If you can use words to create a picture, or use pictures that are worth a thousand words, then why are we in such a hurry to separate them? Alarmingly, twitter had anecdotes from schools that had an age limit on picture books on World Book Day, and sadly it was not a surprise. The rigidity and micro-detail of the new curriculum (cough – exclamation marks!!!!) inevitably leads to a fixedness in teaching that become accepted if we are not vigilant. Children, parents and teachers see chapter books as a step up from picture books and therefore going back to picture books is not progression but regression. Good lessons must have “better than expected progress for every child in every lesson” (true feedback from my observed lessons), so only the brave will risk the suggestion that their children are going backwards.
Yet this is contrary to one of the early parts of the teacher training process, that children learn in different ways. Three initials appeared on many incarnations of the planning sheets that crossed my desk over the last ten years: V, A and K. Visual (seeing), Auditory (hearing) and Kinaesthetic (feeling). Why then, so early in a child’s education, do we drop the key visual tool of a picture book?
It is true that picture books have varying degrees of sophistication. Most Year 6 children would not tolerate reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar (unless they could pretend they were reading it to a younger child). But many picture books now have a more conscious underlying message that also keeps their adult audience hooked. There has to be a degree of appeal to those who will provide the book, whether through a library or a shop. It is also worth remembering that many adults still choose to read graphic novels and take great pleasure from the images that form part of the storytelling. How many of these adult readers were considered reluctant readers at school when fed a diet of words alone?
Finally as Stephen King says “good books don’t give up their secrets at once”. The richness and scope for a book like The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer, is vast. Science, Rights, the human spirit, the world around us and belief systems, are my immediate thoughts without even including the inspiration of the art of the pictures themselves. Why are there not more of these books that cater for the older children? Because they do not fit the categories that we have created. Well it is time for a new market, Key Stage 2 picture books, the new YA for publishers and a wonderful new resource for teachers.