Picture Books Are For Everyone
It is my considered opinion that one does not outgrow picture books. In fact, I believe I love them more now than I did as a child. I have a newfound appreciation for the form, the art, the symphony of orchestrated effort that goes into producing each individual book. Here are five reasons picture books really are for everyone.
A picture book is a unique animal. It must both hook an adult (to buy or borrow it) and captivate a child (to look and listen as the pages are turned). So publishers look for manuscripts that an adult won’t mind reading over, and over, and over again. There are often jokes and allusions embedded in the text that only adults will get. Read Penguin Problems and you’ll see what I mean.
Picture books are written to be read aloud, so the vocabulary can push beyond what a child would be able to read on his or her own—often in delightful ways. The Pout-Pout Fish, for example, is a super-fun, sing-songy, rhyming story, but it introduces words like “locomotion,” “kaleidoscope,” and “aghast,” among others.
Many picture book writers think of the project cinematically, envisioning each spread as they would a scene in a film. There’s usually much more complexity there than you’d suspect at first glance. So look closely. The beautiful Finding Winnie has a very movie-like feel, with its story-within-a-story structure.
Illustrators often include easter eggs in their books—hidden inside jokes. They might sneak in an allusion to classic literature or literary themes, include a recognizable character from another book in a subtle way, or tease an upcoming illustration on the current page. In Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, a Poe-inspired tale, a little raven reluctantly goes to bed. But before he does, he builds a house out of alphabet blocks that (of course) spell USHER.
The best picture books have a universal appeal, illustrating fundamental truths in simple, accessible language and imagery. A few examples: The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein, Ida, Always by Caron Levis and Charles Santoso, and A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young. The first is about finding your place, the second about how love transcends grief (but does not take it away), and the third about unmet expectations and turning disappointment into delight.