When I was a kid, my parents would read me Good Night Moon eight to ten times a day. It was like the bread and grains of the children’s book food pyramid. I think they still have it memorized (I know I do). It’s a book that one reviewer called “the sound of going to sleep.” The beat of “Goodnight room. Goodnight moon. Goodnight cow jumping over the moon” and the yawning space of the illustrations are one of my favorite memories.
Which is why the story in the New York Times lifestyle section this morning made me very sad. Foretelling the death of picture books, it’s filled with quotes like this:
“They’re 4 years old, and their parents are getting them ‘Stuart Little.’ I see children pick up picture books, and then the parents say, ‘You can do better than this, you can do more than this.’ It’s a terrible pressure parents are feeling—that somehow, I shouldn’t let my child have this picture book because she won’t get into Harvard.” —Dara La Porte, the manager of the children’s department at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington.
…and like this
“So many of [our picture books] just die a sad little death, and we never see them again,” said Terri Schmitz, a bookstore owner.
Over the past few years, picture book production has dropped by 15 percent at Simon & Schuster and by 5 percent at Scholastic, due to lack of demand. What’s happening, parents? I’m all for the power of words, but picture books have a magic unto themselves. Literacy experts tout their ability to foster critical thinking in kids, forcing them to fill in what’s missing between pages. It’s like how the breaths in speeches are just as important as the words. Fewer words don’t necessarily mean “less complex.”
“Some of the vocabulary in a picture book is much more challenging than in a chapter book,” said Kris Vreeland, a book buyer from Pasadena.
So parents, read your kid a picture book today. I’m pretty sure it won’t affect her chances of going to college.
Oh, and in case you’ve never read Good Night Moon and you’re too cool to pick it up at the bookstore, here’s an animated version.