives to read chapter books, so why rush something so enjoyable? I relish reading picture books to my kids at bedtime and looking at the pictures -it opens up even more avenues of conversation.

Monday's topic will be a "Fun Friday"...

October 8th, 2010
3:41 pm

…topic – the Dook grad who emailed her sexploitations to her friends, who emailed to their friends, and so on, and so on, until it ended up on the TODAY show…and the trials and tribulations of putting things on the internet for all to eventually see. TWG is very predictable…

Old School

October 8th, 2010
4:01 pm

Our daughters loved the nursery rhyme books illustrated by Wallace Tripp. “Grandfa Grigg Had A Pig” and “Marguerite, Go Was Your Feet” were both favorites. It was the intricate illustrations that fascinated both girls at an early age and continued to delight them all through school. Most of the nursery rhymes were a little odd which made the books fun to read. The pictures were full of little treasures, puns, jokes, and clever treats that kept us all looking for more. I’ve managed to acquire additional copies of these soft bound treasures and I know my grandkids will probably love them as much as their moms do.

Pop-up books like “Bruce’s Loose Tooth” were also fun reads and I still grin when remembering the stories the girls made up from their picture books when they took a turn “reading.”


October 8th, 2010
4:20 pm

Adults can be so stupid. These are kids, not science experiments! Let them read whatever they want (within reason, of course), just so long as they’re reading.

[...] Let your kids look at picture books! Stop pushing chapter books so early! This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Canadian Dyslexia Resources [...]


October 8th, 2010
4:55 pm

My brother had a hardboard book on trains. My 8yo daughter must have read that every night. Right now we have a deal. I read chapter books at night and she reads me a picture book during the day. Her second grade class is learning how an author uses words to paint a picture for the reader. She is very excited about it.

Currently it is Percy Jackson and the Sea Monsters. She is loving it! However she is just as likely to read Bread and Jam for Francis or another picture book.

Shoot Percy is well below my reading level and I am enjoying it! Same with Potter and Twilight…(all of which I have read).

The point is that even if you do push them toward a chapter book, that doesn’t mean you have to give up all the picture books.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

October 8th, 2010
5:08 pm

Just picked up the percy jackson movie at the library for tonight. walsh is very excited.


October 8th, 2010
5:23 pm

Kids I know are generally anxious to “graduate” to chapter books. Even the MR kids, who can hardly read a lick, want to check out the biggest books they possibly can. We let kids check out one book that they just want to “read”, and one that has to be on their demonstrated reading level (a la AR).

My son, who is very bright, made his biggest jump in general reading skill the summer after kindergarten when he read every Garfield and Charlie Brown anthology there was. He asked me a number of good questions based on some of the vocabulary. He loved reading about maritime disasters/marine archaeology, wars, pestilence, air disasters, the Bermuda Triangle, and places with great names like Death Valley. He also read and memorized about every book available about automobiles, including engine specifications. Ya never know!


October 8th, 2010
6:37 pm

All I read to my kids at school are picture books (except for a chapter book that we take about a month to get through). There are so many things you can teach a child using a chapter book! Parents need to stop pushing their kids as hard as possible in order to make themselves look good. Just because you want to tell a friend at the park how smart your little angel is, doesn’t mean you should push them into something they aren’t ready for.

This sums it up perfectly:


October 8th, 2010
8:03 pm

Oh my! There is SO much good literature out there in “picture book” form. Please parents, don’t skip this important step in helping your child appreciate reading for the enjoyment of the story and the pictures. Some of the best books I shared with my third graders were “picture books” but I also read some great chapter books to them as well. When in doubt, check out the Caldecott Medal winners. Some of my favorite authors are Chris Van Allsburg, Bill Martin, Jr, Barbara Cooney, Gloria Houston, Cynthia Rylant, Charles Perrault (does a beautiful job with traditional fairy tales), Steven Kellogg…I could go on and on! Don’t be in such a hurry for “chapter books”…some of them for early readers are really not very good stories, and as someone pointed out, vocabulary growth can be accomplished with read-aloud from picture books.


