A New York Times article says booksellers are cutting back on the number of picture books they offer because parents are pushing their children to read chapter books earlier. That, along with the recession, is cutting sales, so booksellers are offering fewer titles.
My gut reaction to that was, well, what’s wrong with parents buying their kids what they want them to read? The world constantly pressures parents in countless other ways; this is one area where parents have real control. If they want their children to read more advanced books for the sake of improving literacy and/or test scores, that’s their right. Also, many children aren’t satisfied with picture books once they learn to read. I taught each of my kids to read at age 3, so they were reading chapter books well before kindergarten.
But the longer I stew on this, the more I think it’s sad for a whole lot of children, especially reluctant readers. If parents are absolutely forbidding picture books simply because of their packaging, they’re missing out on a lot of the benefits that genre has to offer. Some picture books cover deep themes and use higher vocabulary than chapter books specifically because they’re meant to be read aloud by an adult rather than being read by a child. Moreover, picture books provide a comfort that can translate into a love of reading. Pushing kids to read something that’s too difficult for their level can make them see reading as a huge chore. And really, do we need to force the end of childhood at age 4? Don’t these little humans have an entire lifetime to read boring budget reports?
To be fair, the article pointed out the many distractions in life now that may have something to do with decreased sales, and e-books are surely cutting into sales of physical books, but the trend to eschew picture books seems wrong to me, and, frankly, I don’t buy it. I think the picture book will survive.