Silly rabbit, picture books are for kids … right?
Well, yes and no. While the medium is grounded in a centuries-long tradition of printing illustrated stories to aid literacy and teach kids morality, many would disagree that picture books are the sole domain of early childhood.
It turns out, our resident expert Stacy Fox-Myers is one of those people! According to Stacy, often adults are too quick to dismiss the universal awesomeness of picture books as “kid stuff.”
Having raised two kids and spent nearly a decade working as a librarian at several San Francisco Bay Area schools before joining Epic, she’s got a wealth of knowledge and views on the topic.
Let’s hear from Stacy on the broader significance of picture books for readers of all ages.
Epic!: Describe your affinity for picture books and where it came from.
Stacy: I fell in love with picture books when my sons were little and we would pick out armfuls of picture books at the library.
My favorite ones include approachable artwork that draws the reader in and then relates an intriguing story. Whether it’s animals outwitting the farmer in “Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type” and sending us all into fits of laughter, or Humpty Dumpty having the courage to face up to his fears in “After the Fall.”
“Don’t let the format fool you. These books contain complicated vocabulary and/or concepts.”
Epic!: What do you think about the notion that picture books are only for young children who can’t read text yet? Are they or aren’t they?
Stacy: Picture books are written for all ages. Many of the stories are written at a level that is too hard for new readers to master on their own, which makes those books great short reads for older elementary students.
With vivid illustrations loved by kids and adults, “After the Fall” is a reminder that life begins when you get back up.
Epic!: What can kids and adults appreciate about picture books?
Stacy: Picture books embody the art of storytelling. Their pictures are as important as the text at conveying the full story, whether through hints about what will happen next or adding depth to the feelings of the characters.
They are meant to be poured over and read again and again. I have read a book to multiple classes and thought I understood the whole story only to have a student point out part of an illustration early in the story that foreshadowed the big surprise at the end.
“The language in picture books is often quite rich and sophisticated, exposing children to the joys of language, vocabulary, cadence, and the many ways a story can be spun.
The same is true of picture book art. Nowhere else in literature are readers of all ages exposed to such a variety of artistic styles and examples of visual expression.”
Epic!: What makes the experience of reading picture books magical for children?
Stacy: When a librarian reads a picture book to a classful of children, that story is full performance with voices, suspense, drama and maybe even a few laughs. Kids realize that stories and reading are exciting and something to be shared with everyone. When an adult sits down one on one to share a picture book with a child, it still communicates that stories and reading are important but it also shows the child that they are important.
“People return to picture books in times of need because, like poetry, they have the power to distill deep thoughts and emotions.” –Valerie Koehler
Epic!: What value can picture books offer children that they can benefit from as they get older?
Stacy: Once children are able to read independently, it doesn’t mean that teachers or parents shouldn’t continue to read picture books with them. So many picture books address tough topics like bullying, anxiety, stereotypes and more in a short digestible format that allows adults to start important conversations with children.
And there’s nothing wrong if all the picture book provides is a good laugh at a silly situation. There doesn’t always have to be a moral. Just being funny is important—it conveys lightness, encourages sharing a moment. And it’s a good way to start hard conversations.
Epic!: Any final thoughts?
Stacy: There is much more to a story than words. Images teach visual literacy. They add a certain depth to a story that can’t be conveyed with words alone.
For example, the book “Drawn Together” is a picture book that purposely uses very little text because the two main characters don’t speak the same language. So they draw together and are able to bond and communicate on a deeper level.
Some stories you just can’t tell using words alone.
“Drawn Together” tells the story of a grandfather and grandson who discover a shared love of art and storytelling.
Stacy Fox-Myers is our resident expert in all things kids’ books. She chooses the best titles to highlight on Epic! to get kids excited about reading and helps teachers find the right books for their students.
Outside of Epic!, Stacy volunteers extensively with the Alameda County Public Library to bring experienced Bookleggers into elementary school classrooms. Before that, she mentored K-12 librarians in a 42-school unified district in the San Francisco Bay Area for three years, and prior to that was an elementary school librarian for 5 years.
Stacy loves expressive picture books, thrilling middle-grade adventures and nonfiction books that show how exciting science and history are.
Quotes from Publisher’s Weekly blog post: “Tip Sheet: Picture Books Are for All Ages.”