Are Children’s Picture Books Becoming Extinct?

Where the Wild Things Are

Along with harp seals and VHS, hardcover picture books might be an endangered species.

These days, parents are encouraging their young children to bypass picture books and engage with chapter books instead, according to a recent NYTimes.com article. As parents become more aware of standardized testing in schools, they feel pressure to foster their children’s reading skills and ensure a better academic future.  Kids as young as 4- or 5-years-old may see “Curious George” replaced on their bookshelf with “Charlotte’s Web,” a book aimed for kids twice their age.

Certain classic picture books are still popular (“Where the Wild Things Are,” “Goodnight Moon,” and “The Cat in the Hat”), but publishing houses are scaling back the production of new picture books in favor of promoting bestsellers, the Times reports.  At $15 or more, hardcover picture books also cost more than chapter books, usually sold in paperback at cheaper prices.  With the ongoing recession, parents may find that saving a little by purchasing chapter books may go a long way in getting their kids into an Ivy League.

Kris Vreeland, a book buyer in California, told the Times: “Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book.  The words themselves, and the concepts, can be very sophisticated in a picture book.” (NYTimes.com)

While kids who read longer, complex books at a younger age may develop their reading and cognitive skills faster, there may be unnecessary pressure for them to develop at an uncomfortable pace.  Part of the joy of reading picture books is to experience the textual and visual elements of language first, and then transition into more complex novels that develop the imagination.

As a parent, are you replacing your children’s picture books with chapter books already?  Or are you letting your kids progress at their own pace?

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  1. by Mamalya

    On October 8, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    In my opinion, picture books are great for encourage the young readers. Even more than that, we’re looking for graphic novels and comic book style books with just a few words because they teach storytelling – a skill that’s completely overlooked now. The kids are seldom asked to re-tell a story (verbally or in writing).

    The trend I don’t like, if abridged versions of books. The literature is about the language. The kids need to learn to enjoy that. Often times the plot and/or ideas of the books are just too complicated for the younger kids. Read the books to the kids, and let them grow up more and read and enjoy the books by themselves.

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  3. by Bibliofile

    On March 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Reading picture books is a joyful experience in our house. My 2 1/2 year old loves his books, both the classic ones and the newer ones by fantastic authors/illustrators like Mem Fox, Jane Yolen, Mark Teague and others. He can tell you whole books almost by heart because we ask questions; he can finish lines even in new books because we’ve encouraged him to do so. We do those things because our parents did the same, but they are all explained beautifully in Mem Fox’s book “Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever.” As a teacher I hear and see so often that we push our children harder and faster than ever before. My kindergarten teacher frustrated me because she didn’t believe that I knew my alphabet, much less knew how to read. These days a child is already labeled as behind if they can’t read (and well) by the end of kindergarten. Why are we doing this to our children? Where is their childhood going? Where is the magic of a complex, yet short story going?

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