A recent conversation I had with a neighbor:
"My second grader loves to read."
"That's great! What books does he like?"
"Magic Treehouse, Judy B. Jones. I'm trying to get him to read the Hardy Boys but he doesn't want to because there aren't any pictures."
After talking more, it came out that she is trying to encourage him away from books with pictures to those with only text. Why? Because she believes that's the natural progression to growing up. As a baby, you start out with picture-only books, then move on to books with text and pictures, and finally graduate to word-only books. That's the goal--mature and leave pictures behind.
This is a very common belief, but I want to question it for a moment. Why are we so anxious to get our kids off of pictures? They need to learn to read, definitely. But is reading a book that has pictures preventing them from also reading the words? Do visual cues inhibit their learning and growth?
Our world is full of visual cues. Illustrations are symbols, just like letters are symbols. We look, we read to understand, to decode the world. Literacy, I think, is the ability to glean understanding from printed information. In order to navigate this world successfully, kids (and adults) will need to be literate in words and pictures.
I hear so many stories from parents that go something like this:
"My child loved to read in first and second grade, and now I can't get him/her to pick up a book."
That's tragic. I see a lot of kids falling out of love with reading at that age. It must be a delicate stage. I wonder if for some of those kids, they just got stressed. Someone was pushing them to read harder books, bigger books, books without pictures, and reading ceased to be a game and instead became a duty with high expectations.
I believe in challenging kids. They rise to the challenge. But pushing them out of a comfort zone isn't always necessary. Kids are curious. Most will naturally explore. I think it wise to allow them to form a comfort zone with reading, and if they love it, they'll seek out the harder books, usually from recommendations from peers, or just because they see a book with a cool cover and interesting title and they want to tackle it.
From speaking with many other parents and reading specialists, these points seem like good ideas:
- Make library visits, and let your child pick out his/her own book, no matter if it's a "baby" book
- Have lots of different kinds of books around the house, picture books, early readers, chapter books, and let them pick their own
- Read more challenging books together
- Don't label books as "too young for you"
The experience writing this graphic novel has been so inspiring. The best thing in the world is hearing about that kid who didn't like to read, then read rapunzel's revenge in one sitting and now wants to read more. Those stories are the most satisfying of my career. I'm so happy there are so many age-appropriate graphic novels out there now. Don't fear them! Reading graphic novels is working two parts of their brains--they're learning to decode word symbols and picture symbols, creating a movie in their mind out of static pictures and words on a page. It's exciting and in no way immature. So I say, keep those Hardy Boys on a lower shelf, easy to reach whenever they're ready, and in the meantime, let them snack on pictures.
EDIT: Tee-hee! I'm guilty of talking dismissively of illustrations in this very post! Thanks for the note, Lori. Rather let me say, let them dine on pictures, and may we never think ourselves too old to revel in art for our eyes.