There seems to be such a rush these days for kids to read more, better, faster. Under pressure from parents, teachers and peers, kids as young as first grade have declared picture books to be “for babies” and would much rather be seen checking out early chapter books and graphic novels.
I personally LOVE that there are many (and more coming!) early chapter books that engage young readers at their level, and an increasing influx of illustrated middle-grade novels and graphic novels with compelling plots and amazing storytelling. But at the same time, I can’t stand seeing picture books relegated to preschool classrooms, read-aloud time, and “babies.” Picture books are such an incredible art form – and many are much more complex and intricate than a 4 year old can appreciate. That’s why I encourage kids (and PARENTS, and TEACHERS!) to keep reading, exploring, and celebrating picture books long after kindergarten!
My rising 5th grader is a prolific reader with a love of mythology, fantasy, and historical fiction. She is undaunted by 400 page novels, as long as they promise Pegasi (is that the plural of pegasus?), mystical visions, and evil magi. But she also goes back to our picture book shelves to immerse herself in the gorgeous art and folklore of books such as The Legend of Leelanau (Sleeping Bear Press, 2003) or to roll with laughter at the wordplay and wit of There’s A Party At Mona’s Tonight by Harry Allard and James Marshall.
The language in these books would have been much too difficult for her to read to herself when she was 5 or 6, yet she enjoyed having them read aloud to her. And now that she is capable of managing “bamboozled” without my help, re-reading these gives her both a sense of nostalgia and of accomplishment. Add to that her greater appreciation of dry humor, conflicting emotions, lyrical language, and the power of illustration, and suddenly these books are a whole new experience! And one that fits into her busy summer schedule of irritating her sisters and begging me for ice cream quite easily.
I have brought up the THREE BEARS RULE in previous posts, and I’ll remind you of it now. Kids should always have books available to them that are
— too hard
–and just right.
This lets them practice the literacy skills they have mastered, develop new skill sets, and simply enjoy the experience of reading without challenge – all important parts of growing to love books. Picture books that don’t seem “babyish” help reinforce this for older readers. As a parent or teacher, you can give your older reader this opportunity by
1. Never belittle a reader’s choices. Don’t say “isn’t that book too easy for you?” or “why are you reading a little kids’ book?”
2.Provide opportunities to explore picture books with big kid appeal. At the library or book store, be on the look out for picture books with themes your child enjoys, higher word counts, and more complicated stories. Books of legends and folklore, traditional fairy tales, picture book biographies, history and other nonfiction often fall into these categories. What Do We Do All Day maintains great booklists for folktales from many cultures and countries. Also check out this great Nerdy Book Club post Top 10 Picture Books for the Secondary Classroom.
3. Let big kids read aloud to younger kids: Using their voices in fun ways to make a book more interesting to their audience also makes it more fun for them – and improves their understanding of the text. Read more ideas in my Partner Up post.
4. Check out books that have won prizes for illustration: Your budding artist will appreciate the different styles and techniques more now than (s)he did as a preschooler – and might just be inspired to try some illustrating of his own. (Leaving you with peace and quiet for a few minutes). The American Library Association has a complete list of the Caldecott Winners and honor books from 1938 to present day here.
Thanks for coming by the blog – and I promise some exciting news very soon. In the meantime, please comment below with your thoughts on reading picture books with older kids – do you have favorites? are your kids embarrassed to read PBs? Or do they love them still? Can’t wait to hear from you!