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Words vs. Pictures

October 8th, 2010  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  4 Comments

A few weeks ago, Sasha and I started a new bedtime ritual: reading a book before she goes into the crib. Yes, I know: How innovative! How creative! How genius!

Why didn’t we do this before? I don’t know. I guess I was tired or something. But anyway, just about every night now I read her that children’s classic everyone loves to hate: “Goodnight Moon.” We’ve written about it a few times here on DadWagon, and until I developed this new relationship with the material, I agreed with the critics: It’s flat, the rhythms are off, and after a hundred readings, it’s mind-numbingly dull.

But I think I’ve figured out what makes it so great: It’s specifically about preparing for bed. Before I read it, Sasha’s still full of energy, ready to bounce around her bedroom like it’s 8 a.m., not 8 p.m. But as we read the book, and meet and then say good night to all the things in the room, she calms down and when we’ve bid adieu to “noises everywhere,” she’s limp enough to deposit in the crib. I love it.

The other nice thing about “Goodnight Moon” is that its vocabulary level is just right for 22-month-old Sasha. That is, I can leave gaps in each line—à la “And a little toy___”—that she will enthusiastically fill in, pointing at the pictures as she does so. Which makes it a much more interactive experience for us both.

Although, if the local paper is to be believed, it’s an experience we won’t be sharing much longer. Apparently, parents are no longer buying picture books for their children:

The picture book, a mainstay of children’s literature with its lavish illustrations, cheerful colors and large print wrapped in a glossy jacket, has been fading. It is not going away — perennials like the Sendaks and Seusses still sell well — but publishers have scaled back the number of titles they have released in the last several years, and booksellers across the country say sales have been suffering.

The economic downturn is certainly a major factor, but many in the industry see an additional reason for the slump. Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

How tragic! I mean, I guess I’ve got a couple of years before the “must get Sasha into a good school” instinct kicks in, but I always wanted Sasha to be the one to initiate that shift from picture books to what the kids call “chapter books.” I remember when I did that, on my own, and it felt liberating, a sign of maturity. I think I was 30.

This new “trend” also seems misguided, especially as the last decade has seen the rise of the graphic novel as a real literary form. If kids move away from picture books too early, how will they acquire the visual skills to read, say, “Y: The Last Man” or “Pyongyang”?


  1. Chris says:

    October 8th, 2010at 3:54 pm(#)

    I agree with the belief that it settles them down. It is/was part of the ritual with each of our children. (Get Guess How Much I Love You and act it out with your child, it is a blast).

    As for Kindergartners and First Grade, reading the chapter books is about them reading to US, then we read to them. By making the process both work (them reading) and play (us reading), they will advance faster and it will still be fun, so don’t give up on the picture books!

    One other thing that works: as they get into non-trivial chapter books read them together and ask them what they liked/didn’t like. Especially as they get into reading on their own, read the books separately (you read the chapter before she does). I’ve had some fascinating conversations with my kids as young as 7 about a non-trivial book we both read. (Deep Dark and Dangerous was the latest with my 12 y/o)


  2. Didactic Pirate says:

    October 8th, 2010at 6:44 pm(#)

    Wow. I hate the idea of parents pushing picture books out of their kids’ hands in an attempt to hustle them into their next level of reading development.

    But here’s something cool: my daughter is 9, and has been reading chapter books for several years now. But we’ve still got three huge baskets of her old picture books in her room. And every once in a while, between Harry Potter volumes and Narnia chronicles, she’ll pull one out and spend some time with it. Some old books are like comfy blankets.

  3. nova says:

    October 9th, 2010at 9:44 am(#)

    I hate hearing that books are disappearing. If children don’t grow up reading they’ll NEVER READ. AAAGH. My heart just broke a little bit there.

    Also? How old do I feel when the kids in my house are like “hey wanna play this game on the internet?” and I’m dusting off my paper copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls?

    “you kids go ahead, I need a quiet room for this.”

    I’m 28 for eff’s sake.

  4. Marty says:

    October 10th, 2010at 1:14 pm(#)

    My favorite part in the article was that one of the moms was surprised that her kid of was a reluctant reader. What does she expect? She’s forcing chapter books on him and taking away the stuff he likes to read. God forbid reading should be about pure enjoyment.

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