I have always used picture books with the leaners I teach in school, regardless of the year group I teach in. A good book is exactly that. Something that can excite, engage, and enthuse a child of any age. I weave picture books throughout my curriculum planning and use them in different ways depending on what I want to ultimately achieve in that lesson from the children. At the most simplistic level, they are the most wonderful vehicle to promote imaginative exploration and joy within story time. The images draw the reader in and invite discussion at a higher level than the words on the page provide alone. A funny snippet of text is enhanced and brought alive with artwork to encapsulate it and the images provide shape and colour, bringing the words to life like a kaleidoscope turning and presenting its changing colours.
The purpose of a picture book is multifaceted; from word recognition, and vocabulary development for younger children to navigating complex themes for older readers. They make a reader feel a connection on a deeper level. This can be to challenge a view point, express compassion or understanding, make a reader laugh and feel a bond with the pages in front of them. With small children, they can also be tactile and interactive to develop not only word recognition skills, but fine motor control.
As children become older, they have the power to take the most complex and challenging subjects that children may be feeling or have seen on the news and present them in a format that is safe and completely relatable to the child. Coming back after lock-down, I noticed the anxiety and uncertainty the children felt and by carefully selecting picture books that would deal with these themes, I was able to help them understand the way they were feeling and realise that it is completely normal, and we can navigate and manage those feelings.
As I teacher I have always been aware that no matter how much you enthuse and promote reading for pleasure, until children gain fluency and comprehension, they cannot fully gain that pure joy. Graphic novels have been the biggest eye opener for helping bridge that step for children. They keep the essence, the vocabulary, the high end narrative of a novel but make it accessible and tangible for readers who are not yet confident and can feel overwhelmed when faced with a lengthy novel. In the past, comics and graphic novels were not really seen as ‘reading’ but I have seen a massive shift in opinion and assumptions around this format. Some of the most dramatic, inspiring, and poignant books I have read as an adult in recent years have been graphic novels. You only have to look at how teenagers have switched off their phones and gadgets to read the Heartstopper books to see this is a huge way picture books can keep that love of reading going with older children.
In conclusion, the cliché ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ is so very true when we think about picture books. Don’t assume a picture book is for little children; won’t move your soul; cause you to think deeply and reflect internally. A picture book combines words and images to create a certain kind of magic that touches the heart of any person regardless of age and gender.