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Everyone should get the picture
Local children's librarian offers timely suggestions

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Date published: 10/18/2010

ARECENTLY published New York Times article, "Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children," is causing an uproar in the children's book world.

According to reporter Julie Bosman, booksellers are selling fewer picture books than ever, and not just because of the economic downturn.

"Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first-graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books," she reports. One bookseller noted that parents are now buying their 4-year-olds "Stuart Little" while classic picture books languish on the shelf.

Some of this could be linked to standardized testing, but it may also be due to the pressure parents feel to accelerate their children's learning at an ever faster rate.

Those of us who love picture books lament this trend. Even if your 4-year-old is enjoying "Stuart Little," what is he missing by jumping to chapter books three or four years ahead of schedule? What great picture books are going unread?

It's easy to underestimate the complexity of a great picture book. The interplay between text and illustration, the visual literacy skills built up through repeated readings, the sequencing, alphabet recognition, expanded vocabulary, and the joy found in great storytelling--I could go on and on, but here are just a few suggestions.

"The Tale of Peter Rabbit" by Beatrix Potter may be more than a century old, but the story of a naughty child/rabbit who gets his comeuppance still resonates with preschoolers. In addition to offering lively illustrations and a compelling story complete with a breathless chase, Potter never writes down to children.

When Peter collapses in tears after Mr. MacGregor almost catches him in the garden, Potter writes that the sparrows "implored him to exert himself." Thanks to the plot and the expressive illustrations, even a preschooler will understand the meaning.

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