By Mac Barnett
I write to endorse a particular kind of reading, one that involves more than words and sometimes no words at all. Everyone: Read picture books. Good picture books are not lesser reading, or easy reading, or baby reading. Good picture books are good reading. It doesn’t matter that your kindergartener finished Harry Potter, or your third grader did a book report on The Decameron. Picture books are part of a reader’s balanced diet, and cutting them out brings on the literary equivalent of rickets. Smart kids read picture books, and a lot of smart adults do, too.
Because most picture books use both text and image to tell stories, the reader’s experience is more immersive, more active. The stories are rich and complex. When the pictures amplify the words, or contradict the words, or tell a story the words doesn’t address—that’s narrative magic. And you can’t get that same magic from novels, or poems, or The Decameron.
And here is the good news: We live in an era when excellent, truly world-class picture books are being published. Truly, this is the most exciting time to be a reader of picture books in America since the 1960s—probably more exciting, since a lot of the books from that great golden age are still on shelves right next to the good new stuff. Right now talented people are making books with lively prose and beautiful pictures, books as good as anything else in the store. There are all sorts of picture books: funny stories and weepies, strange stories, shaggy stories, stories full of mysteries and surprises. You will find the same variety in good picture books that you do in good literature, because good picture books are good literature. They are repositories of truth and beauty and wisdom, and they’re sitting on shelves in the kids’ section of a Books Inc. near you. Go read some!