My little Cedar was home sick today. That nasty cold that everyone has, has hit us twice now. I didn't feel all too hot myself and so the boy enjoyed his share of netflixed TV shows today, (and I am a big believer of TV viewing when spunky wee kids are sick). Along with that however, he enjoyed something that is a little more subtle, a little more calm, and a lot more of "the right thing" for parents who are even slightly educated. Picture Books.
Cedar is 5 and cannot read on his own yet, but he LOVES to read. He sits and sucks his fingers and studies the pictures over and over of the Berenstain Bears and their life lessons, or pours over the planetary photos in the science books, and now he begins to sound out a few words here or there in his favorite books. He asks me to read the same handful of best books over and over, and because I usually like them too, I do.
If you have kids, or were one yourself once, (or are reading this post) you probably don't need me to explain all the benefits and wonders of the Picture Book. I personally have about 5 large shelves full of Picture books in my house, which is saying quite a lot considering the small size of the rest of the house. I imagine you do too. But just for fun, here is a brief outline of my understanding of what these precious gems are.
Picture books are the first books that children will be exposed to before they can read. Picture books are the books that you cuddle up in bed with your toddler and read endlessly until they fall asleep. Picture books can create a love of visual and literal art. Picture books do not come with a screen, yet they are colorful, often funny or informative, and insightful. Picture books are the books that excite 5 and 6 year olds to want to know what the words say so they can read them all by themselves. Picture books define a single moment in time and a reality about the world in a way that little kids can understand. To me, they are essential to a child's maturing into being a thoughtful creative well-read person.
And yet, for some reason, publishers are buying and making fewer and fewer Picture books each year. Some say Picture books are dead. Others say the format is too simple, and anyone could write that. Parents are passing up purchasing Picture books because they are felt to be too immature for their oh-so-advanced kids, or too expensive for what you get. As a writer, the odds are seemingly incredibly slim that you might even get your Picture book manuscript read by someone who might even begin to care.
It is a strange paradox, not too unlike the societal structure that praises mothers up and down and left and right for being the most important influence on the children, and then cuts them out of societal and workplace benefits, community help, or cultural understanding. (But that's a post for a difference day.) How can Picture books be so positive for kids, great for familial bonding, and at the same time noone wants them anymore?
I recently read this article that gives some insight into the issue. In short it says that it's completely understandable that people don't want the current market's Picture Books, there is nothing to them! A few hundred words leading to a joke at the end. Who wants to spend their money on that?
I couldn't agree more. In this age where images are flitting past the TV screen for less than 5 seconds, where spongebob can addle your child's brain, and technology is moving so fast that not even facebook can keep up with it, people, some people, my people want to slow down. This enterprise called America is beautiful in many ways, but it is also leading us down a murky and misguided path when it comes to technology. I think we might be letting current technology dictate what books should be, and tell us what our kids need! Kids do not NEED an ipod, but they do desperately NEED stories.
I would venture to say that books for kids don't have to be shorter or less complex to become classics that sell big and stand the test of time. If anything, books have to be MORE complex and deep, because kids these days (well, probably all days) long for things that are more complex to compel them!
They (we all) are bombarded constantly with information, with stimulation, with images and brands and ads. You do have to catch their attention, or the attention of the parents doing the buying, but once the attention is caught, don't do us all a great disservice by a poorly thought out story, or a book published just to make a dime.
You don't have to take my word for it, hop on over and celebrate Picture Book Month at Diane de las Casas blog and see a new post every day about why others, real authors, and editors, and publishers think Picture books are most certainly not dead. They are needed these days more than ever. Especially on these lousy days where the wee ones are home sick.