October 8th, 2010
8:05 pm

Another recent series for young adult that I enjoyed…”The Hunger Games”. Not for young kids…I would think possibly mature fifth graders, definitely middle school and up.


October 8th, 2010
8:52 pm

My fifth graders still enjoy it when I read a picture book to them. The whole “your baby can read” thing just irritates me. Really? Who really cares that their baby can read? Except for the extremely gifted children and the exceptionally low children, by 5th or 6th grade they are within 1 or 2 reading levels of each other anyway. And when was the last time you were engaged in adult conversation and managed to somehow interject your reading level, at a certain age, into the conversation? I think the parents who like to brag about how early their child reads need some serious one on one time with a counselor. Sometimes when they read way above their age, it’s hard to find chapter books with appropriate content. For heaven’s sake, let them be children for awhile and enjoy the picture books. It’s not all about the “calling of the words” on a page. Sometimes it’s about the author’s purpose, the reader’s interpretation and the sheer enjoyment of the illustrations. So many different mediums are used in so many different picture books. I can’t imagine depriving a child of many years of picture book exploration.


October 8th, 2010
9:53 pm

The media specialist at the elementary school I work tells all students that after they’ve reached their AR goal (because it’s all about the points and prizes, and not content, you know), their next goal is to read all the “everybody” (picture) books in the media center. She reminds them that they are not baby books, they are great books with pictures and they want to make sure to read as many as possible before moving on the middle school where that opportunity is mostly gone.

Sk8ing Momma

October 8th, 2010
10:47 pm

What a sad commentary! Quality picture books are rich in many ways and MUCH can be learned. (The key is selecting titles rich in language, themes and art.) A good book is a good book. I collect children’s literature. At last count, I own over 1,000 titles and have checked out many more from the library…I *know* children’s literature. I *highly* encourage parents to check out Five In A Row at http://www.fiveinarow.com. It is a literature-based curriculum for children ages 4-12.

Five In A Row is an approach that will forever change your approach to picture books and teaching your children. Even if you do not homeschool your children it is ideal for any parent who regularly reads to her children. Five In A Row helps parents incorporate geography, language arts (literary devices, vocabulary etc.), art, applied math, science and social studies lessons from picture books. Lessons can be as simple as discussions.

Don’t give up on picture books!


October 8th, 2010
10:48 pm

@Lovepicturebooks…that’s an awesome idea from your media specialist!! I love it!

[...] And, thank goodness, not all Americans have jumped on this bandwagon. At least one writer, for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says: “Let your kids look at picture books! Stop pushing chapter books so early!” [...]

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October 9th, 2010
10:04 am

Anybody who has ever read Chris Van Allsburg or Eve Bunting knows that while they write picture books, they certainly don’t write for preschoolers. Their books have some very deep themes that only fourth or fifth graders (or above) will be able to appreciate. If you don’t believe me, read The Sweetest Fig by Van Allsburg or Smoky Nights by Bunting. Definitely NOT for kindergarteners.


October 9th, 2010
3:28 pm

@Irish…I can’t believe I left Even Bunting off my list!! I always read several of her books too!!


October 9th, 2010
3:29 pm

OOps! I mean “Eve”

Read Aloud Dad

October 9th, 2010
7:05 pm

This is indeed disappointing news.

For the past 18 months I have been reading aloud the best children’s books I could find to my kids and we have had the time of our lives. They are now three and a half years old.

We are sharing our personal book reviews and read aloud experiences and tips on how to buy good read aloud books for children with other families on our blog.

Check out the best read aloud books (all purchased directly by me) at:

Read Aloud … Dad http://readalouddad.blogspot.com

Rachael Joachim

October 12th, 2010
1:08 pm

Wow, this is scary, I agree that kids should be left to be just kids. I used to teach music in the elementary music classroom, and I’d have 3rd graders glued to me while I’d read them books with big pictures in them before we added instruments, etc. I think pictures bring the story to life for kids, and why stop that as they get older?