Picture Books - Let Kids Be Free to Read!

Ever since the New York Times ran an article last October about the fading in importance of picture books in young children's lives, the blogosphere has been talking about the craziness of the premise.  The latest thoughtful post comes from my sister blogger in Australia, Susan, who blogs at the always fabulous Book Chook. She argues for the importance of picture books for preschoolers as well as kids well beyond the preschool years. Letting kids choose their reading is anathema to some parents and even some library staffers (WHAT?!?!)

That concept of "free reading" that many of us champion is one most notably advocated by Stephen Krasheen. He wrote a short article in SLJ in 2006 that explores the concept and importance based on his longer book, The Power of Reading: Insights from the Research published by Libraries Unlimited in 2004. Boiling it down to beyond basic and in Marge-speak, the concept is that all reading for pleasure is good reading and helps builds kids vocabulary, comprehension and reading skills .  When kids have a choice in selecting what they want to read, their interest and excitement in the act of reading becomes more sustained.

Picture books aren't just for little kids.  They are great reads for older kids as well.  I like to think of them as the first graphic novels that children are exposed to.  They have a visual as well as literacy component that blends together into a coherent whole. More complex books like ones by Patricia Polacco, Chris Van Allsburg, Emily McCully, Bill Peet, Lane Smith, David Wiesner and Jon Scieszka and many others beg to be shared with second, third and even fourth graders.

How can we help kids - and parents - make that transition to free them to use these great books?  Creating spaces in older fiction collections and cataloging more complex picture books into those collections is one way - whether by labeling or creating a special section of "Illustrated Fiction" - this brings these picture books to the attention and into the hands of older readers. And by locating them in  the collections for older kids, we give an implied boost to their worthiness to be considered and selected by older browsers .

Featuring these books in handselling and reader's advisory on a daily basis is also a great way to promote them to older readers.  Include one of these picture books among the fiction and non-fiction in booktalks at schools or a few in packs of books that you pull for schools and classrooms of older students. And when you have programs with older kids, include these in your book discussions and mini-promotions.

All these options and paths to worthy books will help you free the kids, the parents, teachers, staffers ...and you!

Image: 'Free Daddy and His Little Shadow Girls+at+The+Skate+Park+Creative+Commons'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/40645538@N00/179279964

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