Lorna Bradbury, the Telegraph’s Deputy Literary Editor, made an interesting plea to parents on June 15. In it, she encouraged mums and dads – and anyone who reads to children – to “encourage their children to read illustrated books for as long as possible”.
At first this might contradict traditional beliefs about children’s reading journeys. After all, aren’t picture books transitory? Something that children read with their parents to kickstart their literacy and to be discarded once they become more competent in reading?
I must admit (embarrassedly, if I am honest) that I held that view a while back. Certainly there were some picture books that I really enjoyed sharing with Holly and wouldn’t mind reading again and again. But then there were the ones that just didn’t grab me but excited her. What I saw was perhaps a trite story trotted out speedily and perhaps not so impressive without the accompanying pictures. Was it a tale that relied upon illustration to keep its audience hooked?
The next chapter
When Holly was ready to move on to chapter books I was relieved. I thought it would be good to share stories that would last longer than ten minutes, something that we could anticipate as the day passed and get excited about towards bedtime, if indeed we could wait that long. Then we could both return eagerly to the book, find out what happened next, and continue in this way until we moved on to the next adventure. I believe we started with Enid Blyton’s The Wishing Chair before moving on to her boarding school tales and The Famous Five.
Image courtesy of goodreads.com
To be honest, I think she was ready when we made the step up to longer stories. But I don’t think I should have viewed her occasional preferences to return to picture books as a negative thing. It was an opportunity for her to experience once again stories that held some familiarity and comfort, where she could enjoy the words and the rhythm of the language without having to concentrate too hard or think too much about what was going on. Particularly, she held on dearly to her Maisy the Mouse books, by Lucy Cousins, because the illustrations in them made her feel calm and happy, and she liked Maisie for being kind and considerate. One of her favourites is Sweet Dreams, Maisy which perfectly captures that twilight world you inhabit before drifting off to sleep.
Image courtesy of goodreads.com
Read and share
Another title that caught her imagination was The Dancing Tiger, by Malachy Doyle, paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. She heard this read aloud at school and was delighted by it, insisting that we get our own copy to enjoy together at home (and she is also insisting that we do a proper review of this together shortly!). I could immediately see why she was so entranced, with a beautiful story told in excellent rhyme. But the illustrations themselves also are magical, drawing you into the story and working well with the words.
Stating the obvious
As we’ve progressed from picture books to short chapter stories to full-blown Harry Potter tomes I’ve realised that, whatever we are reading, it’s the story that matters. This may sound idiotically obvious but my point is that I can return now to those picture books and see the art in their creation and the skill in weaving a story in less than 1,000 words. I am now one of picture books’ biggest advocates and often use them with my relucant readers. Of course there are good and bad ones, just as there are good and bad novels. But it’s vital that we don’t dismiss them just because their target audience is 0-5 years. They have a lot to say to each and every one of us.