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January 08, 2009



I totally agree with you. My ten-year-old likes to read big fat books without pictures, and picture books, and comic books, and non-fiction, and poetry, and everything in between. And I do too!


It's sad, really, how when you "grow up" you lose everything life is REALLY about. From pressure, we put up walls and boxes in our minds, thinking only one way is right and not ever seeing outside our tunnel vision. I, as an older teen, am fighting that now more and more. I refuse to feel silly when reading Junie B. Jones or other books "below my level." I read kids books still, and then switch to Jane Austen with a cinch.

It saddens me to see people who have no idea about the big picture. They know nothing of how life is supposed to be. They let their creativity and independence be taken. I think that there will be a renaissance, though. A reawakening of the human mind. One that loves all information and sees endless possibilities and doesn't limit themselves. Old ideas and the false things that are ingrained as truths will be dissipated in a world we make perfect with our open minds. I'm going to be a part of that, and I thank you Shannon for helping pave the way to a revolution of truth.

Heather Muir

I'm so glad you posted this! I've always loved picture books, even as an adult. I read a lot of graphic novels and when other adults see me reading them they look at me strange, like I'm reading something for children. I also get the same looks when I tell people I read YA Lit (which I think is the best lit written today). Just because something seems labeled for a certain age or group doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by all. Art rocks!

L.T. Elliot

Many of Dr. Seuss' books were actually written for adults & older children (not the beginning readers, which he said were some of the hardest for him to write.)

That says a lot to me. Even as adults, we need simple, enduring messages. "Oh, the places you'll go!" is a book that has been gifted and read to millions of adults and children. I have given it myself to people I want to inspire and uplift.

I applaud you, Shannon, for realizing that reading is a love that needs to be nurtured in all stages and a myriad of ways. May 'Rapunzel's Revenge' ignite thousands of readers.

Heather Z.

I love how you can say things so simply Shannon, and be so powerful at the same time. It is a truth that is not commonly seen and I am so glad you can make it so plain for people. Perhaps in a future post you could list some other graphic novels that hold a lot of promise for younger readers. I know I certainly would love them.


I wonder if this is a modern phenomenon. A few years ago I read "Germinal" -- hardly a kids' book -- and it was an old book, a hardback from the library with wonderful illustrations. Really helped me get through an otherwise grim read.
I've also noticed some recent reissues of kids' books -- Lloyd Alexander's Time Cat and Elizabeth Enright's Melendy books come to mind -- in which many of the original illustrations have been left out. What's it about? Is it more expensive to print illustrations? I find it baffling.

Lois Moss

Thank you so much for voicing this. I'm hoping you have enough clout for people to listen. The pressure to read harder and harder books chases so many kids away from reading. It is no longer fun and so they don't want to do it. This even extends up through HS. I can't tell you how many books I read in HS that would have completely turned me off reading, if I weren't already firmly in the "I adore reading" camp.

BTW, my 2nd grader got Rapunzel's Revenge for Christmas and LOVES it. She's been reading it for her 15 minutes of daily after school reading, and yesterday that turned into 75 minutes--at least. She kept going back to it all through the day. Pictures sell words. It helps when the words are really good. She's been quoting from the book a lot too.


I have a friend who teaches english at the alternative hight school. Her latest class has been refusing to read anything. She decided to bring a bunch of picture books from the library and the kids are devouring them.
I wonder if they didn't get this experience when they were younger? Isn't it amazing that they are craving this?
Thanks for your post.

Mrs. Mordecai

It goes the other way, too! My two-year-old sat through all of the original Winnie the Pooh in about two weeks because there is a small picture on almost every page!


Thank goodness someone thought "outside the box" and now we've been able to mainstream graphic novels. I'm an elementary librarian and it's amazing to see kids who would never pick up a book actually devouring graphic novels because they have pictures. We have elementary kids reading graphic novels on everything from Shakespeare to myths and even scientific principles. What a great intoduction for these kids to all kinds of literature!

Matthew Kirby

I completely agree.

In today's digital world, a lot of people are worried about the "future of the book." They increasingly worry how books will be able to compete with the internet and movies when it comes to capturing the imagination of younger readers. Some see e-books as the answer to this. Get those books up on the web where kids will find them, as if simply changing the clothing on a book will make it more appealing. But I don't think so.

I think the answer lies in the increasing popularity of graphic novels like "Rapunzel's Revenge." The multi-sensory barrage and stimulation available in our modern world is an unavoidable fact and isn't going anywhere. To "compete" for attention in the coming years, I think books need to hit more sensory modalities, exactly like a graphic novel does.

Now, I don't think that the graphic novel should *replace* the traditional book. I just think that "books with pictures" are going to become more essential when trying to draw new readers in.

