By Geo Ong
The New York Times recently published an article titled ‘Picture Books No Longer a Staple for Children’, where the article’s author Julie Bosman explores the recent decline in popularity of children’s picture books.
Though there may be many different reasons for this change, a big reason according to Bosman’s article is that parents are pushing chapter books on their children at early ages – some as early as four.
That’s great! Our country’s children are such advanced readers! But wait a second. I don’t think it’s that simple. It never is.
Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.
Dara La Porte of Washington, D. C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore adds: ‘It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling – that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.’
Am I the only one who finds this competition amongst parents through their children rather horrifying? Not to mention, in this case of pushing chapter books on their young ones, dangerously risky and possibly inclined to backfire?
I’m no child development expert (nor do I want to be), but I feel fairly confident that skipping picture books disables children from learning how to visualise a story. This is a skill that readers learn at an early age and continue to do their entire lives. Karen Lotz of Candlewick Press adds: ‘To some degree, picture books force an analog way of thinking. From picture to picture, as the reader interacts with the book, their imagination is filling in the missing themes.’
Additionally, as Bosman points out, ‘Many parents overlook the fact that chapter books, even though they have more text, full paragraphs and fewer pictures, are not necessarily more complex.’ Give me Munro Leaf’s Noodle over Flower Fairies, even over Twilight… hell, even over Mitch Albom, Nicholas Sparks, and Jodi Picoult any day.
Most importantly, pushing chapter books on children too soon can effectively turn them off reading for good. Just as I feel forcing high schoolers to read Shakespeare is a bad idea (university level, people!), children who don’t naturally progress from picture books to chapter books may translate reading into working – more specifically, working that isn’t much fun – and from an early age reading will never be fun. Slippery slope? Perhaps, but if you’re a parent, tell me if tiptoeing along the precipice of your child’s future is worth such a detrimental risk!
Who’s in a hurry to get ahead, you or your child? You. Who’s the one reading? Your child. Who’s the one learning? Hopefully, both.