It's funny the ideas people can get about you. I have been met with so many surprised reactions when I expressed my belief in play being the most important learning activity for my children before kindergarten. I didn't push them to read early or to memorize impressive things. Then, there was the grammar thing. I like grammar memes and cartoons. This goes back to my teaching days and sharing frustrations with fellow teachers over common mistakes that just irritated the everlasting stew out of us. Since I've shared these on Facebook or Pinterest from time to time, I've earned a reputation as some sort of Grammar Nazi. I ask you, would any self respecting Grammar Nazi submit this paragraph?
I think people are also surprised by my recommendations when it comes to children's literature. If they know me well enough, they know I was a teacher and I love reading, especially classics. So when I share favorite children's literature, some of my choices probably appear pretty shabby alongside their expectations of what might come from someone who loves reading and sharing that love of reading with children.
I am on a little crusade to expose people to more picture books and to help cultivate genuine respect for them. It's always been a gripe of mine when I see people dismiss picture books as baby books. Too often, chapter books are seen as the highest form of reading a child can do. Parents are ecstatic to say their child is reading chapter books in kindergarten and first grade and picture books get shelved in favor of this more impressive achievement, even though some picture books are classified at a higher reading level than some novels. It's about literary elements and vocabulary, not length.
I suppose this attitude towards picture books in children's literature is not that different from that which exists amongst those who consider poetry and short stories to be lesser works than novels in literature. Both attitudes are the result of ignorance. As I tend toward the verbose in my own writing, I have tremendous admiration for any author who can develop characters, plots and themes with a small amount of words. It's a special gift and not to be considered less than those who do so in works of longer length. Picture books in children's literature are like the poetry and short stories: equally fine works, but in a different form. To shelve good picture books as a child gets older is to deprive them of literary nourishment. I used picture books in my middle school Pre-AP (Advanced Placement) classroom to teach many higher-order literary concepts. Exposure to those books was probably more effective in helping me teach those concepts than exposure to novels at that grade level. To never enjoy good picture books as an adult is also a loss.
An easy place to start your exploration of quality picture books is with the Caldecott Medal award list. This list gives the Medal winners and Honor Book winners from 1938-present. Like the Newberry award for children's novels, you can trust the books from this list to be of high quality. It should be a goal to expose your child to as many of these books as possible. There is no age/grade cut-off for reading picture books!
The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
Past winners include:
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans 1940
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey 1949
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 1963
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak 1964
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig 1970
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble 1979
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg 1986
Tuesday by David Wiesner 1992
Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin 1999
Two of my personal favorite authors of picture books are Tomie dePaola and Patricia Polacco. You can find a list of dePauola's books at his website. I used his books in many a lesson when I was student teaching. They were guaranteed to keep the attention and spark the imaginations of my middle schoolers, boys and girls alike. Tomie dePaola has probably done more to improve the perception of and attitude toward native peoples in North America than any special interest group.
When I think of authors of any genre, for children or adults, Patricia Poloacco is always in my list. Her talent as a story-teller is remarkable. Please take the time to listen to this amazing master of personal narrative. Her book, The Keeping Quilt, is one of my favorite pieces of literature. If you can read that aloud without crying at the end, you're a better person than me.
The point of this post is not to give a comprehensive list of my favorite picture books. That would be such a longggggggggg list! I will try to make a separate post with more favorites, though. Instead, I hope to bring about recognition of these books as being quality literature, on equal footing with any children/young adult novel. Yes, I want every single child to read and enjoy classics such as Treasure Island, Little Women, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, The Little House on the Prairie series, anything by Beverly Cleary (who honestly is often not given her due by literary snobs), and so many others, but I don't want the beauty and treasure in picture books to be relegated to a few short years early in a child's development and then dismissed for more "serious" or "real" literature. Long live the Picture Book! Death to Book Snobbery!