An international literacy movement has declared that November is Picture Book Month. Their blog includes a daily post by a picture book champion explaining why he/she thinks picture books are important. Here’s why I think picture books are important.
Our family was traveling toward a vacation spot and the conversation lagged. In the distance a storm threatened.
Then, one of my three daughters said, “Look at that cloud! The big, black cloud, all heavy with rain, that shadowed the ground on Kapiti Plain.” (Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain)
It sparked over an hour of conversation among my four kids about their favorite children’s picture books. Often, they quoted a line or two.
My Kids’ Favorite Picture Books
- “Goodnight, nobody.” (Goodnight Moon)
- “In an old house in Paris, all covered with vines. . .To the tiger in the zoo, she just said, ‘Pooh, pooh.'” (Madeline)
- “He started to do all of his old tricks. He flip-flopped and he flop-flipped.” (Harry, the Dirty Dog, the 50th anniversary edition)
- 3 days on a river in a red canoe. (3 Days on a River in a Red Canoe by Vera B. Williams, who sadly passed away this month.)
The list went on and on.
In other words, the picture books we had shared as they grew up had become warp and woof of our shared family life. That’s what literature does: stories, words, concepts, emotions–they burrow into our lives and enrich us in numerous ways. The more I thought about it, the more I was amazed at this simple truth: A deep and wide knowledge of literature – children’s literature specifically – carries through to adult life.
I had spent hours and hours going to the library to check out yet another stack of books, and then read and read for hours to the kids as they grew. Those were hours invested in a lives that I hoped would become thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent people.
My son is currently in gunsmithing school, learning to make and repair guns. He recently sent me a tirade of emails that shocked me. “Did you know,” he asked, “that no one here has ever heard of Aesop’s fables?”
He was outraged, that’s what shocked me – happily! He wanted to use the verbal shorthand that comes from quoting or referring to an Aesop’s fable. He might have said, “I may be a turtle on this project, but in the end, I’ll beat you rabbits.”
By that, he would mean that he’s working slowly, but steadily. By implication, he’s diligently doing the work with excellence; by contrast, the rabbits were speeding along, but maybe not doing the job with excellence.
Do you remember the story of A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban. In this gem, I learned diplomacy. Frances and her friend, Thelma, make a bargain for a tea set. When Frances realizes she’s been tricked, she tricks Thelma in return. At the end, Frances asks, “Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?”
Indeed! Such wisdom from an unexpected source. Many times, I’ve been faced with someone whom I suspect of underhanded dealings, and I shake my head and whisper to myself, “Do you want to be careful, or do you want to be friends?”
What is a picture book? A simple 32-page story. A shared life. A shorthand for explaining a situation. A source of wisdom. They may be short, but they aren’t simple.