Meg Lyman

Jim Trelease in his "Read-aloud Handbook" discusses how the children who are the best readers also happen to read comic books/graphic novels/the funnies. Is there a connection? I don't know, but it shows that kids don't have to leave behind pictures in order to grow in reading. In fact, the more kids read, the better readers they are - no matter what the material is. If they like what they're reading, they'll read more.


Some of what loses a kid's interest is undoubtedly peer pressure. When they get to school and they'd rather read than play tag, they're labeled a nerd or a sissy and they get picked on. I've had experience both with being told a book was "junk reading" or too young for me, and with being pressured to not find reading cool. I think that really needs to change. What could be cooler than broadening your mind and traveling to distant lands?


I agree! I'm not really into the whole graphic novels thing, but I do think that if it gets kids to read and gets them interested it reading, then they should go for it.

Also, YA books might be even better if there were some small pictures--of characters or settings--sprinkled throughout the book. I think part of the problem is also what we read in school--the creativity that we have as kids gets turned off in high school because we have no opportunities to get out of the box. It's always essays or tests, hardly ever any creative writing--and sometimes it's fun to think, what would this character think about this? And then you get to writing and it's just so much fun. AP classes and the whole streamlining the curriculum thing isn't helping either. Thanks, Shannon, for reminding us that maybe some things in life are just meant to be simpler. (Just tell that to my AP English teacher.)


I don't encourage or promote Graphic Novels at all because they encourage kids to stay in comic book worlds where everything is simplified and the mental images are created for them. I can see a lot of where you are coming from, but I don't think that in very many cases GNs are gateways to real books.

I have worked in a library for several years now, and had a chance to interact with children who begin with picture books and move on to GNs. Some children and YA's I have noted in particular refuse to read anything that is not a GN. They are missing out on Dickens, Twain, Hardy Boys, Tolkien and all the authors that are really great. These chilren are fine when they are reading GNs 10-13, but when they refuse to move out of them when they get to be 15, 16, 17, and then stop reading altogether because they are intimidated by thick books and there are no more GNs, then it is a problem. Language and words are a beauty beyond comic books.

Books stimulate not because they are epic and give children ideas, but because it gives them a chance to imagine for themselves what the characters look like. Even picturing expressions on the faces of the actors in the dramas is lost when we have pictures given to us.

I have also been a reading tutor for two years with children who hate to read. These kids simply cannot understand what they are reading. They string letters together, but they are unable to form a mental picture of what they are reading. This isn't because they are too young, or because they are challenged in some way, it is because they have not been given the challenge to do it for themselves. They look at the words and expect an image to be given to them. It is sounds coming out of their mouths not pictures. To help them one day I wrote the word "bed" on a piece of paper and asked her to describe what the word was. She had no idea. When I asked her to describe "bed" and I said it, she was able to do it, but there was no communication between the page and the mental picture creator.

I"m sure many respected scientists and psychologists have come up with contrary evidence in very high terms, but these are my observations. I just thought I'd share.


Arrgghhh! As a children's librarian and writer, I get so crazy when I hear a parent say "you're too old for picture books". The language in some of them is just poetry, the art can be astonishing, and yet it's limited in some minds for the toddler set...sigh. well cheers and keep up the good fight!


I was an English major and am a recovering literary snob (like a certain author we all love - though I suspect she's better recovered than I am). When my child first picked up an X-Men comic book with a gasp of delight, it took self control of great magnitude to plaster a smile on my face and encourage him to read it. Despite my fears, he did not start reading comics exclusively at all, as the above poster has seen. But he had also had plenty of exposure to picture books and early readers, and already had a great love of reading.

Years later, he is able to read and enjoy a great variety of books, and has no problem reading books without pictures. There are several books written for kids his age with illustrations woven throughout, which he reads and enjoys, and I don't have a problem with that at all. If he brought home a comic book today, I'd still cringe (I confess) but I'd certainly let him read it.

I think pictures (or lack of them) are beside the point. The point is to let children read what interests them and, as Shannon said, don't try to push them. It's READING for pete's sake. It's supposed to be fun! If you're exposing children to books at an early age, that's all you need to worry about. They'll catch on to the rest as they go. And I think this modern notion that you have to read to children every day from the time they're babies is complete bunk and making parents too uptight. I'm a gigantic slacker by those standards, and yet all three of my children love to read.

As for those children who aren't fortunate enough to have any kind of exposure at home, if all they ever end up reading are graphic novels, what's wrong with that? Does a person HAVE to read Dickens to have a happy, fruitful life? I love Dickens too, but let's keep things in perspective. It's not like the whole world is going to all of a sudden stop reading classic literature just because there are children who perfer something different. They're reading. They're enjoying it. Bottom line: that's the true value of any story we read anyway.

