The Power of the Picture Book

Thursday, 16 April 2015

When it comes to juvenile literacy, one of the best ways we can enhance the learning of struggling readers is through visual literacy. Not only do pictures enhance and aid text comprehension, they bring pleasure--and we really do need to create a reading culture for kids that focuses first on pleasure, secondly on skill. If kids can fall in love with books and story first and foremost, they are far more willing to spend the time and effort on achieving reading skills.

Picture books are not really for children aged 3 to 8 and they're not really for children struggling to read. They’re for everyone. Adults love them as much as 6-year-olds, and if an 11-year-old tells you they’re for babies, you can bet said 11-year-old is sneaking picture book peeks under the bed covers at night or in a secret corner of the library.

Picture books are a fine way to encourage reading for pleasure that leads to imperceptible literacy skills and creative development for ALL ages. And I’ll tell you why.

  • They can be read at different levels and reader interpretation occurs at different levels, with varying connection to nuance and subtlety. ALL ages can enjoy them. 
  • They're highly interpretative and interactive, which is priceless for developing the imagination and lateral thinking.
  • There is a natural cohesive between and image in picture books, which develops nuance and visual literacy. When we use visual literacy--our predominant literacy sense, we use engage and develop larger areas of the brain (a whopping 30% of the cortex is used on vision, with touch at just 8% and hearing at a mere 3%).
  • Picture books have a natural rhythmic text even when they don't rhyme. Rhythm is a vital component when it comes to literacy.
  • The visual clues contained in image develop word comprehension.
  • Most picture books (perhaps other than concept books, but even then ...) invariably contain some kind of humour, emotion or satire--all natural pleasure components.
  • Picture books are naturally rich in evocative language. During the editing process, the text is drastically edited (in the best books) and each and every word earns its place. The resultant text is saturated with meaning, is clear, and therefore perfect for both comprehension and vocabulary.
  • The prime time for language acquisition is between the ages 2 and 7, so the age range for the traditional picture book market is poised for language development.
  • The turning of pages elicits cause and effect, and engages children in the concept of suspense, which is wonderful for both sensory and tactile pleasure. The physical sensory pleasure of books cannot be underestimated. Page turning as well as extended sensory stimulation such as pop-ups, lift-the-flaps, audio, textures, movement, and the use of varying or blended art media—are all glorious ways to parallel books and story with pleasure. 
  • Picture books increase attention span in children, and prep them for chapter books.
  • They're great for quickly identifying and relating to characters just like themselves. readers. 'Meeting' these characters in books developing self-awareness in the child, and helps them understand where they fit in the world.
  • Picture books help children understand artistic form, and appreciate art and its hidden messages.
  • They are stimulating for the eyes and brain of the very young.
  • They are sensational for sharing and relationship development—and not just in babies or children, in everyone.
  • They are perfect tools for visual literacy. See my post on visual literacy, here.
  • And, of course, they bring immense pleasure.

When it comes to children, we need to make reading a joy not a chore. When we can align books with love, pleasure, happiness, excitement, laughter--we create a deep love of books and story that hones literacy skill by association.

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