Picture books have been in danger of going the way of the dinosaurs, due to declining sales in recent years according to an article by Julie Bosman of the New York Times. Every book publisher, as well as bookseller, is acutely aware of this fact. Sadly, this trend has come about because more and more parents of children, aged four through seven, have nudged their kids out of picture books, and into books that primarily contain text. Could this be a product of the increased emphasis on standardized testing in our public schools today? Or perhaps there’s a mindset that picture books contain inferior vocabulary, with less complex subject matter.
The idea that picture books are only for toddlers is being blown away today by solid research and the advent of what are being called “sophisticated picture books.” Sophisticated picture books are defined by the New Zealand School Libraries as, “books that are multi-layered or complex. They have a variety of embedded messages appealing to a range of ages. They can be read and enjoyed on many levels.” Although many of these picture books are perfect as read-alouds for families with young children, teachers are using sophisticated picture books as an exhilarating introduction to new topics of study in elementary, middle, and even secondary classrooms. Research by Tardieu has shown that when books are re-read, as picture books often are, comprehension and memory increases. Furthermore, a study published in Reading Psychology states that, “pictures lure children to read and interact with the text and provide mental images, allowing them to understand the written text more easily and remember it longer.”
In today’s multi-media environment, it’s easy to see why students would have a natural gravitation towards a picture book format. So the next time your elementary school-aged child or grandchild is drawn to a challenging picture book with rich vocabulary at a bookstore, hold your head up high, knowing that he or she has made a sophisticated choice in reading material.