An Ode to Picture Books (+ Staff Picks)

An Ode to Picture Books (+ Staff Picks)

We are unabashed fans of picture books so it’s little surprise that an opinion piece in The New York Times was quite a point of conversation amongst our staff.  The article, entitled “Your Kids Aren’t Too Old for Picture Books, and Neither Are You,” was written by Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review at the New York Times, and reminded us that picture books are for everyone.  Full stop. 

Written and Drawn by Henrietta: A TOON Book by Liniers (TOON Books, 2015)

The rise of digital platforms, interactive mobile apps, and widely accessible multimedia children's content has encouraged, nay demanded, picture book publishers to double down on the textual, visual, and physical quality of a book. Their investment is well reflected by the richness and diversity of voices, stories, and linguistic and artistic styles represented on our bookstore shelves.

“Picture books,” Paul writes, “also offer an accessible way for children to understand that books are for them, no matter who they are or where they’ve come from.” These storytellers give us empowering new language and perspectives in books like Eyes that Kiss in the Corners, My Name is Like a Song, and I Talk Like a River. These messages, while written for children, are often impactful for us adults too by expanding our rigid mindsets with inclusive narratives, reclaiming childhoods of underrepresentation, and helping us to reframe conversations.  In a picture book, genres don’t live in the restrictive categories of adult fiction.  A picture book with magical realism, mystery, poetry, is just… a picture book. We breach the covers of these stories with a posture of openness; welcoming a storyteller to use almost any convention at their disposal to entertain, instruct, or transport us.  And isn’t that refreshing? 

Du Iz Tak by Carson Ellis (Candlewick Press, 2016)

We are living in a golden age of visual storytelling and yet we often feel overwhelmed by constant barrage of messaging. And this too is where picture books provide a powerful tool for visual literacy because the emotional or thematic intent of a story is rather straight forward and an easy way for us to experience the interplay of form and content. 

Nonfiction books like the new DK encyclopedias are filled with vibrant photos and graphics along side blocks of text.  Long gone are the days of graphic novels being a storytelling platform limited to superheroes. The content and focus of graphic novels for young readers spans from literary adaptation, nonfiction biographies, to fantastical adventure sagas and slice-of-life depictions from top literary talent. In picture books, details are tucked into page corners, out of focus, in the margins, ready to reward the critical, curious eye or perhaps, encourage the repetitive reading behavior of a picture book lover who joyfully curls up with the same book over and over.  As Paul writes: “[Children] learn that you have to look closely to ferret out clues and derive meaning. They are also learning to read deeply.”  In time-based media, like television, we are moved through a visual experience at someone else's behest but with a book, we pause, rewind, reread, and enjoy at our own pace.

Ocean Meets Sky by the Fan Brothers (Simon & Schuster, 2018)

The physical book itself is a marvelous, evolving extension of the story world 
(learn about the parts of a picture book here). Gold-embossed dust jackets (like on Ocean Meets Sky), breathtaking covers (again, Ocean Meets Sky), and detailed endpapers (yep, also Ocean Meets Sky) imbue value, longevity, and love in a world of transactional and cheap items that often fill a child’s shelf space. Some picture books are printed on 100% recycled paper or with environmentally-friendly soy-based inks that remind us about the life-cycle of paper, the intentionality of craft, and the integrity of mindful storytelling and mindful book production: all to enhance a reader’s engagement and relationship with a physical book. 

We are passionate about picture books because the experience of reading these books alone or enjoying them aloud with young readers is enriching. We travel back to the very first time we read that funny story about a very hungry caterpillar and poked our little fingers through the perfectly round holes of the Monday leaf.  When the textual and visual storytelling converge elegantly with the physical book construction, we feel transported from our fast-paced world into a space where our eyes can linger, our minds can wander, and time itself tiptoes gently by.

da Shop staff picks: (mostly) Picture Books

Dave, da Shop Owner

Mariko, Resident Artist and Plant Mama

The Liszts written by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julia Sarda:
"Every time I read this quirky book, I’m delighted by some mysterious detail I hadn’t seen before. Who ARE these people?"

Dimpna, Team Cheerleader & Education Specialist

Diane, Events & Special Projects

Phaidon Artist Biography Series by Fausto Gilberti:
"This picture book biographical series on 20th Century artists explains their artistic curiosity through the eyes of a child, validating that big exploratory creativity is important and needed in our modern world, and that anyone can be an artist. These books are for everyone!"

Lani, Shop Guardian

Blog and Newsletter Queen

Jennifer, Inventory & Operations

Reference:  Paul. Pamela. (2021, February 20).  Your Kids Aren’t Too Old for Picture Books, and Neither Are You. The New York Times.