Irene Harvey

I so agree about reading. My grandson was having such a problem that something needed to done. I have written a children's book, with a great picture on every page. I have featured his name in the book, and this has recently been published in the US. What more can a Grandma do!!
Irene J Harvey


Yeah, but the thing is, a lot of editions of Dickens are chock-full of pictures! Why are we letting that tradition die out?

shannon hale

Somnite, I wonder about the teens you see only wanting GNs. At a certain age, I only wanted fantasy. I wonder if it's less that they've been spoiled by GNs and now will only read books with sequential art and more that they found a genre they like and are sticking to it for the time being, which is common I think for many teens when forming an identity. I wonder before the age of GNs how many teens came to a library to check out Dickens for pleasure reading?

I personally like to imagine characters faces for myself. I was not pleased about having characters faces on the covers of my books (though I think they've turned out beautifully). But condemning GNs altogether seems foolhardy. WHat about the visual learners who wouldn't read anything if not for GNs? And there are scads.

I say, let kids who want pictures have them. Reading aloud is a great way to introduce kids to stories w/o pictures to work that kind of imagination (or listen to audio books!).

Donna--what a good mom you are! True anecdote--my husband only read comic books for pleasure reading for his elementary-high school years, and today he's literate, college grad, well-rounded citizen who reads (and writes!) all kinds of books. I just don't see comics/GNs spoiling readers away from "real" books.

mb--I agree. I think of the monks decorating the margins of the Bible with script and illustrations. There's a history of adding illustration to text to make it even more a work of art. It's a loving act. I'm very happy not having illustrations in most of my books, but for some, it adds, besides giving a handle on the story to certain kinds of readers.


I loved the magic treehouse when I was a kid! The pictures had nothing to do with it - a wonderful book is a wonderful book, who cares if it has some pictures in it? I have always been a good reader - but that doesn't mean that I only read challenging books. When you try to do that, you miss out. And if a couple pictures get kids to read books when they otherwise wouldn't want to, then pictures are great for those kids.

Dr. Sallie N. Cheinsteen

I still love reading picture books. RR is proudly displayed on my bookshelf, along with the fairy tales and other books of my childhood.
I also wanted to say that I've finally read Breaking Dawn over the holidays, and absolutely LOVED it. I thought it was the best of the four.
Books of all kinds inspire the imagination.
Whoever wanted to be limited just to one kind of food?
It's the salad, entree, and dessert that makes the meal.


Being devil’s advocate here—and I don’t know that I really feel this way—but would you say that educational TV is as good as GNs (or even books with a lot of pictures for that matter)? Especially for younger kids? I know how I feel, but I want to know what others think. :)


I think one problem with kids not liking reading (boys in particular) is that there isn't enough variety in what they're offered at a young age. My kids are all avid readers, but even they have really balked at some of the school choices (well, I don't know that some of them were really "choices.") My son may have loved books, but he flat out refused to read Bread and Jam for Frances--or even have the book read TO him. He wanted real science, not stupid books about jam. My younger son had no use for books like that, either--but thanks to reading Donald Duck cartoons in German, he knows words even my husband--who has a Ph.D. in the language--doesn't. I don't think it was a waste of time to let him read them! He also likes nonfiction. Only now, in 3rd grade, is he beginning to like novels. I see this with a lot of boys. Reading something you think is boring is WORK. So why would you do it for fun?

Yes, kids need to be exposed to things they wouldn't pick out themselves. But if you overdo it, well, all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.

(And speaking of Jack, my long-haired, rambunctious daughter says it's time for me to read more of Rapunzel's Revenge. Gotta go!)


I still love picture books and i'm fifteen!


I love all this discussion. This was something I had to overcome for myself and also as a parent. When my oldest turned three, I wanted him to start reading the picture books rather than board books, and I had to relax and just have plenty available and now at four he sometimes chooses one kind, sometimes another and it's great.

As for graphic novels, I believe it's completely possible for exclusive GN-readers to eventually graduate to Dickens. I have two degrees in English, but I didn't read any classics for fun until college! Also, the variety of books available today gives plenty of opportunity for readers to slowly move from all pictures to pictures-and-text to graphic novels to novels like Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book where the occasional picture adds to the tone of the book and helps create mental pictures. Also Book of a Thousand Days by our very own Shannon! These are perfect stepping stones when readers are ready to move up from GNs--though I use "up" loosely because I still enjoy everything from board books to classics, though I generally camp in the YA section, even at 26!


Sorry that this is completely off topic, but I thought I'd mention it here so that everyone can check it out.

Today as I was channel surfing I came across a show called "Lost in Austen." At first I was a little iffy about it, but I was bored so I thought, "what the heck!" Luckily I tuned in at the beginning of the show because it ended up being extremely entertaining. It's about a girl who trades places with Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and she ends up living in the novel. Anyway, it reminded me a bit of Austenland, which is why I thought I'd bring it up here.

