Author of the 6.5 Million-Copy Bestseller FRINDLE
A Letter to Parents
I recently spent a day with your children, talking about reading and writing and how books are created. It's one of my favorite things to do, but I often drive home at the end of the day feeling that I havn't done my best, because I haven't been able to meet you face-to-face and thank you for all your hard work and care and support for these bright kids. Despite the advancing electronic age, I remain convinced that reading and books are critically important for kids, and for you and me as well. I'm always encouraged to see how fascinated children are with the way books are made and published. But the ideas I want to share with you speak to the issues we face as parents of young readers, and the work we can each do to help every kid discover the love of reading and books.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about the decline of reading, the overpowering influence of the television and multi-media screens, even a national descent into illiteracy. Everyone is upset when these ideas are voiced, and everyone feels sure that reading and books are important—but why? Apart from the basic skill of functional or task-related reading, why is there a universal conviction that books and literature are indispensable?
We’re In Charge
When we read, we decide when, where, how long, and about what. One of the few places on earth that it is still possible to experience an instant sense of freedom and privacy is anywhere you open up a good book and begin to read. When we read silently, we are alone with our own thoughts and one other voice. We can take our time, consider, evaluate, and digest what we read—with no commercial interruptions, no emotional music or special effects manipulation. And in spite of the advances in electronic information exchange, the book is still the most important medium for presenting ideas of substance and value, still the only real home of literature.
What About Our Children—What Do Books Have For Them?
Books do for children what they do for adults: they inform, they stimulate, delight, amuse, and transport us all into other worlds of thought and experience. Most importantly, they make us think and feel and respond, and they can put us in intimate touch with the best that has been known and thought since the first words were written down. Good books make us more aware of others and lead us forward into a surer knowledge of ourselves.
The Picture Book
Children’s picture books provide a unique link between the visual, sensory world of the the pre-reading child, and the more structured world of words and symbols, of beginnings, middles, and ends. After having a picture book read aloud a few times, the pre-reading child can “read” the book from the pictures, and the just-reading child is drawn into both the visual and literal realms at once, with the illustrations making the text more approachable. And many adults have discovered that some of the best art in the world comes alive between the covers of children’s picture books—with a purity of design and a buoyant, colorful freedom found nowhere else.
Parents & Children Together With Books
Think of a good picture book or a good novel or a strong non-fiction title as an island. Filled with adventure, color, and ideas, it’s a very private place shared by grownup and child, safe from the interruptions and pressures of the daily routine. At bedtime, in a car or bus, with your own child or another’s—taking the time to read—aloud, or just side-by-side—says a lot. It says, “This time is ours, just you and me doing something fun together.” It says, “I love books and reading, and I want to share this love with you.”
A Quiet Place, A Safe Place
A book of real substance is enjoyed again and again. It is like visiting a favorite vacation spot over and over. No matter how well you know it, going back is always a delight. It is a calm, secure place with no real surprises, but a constant supply of good times nevertheless. All the memories are sweet, all the best views are recalled and anticipated, and the very familiarity is a comfort and a rest.
The Picture Book As Education
There are really two environments within a picture book. A great text cannot make up for bad or mediocre artwork, and beautiful pictures cannot disguise an inferior story. As supplier to your children, you should be an alert critic. Questions of taste vary with individuals, but there are some basic questions you should always consider as you stock your children’s home library with picture books:
1. Does the use of language respect the intelligence of children?
2. Does the story present values that I want to share with children?
3. Does the art in this book have real artistic merit? Do I like it? Does it respect the child, or is it cartoonish and condescending?
4. Is the book itself as an object appealing and well designed, approachable and durable? Has it been produced with care?
You can learn to know a good book when you see one, and here's how you start—think as yourself, not as you imagine a child might think. If you get involved in the story and the language, if you find the artwork interesting and appealing, then the children with whom you share this book are almost certain to love it.
The Words Come Alive
How many parents or teachers have had very young children correct them when they read a line incorrectly from a favorite picture book? It is a common experience. The eyes may have been glued to the pictures, finding new details and feeling the comfort of familiarity with the old ones, but the ears and mind were engaged with the story, the words, the meaning. The picture book has a special role in leading young children safely from images to language, and building a permanent and valued bridge between sounds, words, and visualization. Children early learn that there are stories in pictures, and images of great power in words. Good books always enrich the language of the child’s thought and speech and imagination—which is something only the tiniest minority of television programming and multimedia can claim to do. Kids who've grown to love picture books make an easier transition to chapter books. They have been readied to start making their own pictures as they read the words.
Need Help? Ask Your Local Booksellers & Librarians
A bookstore with a children’s section always has at least one person who has taken charge of it, who has become the resident expert on the stock. This person will often be able to suggest just the right book your child. If you are fortunate enough to live near a specialty children’s bookstore, get to be a regular. The people who run these stores are dedicated, and their experience and advice is worth a lot. The same is true about the children’s librarian at your local school or public library. These professional booklovers can point you towards the best of the steady flow of new books for children, and they can show you the journals and book reviews that help them find worthy additions to their own collections.
Home Is Where The Books Are
The library is a great place to sample, to test drive some good books. But building a home library of favorite books is a worthwhile family goal, for it makes the point clearly that books are basic equipment, an important part of everyday living. When the real value of children’s books is understood, then there is room for them in the weekly budget, right along with fuel and groceries. The issue is nourishment, the need is constant, and the benefits are incalculable.