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We Ask a Book Blogger: Is The Picture Book Really Dead?

April 6, 2012

Welcome to our new monthly series! Each month, we’ll present a panel of book bloggers with a question relating to children’s books and we’ll share their views here on the blog.  If you missed last month’s post on new trends in teen fiction, check it out here.

Today’s question: It’s been over a year since The New York Times asked if the picture book category is dead. What are your thoughts on picture books now? Do you think the genre is still relevant and thriving, and if so (or not), why?


I definitely think the picture book genre is still thriving; it’s changing, but it’s still thriving.

I recently helped a middle school librarian choose picture books for her very multicultural library. Older children in her library often use picture books to investigate and understand difficult concepts and ideas. With all the emphasis on academic achievement, it can be difficult to convince parents to regularly share picture books with younger children. However, I think we can keep the picture book a relevant part of every family’s library by being armed with information about their importance, titles to support the argument, and how to use the books in an educational environment.

I love showing parents of precocious readers Bonny Becker’s Bear and Mouse books, especially A VISITOR FOR BEAR. The language is complex, there’s conflict and resolution between the two characters and the artwork is luscious. The use of repeating words and phrases will encourage the very young to read along and the wonderful big words like vamoose and begone will intrigue the older ones.

Books of factual information are a good choice for parents whose children have more sophisticated tastes. STARS, by Mary Lyn Ray, and SWIRL BY SWIRL, by Joyce Sidman, are two of my recent favorites. STARS takes a quiet moment at twilight to investigate the ways stars influence us. SWIRL BY SWIRL uses poetry to describe spirals in nature. Both books connect us to each other and the universe. (My favorite part of SWIRL BY SWIRL is the glossary of spirals, including the Fibonacci sequence, in the back.)

Seasoned readers, age 7 and up, have enough language and life experience to finally understand verbal and visual jokes. I WANT MY HAT BACK, by Jon Klassen, is perfect for second graders. Kids will recognize the lying and stealing actions of the rabbit as things they deal within their own lives. While the actions of the bear may be a little extreme, they will certainly identify with him! There is nothing overt in the final pages of the book, the ending is pretty much all inference, but children at this age are finally able to get the joke without having to have it explained. (This is also a good book for opening the discussion on the best way to deal with bullies and thieves.)

– Rene, Notes from the Bedside Table



In my store, adults (even ones without kids) have been enjoying the new generation of picture books. These recent books are clever, interactive, sassy, beautiful, and funny– just the kind of friends anyone of any age wants. Examples:

PRESS HERE by Herve Tullet. Who needs a digital device when you have someone to read the directions, someone to follow them, and you can take turns flipping the pages of this simple but brilliant book?

CHLOE AND THE LION written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Adam Rex. Mixed media make the illustrations look like a stage set, and pretty soon claymation-like figures of the author and illustrator start a battle of egos and artistic visions that will entertain all ages. Adults: watch for the joke about Frankenstein, and don’t stop turning the pages at “The End.” The creativity and voice of this are astonishing and will keep me going back to it.

MARCEL THE SHELL WITH SHOES ON: THINGS ABOUT ME by Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp. So weird and so funny, anyone who has seen the YouTube video comes in and reads aloud with Marcel impressions. A pair of 20-somethings and I may have spent about 30 minutes yukking it up in the kids’ section with this on a quiet weekday.

17 THINGS I’M NOT ALLOWED TO DO ANYMORE by Jenny Offill and Nancy Carpenter. From showing Billy Whipple her underpants to giving her brother the “gift of broccoli,” the main character’s Ramona-like shenanigans somehow manage to be endearing instead of infuriating. Maybe it’s because she’s not my daughter? Maybe it’s because the illustrations are so hilarious and the tone is so perfect? Whatever the reason, this has wide appeal.

Picture books can surprise and delight enough to capture the imagination, grow with children, and stand up to many, many re-readings for adults. I believe the picture book is alive and well, readers and listeners– and will be as long as we enjoy laughing together and reacting to one another.

-Tegan, Queen Anne’s Books and Tegan’s Blog @ttigani


I well remember The New York Times article about picture books being dead and all the controversy surrounding it and, you know, controversy can be good if it gets people thinking and talking about ideas. 
My baby will be 25 this year, so I really don’t know if picture books are thriving, but I do know they’re relevant.  We started “reading” picture books to our son when he was only a few weeks old.  It didn’t take long before he was captivated by the pictures and turning the heavy board pages.  As he grew, the books presented opportunities to teach new words and concepts like counting and colors.  He grew to love books like CORDUROY by Don Freeman, THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD by Watty Piper and anything by Richard Scarry.  I think children learn so much and derive so much pleasure from having familiar stories read to them so I hope parents will continue to share picture books with their little ones.

