By Steve Zalusky
The first words we learn are closely tied to the images we as children see in picture books. Each November, Picture Book Month celebrates the print picture book in an increasingly digital age.
It also highlights their crucial function in our development not only as readers, but as human beings. The month was founded by author Dianne de Las Casas, whose website says, “She believes in the transformational power of the arts in education and feels that imagination is the elixir that turns the ordinary into extraordinary.”
Explaining in a 2014 article in I Love Libraries how the initiative evolved, Dianne de Las Casas said that in 2011, the New York Times published an article questioning the future of picture books. She said she began talking with friends in the children’s literature community, and the idea of Picture Book Month was born.
She said, “November seemed like a good month,” pointing out that it is National Novel Writing Month. “And November is right before the holidays, so people are looking to purchase gifts and feeling all warm and fuzzy.” She said the ALA Youth Media Awards, such as the Caldecott and the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award , have been extremely influential in the effort.
This year, libraries are front and center in the celebration, especially with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), a division of the American Library Association, acting as a partner of the third annual Picture Book Month. Library social media pages are spreading the words, with libraries like the Deerfield (Illinois) Public Library sharing their favorite picture books on their Facebook and Twitter pages. On the latter, a member of Youth Services recommended “Wynken, Blynken, & Nod” by Eugene Field.
Pinterest is the social media tool of choice for the Loutit District Library in Grand Haven, Michigan, which has a virtual wall of selected bookcovers. Another library in Bemidji, Minnesota, is showing movies based on picture books. And the Ruth Culver Community Library, in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin, is holding a contest that selects winners based on their ability to identify the book title or main character of a book from snapshots of 10 books posted on the bulletin board in the children’s area.
Each day of the month, the Picture Book Month website has featured a post on the importance of picture books. One post, authored by Stephen Shaskan, whose debut picture book, “A Dog is a Dog,” was on the New York Public Library’s list of the Top 100 Books to Read and Share for 2011, emphasizes the power of picture books.
He writes, “Picture books are important because they empower children. Picture books hold the power of language; children learn how words sound together, how to read, and how to form context. In Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown uses soft sounds to communicate a beautiful poetic bedtime story. David LaRochelle’s Moo! excites early readers as the story follows a car stealing cow on an adventure using only one word.”
He also writes, “Picture books hold the power of visual literacy. Children learn to decipher visual clues. Donald Crews uses a graphic style of art in Freight Train naming each colored train car before the train starts its journey. Jan Brett’s beautifully rendered art in The Mitten contain details in the borders that foreshadow the story.”
For ideas about picture books for your children, you might want to follow the choices of the Stockton-San Joaquin County (California) Public Library, which consist of titles selected by children’s librarians. An online guide to picture books is offered as well by the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Maryland.
For more information, visit the Picture Book Month website.