The Power of a Good Picture Book for Children

The Power of a Good Picture Book for Children

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Gretchen Papazian is a professor of English Language and Literature at Central Michigan University. She teaches and conducts research in children’s literature, American literature, and cultural studies. She is also the author of Game On, Hollywood! Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema.

She talks to ESME about how picture books can empower both children and parents and how Solos Moms can find quality children’s books.

What brought you to the study of picture books?

My degree is actually in American literature, but even in studying adult books I was always interested in the child’s perspective of the story. Over time I came to realize that this was what I really cared about because books matter in the lives of all people but they are especially important to children.

Why are books important to children?

Children haven’t had many firsthand experiences because they are young and they are not independent. Books may be the only way they can gain exposure to ideas, thoughts, and realities that don’t immediately surround them. In this way, picture books empower children.

Is there a way to identify empowering picture books?

I think all books are empowering. That being said, there are traits that are worth discussing:

  • Books that are about reading call attention to the act of reading and therefore empower the reader. Examples of this are: Reading Can be Fun by Munro Leaf (Universe, 2004) or We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems (Disney-Hyperion, 2010).
  • Books that have beautiful pictures and language (often poetic, but not necessarily) respect readers and, therefore, empower them.
  • Books that are about empowered young characters empower young readers. An example is: What To Do About Alice? How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy! by Barbara Kerley (Scholastic, 2008).
  • Books that are published with only sales in mind do not respect the reader. Books based on popular T.V. characters would fall under this category.

Picture books are for children, but they are most often read to them by adults. Is there something we should be aware of as we read picture books to our children?

The interesting aspect of picture books is that there is a dual audience. Both the children and the parents are reading the book. One thing that picture books can do for parents is model parenting techniques. A parent character might behave in a way that we might not and make us consider a different approach; a picture book can coach us on how to parent in a nonthreatening way. Or a parent might do something we would do and validate our method. In this way, picture books can empower parents too.

When are children too old to be read picture books to?

(Laughs) Never?

Children are mostly dependent on the adults around them to choose the books they are exposed to. As Solo Moms, we often don’t have a lot of time to do the research to find good books. Do you have any recommendations on how to identify meaningful books?

The answer to this question is to rely on the experts whose job it is to do the research. The children’s librarian at your local library is just such a person. An easy way to find good books is see what is being displayed prominently. Those books have been chosen by the librarians, and they have been chosen because they are important in some way. If you don’t have time, just pick up a few displayed books. They can always be returned unread. If you have time, ask a librarian for a recommendation. Librarians love nothing more than being asked to recommend books because that is why they are in the field they are in.

Are there picture books that are specifically empowering to children being raised by a Solo Mom?

Families have such varied situations; it’s hard to give a list of specific books. However, I can say that it is in multicultural literature we often see work being done towards normalizing all families. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman (Dial Books, 1991) is a good example. There may not be anything explicitly mentioned about who is living with whom and why, but we can see different kinds of families depicted and that is important for children to see.

Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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