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How Old is Too Old for Picture Books?

Picture books, such as 2011 Caldecott Medal winner "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" can help children understand important values.

Picture books, such as 2011 Caldecott Medal winner "A Sick Day for Amos McGee" can help children understand important values.

As mentioned in a previous post here at In the Stax, many parents are pushing their children to read chapter books at very early ages, in order to achieve an academic edge. So, if your first grader still enjoys reading picture books, does that mean she is falling behind? “Kids are in nursery school, and their parents are already worried about getting them into college,” says philosophy professor Thomas Wartenberg in an interview with The Seattle Times. “I understand the problem.” But, if your child’s teacher confirms she is reading at grade level, Wartenberg doesn’t think her preference for picture books is cause for concern. The professor, who teaches at Mount Holyoke College and has written Big Ideas for Little Kids: Teaching Philosophy Through Children’s Literature (Rowman and Littlefield Education, 164pgs) believes picture books can be great educational tools.

“Picture books capture the interest of children so well that they really provide a way for kids to think about complex issues,” he explains. “Because they’re so clear and short, they allow time afterward to talk about what the books are about.

51rAQjGiR+L._SL160_Picture books often address important values, such as recent Caldecott Medal winner A Sick Day for Amos McGee (Roaring Brook, 32pgs) which highlights friendship and kindness. Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead, the story centers on an elderly zoo keeper who stays home with a cold and is visited by his best animal friends from the zoo. Other stories, like 2011 Caldecott honor book Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 40pgs) focus on more serious topics. Written by Laban Carrick Hill and illustrated by Bryan Collier, this book addresses slavery and human dignity.

“You may find it difficult to get your kids to talk about some issues directly,” states Wartenberg. “Picture books give you a way to come at it a little bit indirectly by raising an issue and leaving time to talk about it.” In contrast chapter books, which take longer to read, delay that “big picture” conversation for days or weeks.

“Cognitive ability and a bigger vocabulary aren’t the only things that matter,” he concludes. “The ability to think about and process information is very important, and picture books are a great way to help kids begin to have those habits of mind.”

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