I recently bought my seven-year-old niece a picture story book for her birthday. It was a lovely African folktale of how a cheetah got its spots and speed to go with the small cheetah toy my daughter got her. There was a short adult silence when it was unwrapped before her mum leaned over and whispered, “You know she can read, don’t you?”
Well - I am a huge advocate for picture books at all ages.
For little ones, picture books introduce the concept of reading long before they understand what those funny squiggles on the page are. Reading out loud to a small child gives them a lovely introduction into a whole world of vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme which they love and try to emulate. How often have you seen babies trying to turn the page of book that has been read to them many times?
Picture books allow emergent readers to start making connections between the story in front of them and the words used to describe it. It is a lovely thing when a youngster sits you down to ‘read’ you the story in the book, using the pictures to guide them and some graphic clues to almost get the words right. They gain a confidence from taking over the reins and this can be a great time to encourage their imaginations! Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is brilliant for this – the simple rhythmic repetition, the familiar characters, the gorgeous illustrations. Both my children loved this when they were tiny right through to when they could read the whole thing back to me (mainly reciting the words they now knew so well but pointing to each word as they said it!)
As they get older, picture books can encourage comprehension and conversation between younger and older readers. Ask your child to predict what might happen next or to think about how a character might feel at any point in the story. Tricky subjects can be managed in a gentle way and some children find it easier to identify with a character from a book and explain their fears, feelings and dreams through that character. Anthony Browne’s How Do You Feel? is a perfect example of simple words and wonderful illustrations which reassure the reader about the emotions that they feel.
I do love Anthony Browne and used his Voices in the Park for a week of year 5 English lessons. “What? Using a picture book with 9 – 10 year olds?” I hear my sister-in-law gasp. We had a glorious exploration into class divide, friendship, parenting, wealth and poverty, how the use of language changes how the reader views a character and so much more. The story, told in four parts by the different characters, all centres on a walk in the park. But, oh, the different experiences that we read about. Browne is an excellent illustrator as well and mostly uses gorillas as his characters (there’s a whole other post could be written on the effectiveness of this!). This is an enormously satisfying example of a picture book for older readers!
Picture books are just lovely – at any age. My now adult son will pick up an old favourite once in a while. You can see from that nostalgic smile that it all comes flooding back. His favourites have always been The Story of the Little Mole who knew it was None of his Business – great for identifying poo! - and Hairy McClary from Donaldson's Dairy for which he can still do the accents of each dog!
By the way, my niece absolutely loves her book and reads it to her younger sister, using different voices for the animals, explaining where the book takes place, predicting what might happen after the book ends – her imagination runs as wild as the cheetah itself!
by Allie White, educational consultant to BrightMinds
As a parent and former-teacher, Allie has a hands-on approach to home learning, believing that the best learning is done together in a relaxed environment. Coming from a make-do and mend background, she likes to create activities for her children that use things already in the home.
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