-Kathy, Bermudaonion’s Weblog @bermudaonion


I love picture books. My young niece and nephew love picture books. My middle school students love picture books. To me, this seems to suggest that they are still relevant! When I see books like YOU WILL BE MY FRIEND by Peter Brown, ZOOZICAL by Judy Sierra and Marc Brown, I WANT MY HAT BACK by Jon Klassen and even picture books for older readers like HEART AND SOUL: THE STORY OF AMERICAN AND AFRICAN-AMERICANS by Kadir Nelson I cannot even imagine calling the genre “dead.” Even the amazing apps based on picture books cannot replace the experience of a child holding a book in their hands and going through that story for the first (or five hundredth!) time.

-Heidi, YA Bibliophile @hmz1505


During a fourth grade read aloud of Gennifer Choldenko’s AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS, the main character Moose refers to one of the other children as a “little Eleanor Roosevelt”. I told the class to hold for a moment while I reached for ELEANOR, QUIET NO MORE a picture book biography by Doreen Rappaport. With some newly acquired background knowledge, we returned to our regularly scheduled reading.

When I was about to read THE DREAMER by Pamela Munoz Ryan to a group of 5th graders, some librarian friends were skeptical of whether the students would really appreciate the book. I wanted them to grasp the richness of Ryan’s story, but knew my students needed some tangible background knowledge. Out came PABLO NERUDA, POET OF THE PEOPLE by Monica Brown.

A few months ago, a parent volunteer and I provided a specially designed literacy experience for 4th and 5th graders around the Harlem Renaissance. We needed lots of material in a quickly digestible format to help students grasp what we were talking about. There wasn’t time to read a novel or two to all 3 classes; however, there was time to expose students to over two dozen picture books that prominently featured the individuals, the poetry, and the experiences associated with the Harlem Renaissance.

When I hear things like “the picture book is dead”, I want to scream. Is it really dead? Or have we just failed to educate parents, teachers and librarians on how to use picture books? I tell upper elementary age students that picture books are not just for their younger siblings. Often times the text and vocabulary is quite complex in a picture book. Teachers will come to me asking about a book for a concept that they are trying to teach and I will pull out a picture book for them. No matter what age group or what topic, there is likely to be a picture book that fits the need.

-Alyson, Kid Lit Frenzy @alybee930

We’d love to hear from all of you: what do you think about the picture book genre? What titles stand out to you?

If you’d like to be part of this series, please send us an email with your blog address and email address.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2012 8:17 am

    It looks like picture books are alive and well and that makes me very happy!

  2. litteach permalink
    April 6, 2012 9:07 am

    When I saw the title of this blog, I was shocked! As a teacher, I had no idea that people were debating if picture books were dead! I teach middle school, but I still use picture books for various things. I love the picture books that deal with serious topics, such as Faithful Elephants. Other picture books, usually intended for younger audiences, help me teach writing skills to my middle schoolers. And I can’t imagine an elementary classroom without picture books!! Beyond teaching, I read to my four year old girls daily, and we love picture books!

  3. Cheryl McKeon, bookseller permalink
    April 6, 2012 10:41 am

    What wonderful thoughts! The picture-book-is-dying argument does not hold up, and these thoughtful writers present more than enough evidence. See also a recent Shelf Awareness for Readers essay by Jennifer Brown in response to a “picture books do not reflect Nature anymore” charge. Ridiculous….bet your bloggers could fill a page with evidence to the contrary!

  4. April 6, 2012 11:45 am

    I LOVE picture books! I saw Press Here at a bookstore, and although I am “too old” for such things (pfff…), I called my dad to show him the genius of it! Picture books are amazing.

  5. April 6, 2012 12:22 pm

    As a longtime children’s bookseller, parent and story time reader (at home and at work) I have seen the quality and quantity of picture books change over the seventeen years that I have worked in a bookstore. For a time, the quantity of picture books outnumbered the quality of what was being published in huge numbers. I think that the shrinking of the picture book section as well as the diminishing sales of picture books is a response both to the (seeming) lack of books worth buying as well as publishers slimming down their picture book lists (which hopefully might mean less celebrity authored picture books?) and the effects of the recession. I think that authors an illustrators like Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen, Sophie Blackall, Renata Liwska, Chris Van Dusen, Dan Santat, Alexandra Boiger and Jen Corace herald a new era of books worth buying. I certainly don’t mind reading their books over and over and the kids in the audience are happy to hear them repeatedly as well. However, I still find myself choosing from a slim selection among the 200 different titles in stock at the store where I work.


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