Opinion | The World in Children’s Picture Books

To the Editor:

Re “You’re Not Too Old for Picture Books” (Sunday Review, Feb. 21):

Thank you, Pamela Paul, for paying homage to a much-overlooked literary genre, the picture book.

After teaching kindergarten for 30 years, I retired with a huge collection of picture books. I donated many of the books to public school libraries but also kept quite a few for myself.

When the pandemic hit a year ago, I was not only confined to our house; I also had the tough job of being a caretaker for a spouse with dementia. I decided that one small thing I could do for myself every day was to escape into a picture book.

What a delight it has been for me to enjoy the same books that I once shared with my kindergarten students. Eloise, Peter Rabbit, Dr. Seuss (just to name a few): Thanks for keeping me company during these bleak days of isolation.

Lynda Jeffrey Plott

To the Editor:

As the gateway to literacy, picture books finally get the distinguished place in literature that Pamela Paul so aptly credits them for maintaining throughout life. As keepers of the reading flame among young and old, cherished picture books are ones to return to for comfort, pleasant memories and, above all, introducing young readers to a lifetime of appreciating the marriage of words and illustrations.

In addition, children’s picture books can also offer solace and guidance to youngsters who are coping with life-changing events in their lives, like moving, parents’ divorce, homelessness, alcoholism, making friends, dealing with complex emotions, sibling rivalry and even illness and death.

Using these books to help children through challenges benefits the reader and the child.

Sandra Kitain
Washington Crossing, Pa.
The writer is the author of “Shelf-Esteem,” about how to use the emotional power of books to help young readers develop reading confidence.

To the Editor:

Pamela Paul encourages us to continue reading picture books with our children long after they become readers. Although she emphasizes the benefits of visual story telling, picture books offer much more than a baby step along the trail of reading experience.

My research and that of others have shown that the vocabulary in picture books is richer and more extensive than that found in typical dialogues with our children or even conversations between adults. There is an impressive linguistic and cognitive complexity in picture books that enriches the experience of both readers and listeners alike.

My analysis of more than 100 popular picture books revealed an average fourth-grade reading level. Picture books provide an engaging introduction to the complex dimensions of formal language provided by writing not found in conversational speech.

Dominic W. Massaro
Santa Cruz, Calif.
The writer is a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

To the Editor:

“Kiddie lit,” the pejorative term frequently bestowed on children’s books as if they are not “real” literature, was turned on its head by Pamela Paul’s wonderful essay extolling the many benefits picture books offer to readers of all ages. Filled with museum-worthy illustrations, these books sharpen children’s “visual literacy,” helping them focus on details and read facial expressions and body language.

As anyone who has ever seen a young child “read” to a stuffed toy knows, these illustrations enable children to tell stories on their own using sophisticated vocabulary gleaned from the texts long before they write stories themselves.

Rather than live enclosed in bubbles of like-minded people, readers of picture books visit many countries, meet people of different races, cultures, needs and occupations, and learn about the beauty and wonders of the natural world.

Picture books are beacons that lead the way, for all of us, toward a world of mutual respect, empathy and care for our planet.

Marianne Saccardi
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is the author of “Creativity and Children’s Literature: New Ways to Encourage Divergent Thinking.”

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