Here's a link to the IMDB page for those of you who are interested:


Nathan Hale

Hey Shannon,

I don't know how I feel about picture books and graphic novels as a gateway to regular novel reading. I didn't read comics of any kind growing up (unless you count the sunday comics page.) But I read a lot of picture-free books. My gateway was parents who read aloud--that's what hooked me. I liked what I heard, so I started looking for more.

I was in my 20s before I looked at any comics seriously. And I can say that they use a TOTALLY different part of my mind than novel-reading does. If I had to compare the experience, I would say that reading a graphic novel has more in common with watching a subtitled movie than with reading a novel.

Reading a novel is easier for me than reading a comic or graphic novel, because you only have to process the text. Comics reading is high speed multi-tasking, you are reading AND looking at pictures. It's rare for me to really enjoy a graphic novel, because there is so much more potential for mishap. The text is good, but the pictures are bad. The pictures are gorgeous, but the story is garbage--it's rare to find a book that fires on both cylinders. When you do find one it's FANTASTIC. But in my experience, reading a good graphic novel is nothing at all like reading a good novel.

Skiing and snowboarding. If you are good at snowboarding, that doesn't mean you'll be able to ski (at all.) and vise-versa. Sure, they both go downhill on snow. But in totally, totally different ways. Neither one is a gateway to the other.

I prefer skiing, and reading books without pictures. Snowboarding and picture books are just too much work.

Incidentally, I had to request an EXTRA, extra month for CALAMITY JACK. I'm dying under the deadline, I just asked Bloomsbury for February as well. Talk about too much work...but it's looking so-o-o-o good.



"Does a person HAVE to read Dickens to have a happy, fruitful life? I love Dickens too, but let's keep things in perspective."

Of course, when Dickens was alive he was popular trash. It's only his immense popularity in his own time that has made him a "classic" author people feel they have to suffer through if they don't happen to like his work.

(Not that his work is bad, or that his enduring popularity means nothing. Far from it!)

DW Golden

I'm sorry to say I didn't see it this way, but I understand your argument. I am guilty as charged of saying those very words: "this book is too young for you, let's try something harder." I didn't intentionally remove picture books. It was just that the next step up had no pictures. She loved Tree house books despite being halfway through fourth grade.
At the same time she still read voraciously, so I haven't screwed her up too bad.
My son on the other hand doesn't want to read no matter what it is. He is well ahead of his classmates in this subject so I'm not too concerned at this time.
I will definately think about the words I use in regards to reading from now on.

DW Golden
Fly with Fairies in a new young adult novel: Purple Butterflies


I'm for anything with pictures. I am guilty of picking out books because of their interesting cover art. Unfortunately, kids are told they should read books on their grade level many times because of the AR program. They will pass up books that don't have tests because they don't want to "waste their time". What ever happened to picking out a book that you like. That's what we always did at the library, and I still love reading books of all levels. Thanks for ALL of your great books Shannon!


Shannon, this is an awesome article! I can't wait to use it with some of my concerned parents at the library.

I was a reader like Nate -- I never got into comics until adulthood (when I married a Comic Book Guy). After finally making my way into comics, I have had an epiphany. I believe that comics (and books with illustrations of any complexity) have to be read more slowly than just text.

I'm a pretty fast reader, and, because I'm a librarian, I read all the time. It has taken me a while to get to the point where I can consciously slow down and really focus when I read illustrated works. I struggle with the multi-tasking aspect, finding the story in the text, the illustration, and what's implied but not revealed.

I think this is one of the reasons that kids (especially struggling readers) love comics. They already read slowly, so they are much more comfortable taking their time and getting the information from the whole piece instead of just from the text. But the cool thing about comics: even though you are reading them more slowly, they usually don't take longer to read than text-only books. So slow readers can get a great confidence boost. That confidence can make them more willing to try a different kind of book.

One other thing: If going to an art museum is educational and respected, why is reading books with illustrations immature? Pictures (even the drawings in Magic Tree House) can express things and touch viewers in ways that words can't. Don't discount your child's visual cravings. I say, let the pictures be a meal, not just a snack!

P.S. Rapunzel's Revenge is super rad and the kids at the library love it!



Thanks for this discussion. My first child, a daughter seemed to naturally progress from picture books to chapter books and now, in the fourth grade, can read almost anything. My son, now 7 in the first grade, is (if possible) an even better reader but reads completely different books. He loves graphic novels and I admit I have tried to steer him away from them. Reading this has reassured me that graphic novels provide just as valuable experience as reading any other book.

I'm not a big fan of Captain Underpants, either, but I'm very happy that my son loves to read and I'm sure that in time he will also learn to enjoy books that have neither pictures nor toilet references.

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